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The Reluctant Spiritualist

By: Nancy Rubin Stuart
Narrated by: Lee Ann Howlett
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Summary

American Spiritualism—a movement that at its peak claimed more than a million followers—was born out of the basic human longing for contact with a loved one lost to death. But Spiritualism's true spark came in 1848 from something no more or less powerful than a bored teenage girl.

This is the first authoritative biography of Maggie Fox, the world-famous medium and cofounder of the Spiritualism movement that swept America in the mid-1800s. 

In 1848, 15-year-old Maggie and her sister Katy created rapping sounds by manipulating their toe joints, practicing until they convinced their parents that their farmhouse was haunted.

By 1853, more than 30,000 mediums were at work with Maggie among the most famous.

But when she denounced the faith in 1888, Spiritualism withered almost as quickly as it had bloomed.

Through the memoirs of the Fox sisters, the letters of Maggie's Arctic explorer husband, contemporary newspaper accounts, and other primary sources, Nancy Rubin Stuart creates a vibrant portrait of a Victorian-era woman at the heart of the controversies of her era.

Maggie Fox's Spiritualistic legacy continues today with mediums, channeling, and celebrity spiritualists.

Yet the origins of American Spiritualism were surprisingly humble. In 1848, 15-year-old Maggie and her sister Katy created rapping sounds by manipulating their toe joints, practicing until they convinced their parents that their farmhouse was haunted. 

What started as a prank soon transformed into a movement. By 1850, Maggie’s séances stunned author James Fenimore Cooper, New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, and other prominent citizens. Within a matter of weeks, Maggie and her sisters—dubbed the Rochester Rappers by the press—became celebrities.

By 1853, more than 30,000 mediums were at work with Maggie among the most famous.

Award-winning author Nancy Rubin Stuart’s The Reluctant Spiritualist was five years in the making during which time she received a William Randolph Hearst Fellowship from the American Antiquarian Society to research the book. The American Society of Journalists and Authors awarded The Reluctant Spiritualist honorable mention for its 2006 Outstanding Book Awards. It was also nominated for the 2006 History Book Award of the New York Historical Society. 

©2005, 2014 Nancy Rubin Stuart (P)2022 Nancy Rubin Stuart

Critic reviews

“Stuart gives us the first modern biography of Maggie Fox, cofounder of Spiritualism…fast paced…highly entertaining.” (Publishers Weekly

“Fascinating biography…the great strength of Stuart’s book is that she provides the necessary historical context…convincingly places the Fox sisters at a nexus of social and political change, most notably the suffrage and abolitionist movements…offers a great deal of fresh insight into the bored young girl with the toes heard round the world.” (Washington Post

“Diligently researched biography of the young woman responsible in the mid-1800s for the growth of Spiritualism, sympathetically addressing her ambivalence about the practice and her legacy. Stuart…capably chronicles this period of religious ferment…vividly details the course of [Maggie’s] ill-starred romance…. A persuasive study of an unusual life.” (Kirkus Reviews

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