The hunt begins again


Well, I started out the new semester with a bad case of something flu-like—just one of several slightly inauspicious signs for 2008. But the tea leaves are thus far pleasantly mixed. Having batted 0 for 2 (or 3) on teaching this semester, I am, under the circumstances, pleasantly ensconced as an unfunded Visiting Faculty Fellow of the Center for Popular Culture Studies, here at BGSU. It’s a chance to keep at my scholarly work, end in connection with one of the programs that brought me here in the first place, 18 years ago, and do a last little bit of lecturing and the like before the Big Move West in the Spring. As a late applicant to a small center, I’m working with a somewhat rustic office, but it certainly beats the picnic table I used most of last semester, when I actually did have a student to teach. I have a phone, a computer, and interlibrary loan privileges. I’m a somebody around here—more or less.

I’ve spent the less feverish and more coherent moments of the last ten days working through about eight years worth of The Banner of Light, a Boston spiritualist magazine. My official project for the semester is to continue the search for libertarian materials in popular periodicals. Access will be very different once I leave this region, so I’ll be trying to cover a lot of ground. The spiritualist papers are very interesting ground. Sometimes we forget how many radicals embraced the spiritualist movement to at least some degree. Of the “big names” of individualist anarchism, Stephen Pearl Andrews, Victoria Woodhull and Ezra Heywood come to mind immediately. Of the broader group associated with the New England Labor Reform League, John Orvis (who proposed a spirit-inspired, gold-bug version of “equitable commerce” in 1855, much to Josiah Warren’s chagrin) stands out. The Banner of Light followed the NELRL from its beginnings, reporting on its conventions in some detail. In the early 1870s, Victoria Woodhull caused considerable friction in spiritualist circles. Andrews’ universology was criticized on feminist grounds. Warren wrote in to the Banner in defense of Woodhull. Dyer D. Lum and Henry C. Wright contributed numerous articles. The Banner followed all sorts of local reform efforts, and in their coverage some interesting details about William B. Greene emerge. It appears that women were elected to the school boards of Boston in the early 1970s, but were then forbidden to take the positions. Greene led one of the indignation meetings protesting the events. And it appears that Greene appeared at one of the spiritualist conventions, perhaps at the invitation of Woodhull, to appear on a panel about stirpiculture. Last, but certainly not least, among the things I’ve found in the Banner are some mentions of the Hygienic Home School Association, which advocated a kind of “associative familism,” mixing elements of Fourier and Josiah Warren(!?) in a somewhat unlikely stew. I’ll get this stuff into the archive ASAP.

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About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.