The Alton (Illinois) Daily Courier, September 2.

Convention in Peoria of advocates of spiritualism and woman’s rights.

Here is interesting evidence that spiritualism was mixed with other progressive political causes—in this case women’s rights—practically from the beginning.  The editor does not mention it in his story, but the document that 17-year-old Deborah McGirr read to the Convention (and from which he made his selection) was Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s 1848 Seneca Falls Declaration.—JB

Spiritualism and Woman’s Rights in Illinois.

We had supposed that this pernicious humbug called “Spiritual manifestations” was about done away with, and that hereafter we should only hear of it as a delusion of the past, but in this we are greatly mistaken.  No longer ago than the 20 inst. [that is, August 20] there was held a veritable convention of Spiritualists and advocates of “Woman’s Rights” in Farmington, Fulton County, in this State, which was attended by delegates from several Counties, and also from some Women’s Rights Societies.  The editor of the Peoria Republican, expecting some rich developments, sent a reporter to take notes of the proceedings of the Convention, and true enough, he was not disappointed.  It is to this report that we are indebted for the proceedings.

The following are among those who were present:

Drs. [Samuel] Underhill of LaSalle [County], [James] Clarkson of McDonough [County], [Amos A.] Couch of Peoria [County], [John] Burrows of Groveland [Tazewell County], Young of Bloomington [McLean County], Moore of Peoria county, Messrs. Mendenhall and Allen of Farmington [Fulton County], Fishback of Maquon [Knox County], Cook of Astoria [Fulton County], Mrs. and Mrs. Doty, and Miss [Mary] Fowler of Maquon [Knox County], Mrs. Wallace of Monmouth [Warren County], Mrs. Wilson and Mrs. Burrows.

Dr. Underhill, who called the Convention to order, laid down the following programme as the objects of the Convention:

Woman’s Rights, Spiritualism, Human Brotherhood, Land Reform, Temperance, Hydropathy and the Overthrow of the Church.

The Dr. made the opening speech in relation to which the reporter speaks as follows:

“He rose a little after eleven; but the first and second dinner bells rung, and still he continued.  The hot sun poured down and the sweat poured out, the radical disciples began to wink and nod from another cause than the speaker’s wit, the ladies glanced towards the Doctor with the most pitiful expressions of countenance—yet still he held on.  The infants began to wail for dinner, less hypocritical than the greater part of the audience, myself among the number, whose minds, though apparently intent on the subject under discussion, were really far away, brooding over the soup and pastry which had been long awaiting them—still did the untiring champion cut and slash about him, as if the final discomfiture of everything orthodox depended upon the issue of this conflict.

At last, I suppose the fiend Hunger, gnawing at the Doctor’s vitals, became too powerful for the “spirit of prophecy” in his soul, and, to the infinite relief of all, he sat down.

The Doctor’s speech is not given in full, but if the following extract is a fair sample of the whole, the world has lost little in its not being reported:

“In the organization of the Convention,” said the Doctor, “they had concluded to elect Divine Wisdom moderator, and choose a clerk from among themselves.”  As to prayer, he hated it as a public exercise, and therefore they would have none of it.  “Christ,” he said, “never gave his followers any form of prayer until they had importuned him long and impatiently, and then, to appease them, he framed the Pater Noster.  He had tried family prayer, and found that it did him no good; so he had entirely discarded prayer as a public or social exercise.”

The Dr. is also represented as having spoken very bitterly against all the religious denominations—claimed that the friends of reform, represented in Convention, were the only recipients of that higher wisdom, the light of which, is destined, through the spirits, to save the world in a blaze of glory.  He denounced the Old Testament as a book filled with deeds of repeated tyranny, crime and vindictiveness, and argued that religionists disagreed because they held on to the spirit of hatred taught in the old book—hence the existence of so many churches.

The speaker finally vacated the floor, when Mrs. Dr. Wallace, of Monmouth, Warren county, read a paper on the subject of progress.  Her appearance is thus described:

“The dress of Mrs. Dr. Wallace was a changeable green silk shirt, with pants of the same material.  Her bodice was open in front, displaying, in the most bewitching style, a linen bosom and collar, and a cravat.  Her neck-tie was fastened with a magnificent gold brooch, and a watch-guard falling across the bosom added to her elegant appearance.  Her hair was cut short in the neck, despising the usual blandishments of that portion of the female ensemble.  Her features were of the florid cast, and you might know that if she brought not into the cause the same enthusiasm, her heart was as truly in the Woman’s Rights movement as that of the first female champion in the land.”

Mrs. Doty of Knox county, then addressed the Convention.

The report says:

“Mrs. D. was attired in a Bloomer dress of black silk, with no other appendage than a scarf of the same.  Her hair, black as the raven’s wing, was done up, not exactly, I believe, “a la Jenny Lind,” but in a simpler and more tasty style.  When to this description is added a very high forehead, pale and purely intellectual features, and a large, jet-black eye, you have an outline from which to form an idea of an intellectual, high-strung, beautiful woman, whose soul is in her mouth when she appears to speak in behalf of humanity or against the wrongs of her sex.”

Miss [Deborah] McGirr next took the stand.  She is described as quite young, and in appearance mild, placid and handsome.  She read a long declaration of rights, from which we make the following extract:

The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man towards woman, the direct object of which is to establish over her an absolute tyranny.  To prove this let facts be submitted to a candid world:

He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.

He has compelled her to submit to laws in the formation of which she had no voice.

He has withheld from her the rights of a citizen, and given them to the most ignorant and degraded men, both foreigners and natives.

He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law civilly dead.

He has taken from her all right to property, even the wages that she earns.

He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employments, and from those which she is permitted to follow she receives but a scanty remuneration.

He has closed against her all the avenues to wealth and distinction which he considers most honorable to himself.

As a teacher of theology and medicine she is not known.

He has denied her the facilities of a thorough education, all colleges being closed against her.

He has taken upon himself the responsibility of circumscribing her sphere: which responsibility belongs to God, to nature, and to herself.

In view of the entire disfranchizement of one-half of the intellectual degradation’ in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, we do feel ourselves aggrieved, oppressed, and most fraudulently deprived of our most sacred rights.  We have, therefore, resolved to come together in our strength, and break the bonds that have so long enchained our intellectual being, and declared our natural, not assumed rights; and we here insert a brief summary of our demands:

1st.  Education in primary and high schools, universities, and medical, legal, and theological institutions.

2d.  Partnership in the labors and gains, risks, and remunerations of productive industry.

3d.  A share in all profitable employments that may be useful and honorable.

4th.  The elective franchise.

5th.  An equal share with man in the formation and administration of laws, municipal, state, and national, through legislative assemblies, courts of justice, and executive offices.

And we declare that in order to obtain these rights, we call conventions, employ agents, petition the state and national legislatures, and endeavor to enlist public speakers and the press in our behalf.

And firmly believing in the final triumph of Right and Truth, we hereby pledge, in support of the above declaration, our words and our sacred honor.

After the reading of this elaborate paper, the stand was taken by a second Cicero, by the name of FISHBACK, who, after solemnly declaring in the presence of the assembled convention, and greatly to the horror of the bloomers then assembled, that his “mother was a woman,” delivered himself of the following clear and unanswerable argument:

“God is the entire process of thought combining in itself the objective movement in nature with the logical subjective, and realizing itself in the spiritual totality of humanity.  He (or it, if you will) is the eternal movement of the universal, ever raising itself to a subject, which first of all, in the subject comes to objectivity and a real consistence, and accordingly, absorbs the subject in its abstract individuality.”

The following are the resolutions passed by the convention, and are said to contain a full summary of its objects:

Resolved, That the Harmonial or Spiritual Philosophy, is a higher unfolding of man’s rights, relations, responsibilities and future destiny, and is pre-eminently calculated to unfold a feeling of Universal Brotherhood, and change the materialistic tendency of a sectarian and skeptical age.

Resolved, That Nature is the only infallible revelation, and consistent with herself, that Inspiration does not naturally imply infallibility, but that it will be modified by the mental and moral development of the recipient.

Resolved, That Philosophy should accompany Spiritual Intercourse, that they should be and are inseparably connected, and that all Spiritual communications, from whatever source they may profess to emanate, should be submitted to the test of Nature and Reason.

Resolved, That a faith of the understanding, in Spiritual Manifestations, necessarily leads to earnest practical reformation of life, in both individual and social habits; and that in as much as our true and permanent happiness consists in rendering others happy as well as ourselves; therefore any pretended faith in Spiritualism which leaves its possessors contented with present popular evil practices, customs and institutions, is vain.

Resolved, That experience being true, is the test of Truth, and that a distinction should be drawn between principles and books, between men and principles.  Hence, instead of revelators and revelations being tests of Truths, all should be tested by the Reason and Understanding of each individual.

Resolved, That we regard the Material and Spiritual Universe as an inseparable whole, possessing eternal relations and affinities.

Resolved, That we look upon Land Limitation and the free occupancy of the soil by the landless, as the basis of a practical reform, and a practical manifestation of “beginning to do justice.”

Resolved, That male and female should be equally educated in all that pertains to the happiness and harmony of both sexes, particularly in the Laws of Life and Health; that the female is morally, intellectually, and politically entitled to all the privileges and immunities of the male sex.

Resolved, That females, if liberated from arbitrary and barbarous customs, and the operation of unequal laws, can and will bear an equal part in the reformation and elevation of the human family.


[ Ephemera Home] [ Spiritualist Listings ]