Leonard, Gladys Osborne (1882-1968): “England’s ‘White Crow’”
Gladys Osborne Leonard is considered one of the greatest trance mediums in the annals of psychical research. While Leonora Piper was referred to by Professor William James as his “white crow” – the one who proved that not all crows are black, Mrs. Leonard, whose career began near the time that Piper’s was ending, was referred to as “England’s white crow” and the “British Mrs. Piper.” Some of the very best evidence for the survival of consciousness came through her mediumship.
Leonard’s mediumship began to unfold in December 1910, after she was married and working as a stage actress. With two friends, Florence and Nellie, Leonard began experimenting with the table-tilting method of spirit communication. After 26 failures, they received messages from several people, including Leonard’s mother. These messages were spelled out by the table tilting so many times for each letter of the alphabet. During this first successful sitting, a long name was spelled out, beginning with “F.” As they could not pronounce it, they asked if they could abbreviate it by drawing several letters from it. The communicating entity consented and the three women selected “F-E-D-A” as the name for the entity.
Leonard and her two friends continued sitting at the table night after night, receiving messages from deceased friends and relatives as Feda acted as a kind of spiritual mistress of the ceremonies. Over the next several years, Leonard progressed from table tilting to trance mediumship, as well as automatic writing and occasionally the direct-voice. Early in 1914, Feda told Mrs. Leonard that she must become a professional medium and prepare for something big and terrible, apparently World War I. Leonard was reluctant to charge for her services, but when Feda pointed out that ministers and doctors are paid for their services, Leonard gave in to the suggestion.
Leonard gained worldwide fame from the publication of Sir Oliver Lodge’s 1916 book, Raymond or Life and Death, which reported on many evidential messages Lodge received from his son Raymond, who had been killed on the battlefield the prior year. During a three month period in 1918, Leonard was exclusively engaged by the Society for Psychical Research, which had 70 of their researchers sit anonymously with her. The overall report was that good evidence of surviving personality had been obtained and that there was no trickery or fraud of any kind involved with Leonard.
In addition to her autobiography, My Life in Two Worlds, published in 1931, Leonard authored The Last Crossing (1937) and Brief Darkness (1942).