Britten, Emma Hardinge (1823-1899)

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Britten, Emma Hardinge (1823-1899)

Inspirational speaker, medium, and early propagandist for Spiritualism. Born in the East End of London, Britten was the daughter of Capt. Floyd, a seafaring man. She demonstrated gifts as musician, singer, and elocutionist at an early age. At the age of 11 she was earning her living as a musical teacher. Under contract to a theatrical company in 1856, she went to America where she performed on Broadway and elsewhere in New York City. Through the mediumship of Ada Hoyt (Mrs. Coan), she converted to Spiritualism, developed her own psychic powers, and sat publicly for the Society for the Diffusion of Spiritual Knowledge in New York. Her mediumistic gifts included automatic writing, psychometry, occasional healing, prophecy, and inspirational speaking, which disclosed great erudition. As was common at the time, she spoke extempore on a subject generally chosen by a committee from the audience.

In the early history of spirit return, Britten furnished one of the better attested cases. After the mail steamer Pacific sank in the high seas, a member of the crew possessed her body in trance and disclosed the facts of the tragedy. Britten was threatened with prosecution by the owners of the steamer when the story was made public, but it was found to be true.

In 1865 she went back to England, But returned to New York in 1869 to meet with publishers about a book she was writing. In the voyage from England, dhe met her future husband, William Britten, with whom she began an occult magazine, The Western Star. A fire ended that effort.

Britten is best remembered today, not as a medium but as a spokesperson and advocate of Spiritualism, for which she traveled widely across North America and the British Empire. In Manchester, England, she founded and for five years edited Two Worlds, long a prominent Spiritualist magazine. Her two chronicles of emergent Spiritualism, Modern American Spiritualism (1870) and Nineteenth-Century Miracles (1884) became important sources for understanding the origin and spread of the movement worldwide. Among her other writings, Ghost Land; or, Researches into the Mysteries of Occultism (1876) and her translation and editing of the anonymous Art Magic (1875) were most important. She also for a time edited the American periodical Western Star (1872) and the British publication Unseen Universe (1892-93). Her early musical talent reemerged in a number of musical compositions and songs written under the name Ernest Reinhold.

Britten was also among the founders of the Theosophical Society in New York in 1875, but soon severed her connection with Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. Britten's life is told in a biography edited by her sister, Margaret Wilkinson.

She died in England October 2, 1899. The Britten Memorial Institute and Library and the Britten Memorial Museum were named in her honor.


[Britten, Emma Hardinge.] Art Magic. Boston, 1875. Re-print, Chicago: Progressive Thinker Publishing House, 1898.

. Ghost Land; or, Researches into the Mysteries of Occultism. Chicago: Progressive Thinker Publishing House, 1897.

. Modern American Spiritualism. New York, 1870. Re-print, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1970.

. Nineteenth-Century Miracles. New York: William Britten, 1884.

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Britten, Emma Hardinge (1823-1899)

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