March is national Women’s History month and also marks the anniversary of Spiritualist Movement.
Leah Fox is often written off from the history of Spiritualism as the ‘other Fox sister.’ If she isn’t completely ignored in books, she will often be accused of having been manipulative over her younger sisters.
Leah, in my opinion, is one of the most interesting figures of the Spiritualist movement, not only as one of the three fox sisters, but her important role in the shaping of the religious aspect of the Spiritualist movement. When her sisters were old enough to be on their own and were out essentially being famous, Leah lead a much quieter life, performing private seances for guests at her home in Rochester (and eventually NYC).
Leah was not the typical Victorian woman, and this may be the primary reason that she has been recorded by history in a more negative light than her sisters. While her sisters could be written off as ‘tragic young women’ Leah was a more imposing figure: an independent woman. She was married three times, she was a single mother, she provided for her own family primarily through her skills as a music teacher, and was a very popular medium in her own right.
Leah wrote her own record of the Spiritualist movement, which is still in print, though not a hugely popular read these days. The work is titled The Missing Link in Modern Spiritualism by Leah Underhill (her married name). Although the work clearly states that it is not an autobiography, the work is very much written from Leah’s perspective. It discusses the events at Hydesville, as well as Leah’s own account of what occured in Rochester as a result, the events that became of it, their family history of spiritualist phenomena, and many, many interesting accounts regarding the early history of the Spiritualist movement.
An interesting point in the work that is largely left out of many works on the Fox Sisters is that Leah seemed to be keenly aware of the religious and spiritual dimension of this movement. Leah, seemed to understood that the movement was much larger and more important than a money making opportunity but rather a ‘new truth.’
She wrote: “the movement was not in our hands nor under our control. It had an object, and we, as reluctant and humble instruments, were in the hands of other and higher wills and forces, from whom it had proceeded, by whom it was directed, and, so to speak, engineered. We have since come to understand that all these events and incidents, perplexing and distressful as they were to us, were but the birthroes of a new truth, which was destined to revolutionize this world, and establish a communication between here and the hereafter; of the Earth and of the Spirit."
On a personal level, Leah described an event that she experienced at one of the first seances in her home in Rochester in the terms of a spiritual conversion:
“We were truly converted, and as the dear old Methodists used to say, “born again.” We could then realize that we had something to live for, something to hope for, in that sacred hour when each one in our humble group “lay at the feet of Jesus,” willing to be guided and directed in the paths of truth and duty.
Leah, unlike her two younger sisters, never denied the truth of Spiritualism. She continued as a medium (though in mainly private seances) her entire life, and also raised her children with Spiritualist beliefs.
Leah’s presence as a medium in Rochester lead to the forming of some of the earliest Spiritualist Circles in the country, one of the first being her own, which included her friends Amy and Isaac Post (I wrote a blog about them, check it out!). Isaac’s famous book of automatic writing actually includes a section in the back that records communications delivered through Leah in Seances. These early seances eventually lead to the formation of Spiritualist societies and Churches that we have today, and for those of us who live in Rochester, Plymouth Spiritualist Church can directly trace itself to this early Spiritualist Circle, that had Leah as it’s Medium.
I’d suggest to anyone reading this that’s interested, to take the time to read Leah’s own work in her own words, rather than the words of others.