Sunday, January 16, 2011

May Wright Sewall: Courageous Crusader in Education, Women's Suffrage, World Peace, and ...

May Wright Sewall (1844-1920) was a courageous crusader for women's suffrage, world peace, mediation, and education. She and her husband, educator Theodore Lovett Sewall, founded the Girls' Classical School in Indianapolis. She was universally acknowledged as an extremely organized, personally driven, highly intelligent woman who was eminently practical, pragmatic, logical, and keenly analytical. She was also known to be tough-minded and could handle business efficiently. She skillfully interacted with a wide range of socially and politically active people. Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library has a collection of May Wright Sewall's papers in its digital archives that you may wish to peruse, if you would like to learn more about this remarkable woman's tireless efforts to serve, as her acquaintances said, "so many good causes." Pulitzer Prize winning author Booth Tarkington plainly stated that, along with Benjamin Harrison and James Whitcomb Riley, Mrs. Sewall would be considered as one of the "three most prominent citizens" of Indianapolis, during a time of unprecedented growth and social and economic expansion.

Most people who knew May Wright Sewall had no inkling of another of her passionate interests: psychical research. For nearly forty years she studied psychical and mediumistic phenomena with the same skeptical, critical mind that she applied to all her other professional activities. She kept her spiritualistic pursuits private, because she feared that these would be misconstrued in the press and would be used as weapons by opponents of the causes she championed. She was reluctant to commit her personal paranormal experiences to print, but, upon the encouragement of her closest friends, including Booth Tarkington, she agreed to publish her purported communications with the deceased.

Neither Dead Nor Sleeping, first published in 1920 by Bobbs-Merrill of Indianapolis (thanks to Booth Tarkington), and which was republished in a special edition by Cathar Press in 2008 after nearly 88 years out-of-print, recounts twenty years of alleged communications with purportedly deceased spirit entities, including her late husband, deceased composer Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894), and late physician Père Condé, whose across-the-veil instructions cured Mrs. Sewall of Bright's Disease, which her earthly doctors had declared incurable and ultimately fatal. The information is presented honestly and directly; it is difficult to imagine a more straightforward, sincere presentation. The author intended to describe what for her were true, factual events, just as she had done in each of her other books on the various subjects she mastered.

It is interesting that ad hominem arguments often acknowledge the lucid, insightful, and well-reasoned aspects of a particular person, only to dismiss their investigations into psychical, paranormal phenomena as being, at best, eccentric or, at worst, insane. Even Mrs. Sewall's biographer, Ray E. Boomhower, dismisses her interest in psychic science as having fallen into the depths of the spiritualistic "craze" (and, therefore, by implication, gross ignorance). This is the typical response by someone who knows nothing about the subject but is prepared to peremptorily dispense with it. Even if one reads no further than Mrs. Sewall's book, one will learn that this was no foolhardy lady writing whimsical nonsense; rather, it is a carefully analyzed investigation of events that shake the foundations of our world views based on normal, everyday experiences.

Whether or not one believes her, Mrs. Sewall's story is fascinating on its face and reads like an adventure with the unknown. It reminds us that, even in places like Indianapolis, there are hidden mysteries worth exploring.

The book is available to check-out from our Evergreen Indiana catalog.

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