Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Theory and Criticism


Dr. Sharon Sliwinski


This study traces the development of mediumship in Canada in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Especially popular among women, this practice offered them an important space of expression. Concealing their own identities under spiritual possession, mediums ubiquitously invoked well-known historical figures in séances to transmit their opinions on current issues. As such, they were able to promote new ideas to interested audiences without claiming responsibility for their potentially controversial words.

While many studies have been conducted in the United States, Britain, and France regarding the significant role of mediumship in the emergence of women on the political scene, very few have approached this history in Canada. My research defends the importance of studying mediums’ discourses as they provide rare access to Canadian women’s perspectives at a time when public speaking was restricted for them. More particularly, I argue that séances provided women a disguised means to explore, discuss, and reconfigure the notion of female agency within a variety of public and private platforms. I read séances through the works of major figures in feminism and psychoanalysis in order to demonstrate how the complexity of subjectivity performed by mediums questioned traditional understandings of discourse and agency. Examining the trance communications of mediums from pioneering author Susanna Moodie to suffragist Flora MacDonald Denison, among others, my objective is to shed new light on the relations between women and politics, while defending a more inclusive understanding of the historical past that addresses yet unexplored forms of women’s participation in sexual, cultural, and political debates.