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Seybert Collections on Modern Spiritualism

Spiritualism, the belief that it was possible for the spirits of the dead to communicate or interact by various means with the living, attracted many adherents in the United States since 1850.

Image of Seybert Commission report 1887-tp-cropped.jpg

Collection Overview

Before Henry Seybert died in 1883, he endowed a chair of philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, on the condition that the University appoint a commission to investigate “all systems of Morals, Religion, or Philosophy which assume to represent the Truth, and particularly of Modern Spiritualism." The Seybert Commission for Investigating Modern Spiritualism was formed in 1884 and published a report on the phenomena they were studying in 1887. 

Holdings consist of the Commission archive and an extensive collection of printed materials, the Henry Seybert Library of Modern Spiritualism. 

Accordion List

The Seybert Commission Records at the University of Pennsylvania provide insight into American spiritualism on the East Coast and in the Midwest in the mid- to late 1880s. The collection includes 8 boxes of documents, photographs, a few objects from the investigations, newspaper clippings, and publications. The documents are primarily correspondence, along with versions of the Commission’s report, some examples of spirit writing, and a handwritten catalog of the holdings of the Seybert Library (collection) at the University of Pennsylvania. Several slates used in the Commission’s investigations are also in the collection.

As part of the agreement with Seybert, the library established the Henry Seybert Library of Modern Spiritualism. Additional donations and acquisitions on the topic of spiritualism followed. Most (but not all) of these materials are cataloged in the library's online catalog, Franklin. Some related holdings may be found in the Edgar Fahs Smith Collection, and in the library of Theodore Dreiser. 

In 2005, the Library acquired a small collection of John C. Bundy (1841-1892), editor of the Religio-Philosophical Journal in Chicago, including correspondence concerning spiritualism and more specifically the workings and content of the Religio-Philosophical Journal.

Shakespeare scholar and University trustee Horace Howard Furness (1833-1912) was appointed Acting Chairman of the Seybert Commission. Furness's Library and papers are housed in the Kislak Center. 

Doctor and writer S. Weir Mitchell (1829-1914) was also a member of the Commission, and the Center holds an S. Weir Mitchell Collection.