Fox sisters, family of American spiritualists including Margaret, 1836–93, Leah, 1814–90, and Catherine, 1841–92. In 1848, Margaret and Catherine claimed to hear mysterious rappings in their Arcadia, N.Y., home. Claiming the sounds to be communication from spirits, the sisters became the founders and most famous seers of 19th-cent, American spiritualism, which claimed about 1 million followers by 1855. They moved to Rochester, N.Y., and the rappings followed them. They organized "performances" in theaters to which they charged admission, attracting attention and skepticism. Since spiritualist mediums were one of the few professional groups in which women outnumbered men, some clergy attacked them and other female mediums. Horace Greeley and Robert Owen publically defended their claims. In 1888, Margaret admitted that the effects were fraudulent, but later recanted her admission. In recent years, a number of feminist historians have lauded such efforts by women at spiritual leadership. See spiritism.
See A. Braude, Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women's Rights in 19th Century America (1989).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.