Foreseeing the Future: Evangeline Adams and Astrology in America

Evangeline Adams is a towering figure in American astrology.
She was arguably the most famous American astrologer in the early part of the 20th century, with an impressive clientele, a radio show, and several books to her name. Her presentation of astrology in a court case against her – she impressed the judge – helped to validate not only her own abilities, but astrology in general.

Adams was not only a good astrologer, as Karen Christino’s
book clearly shows. She was a real maverick in many ways, including her fight to establish herself in business at a time when women rarely held positions of authority. She was also a master of self-promotion, and one gets the impression that Adams possessed the abilities of a great mystic in liberal combination with the spirit of P.T. Barnum. Christino does not hesitate to express some
skepticism about Adams’ predictive ability, noting that some of her most
accurate predictions were made public only after the events occurred.

Several of the key episodes of Adams’ life are called into
question, and she (and others) have obviously embellished events over time.
Adams came to public prominence for predicting a fire at the hotel in which she
was staying when she first arrived in New York City. Yet the telling of the
tale apparently grew throughout her life. That she had warned the owner of the
hotel is established, but the specifics are in doubt. Her famous court case for
‘fortune-telling’ also reads less dramatically than it is often presented (or was presented by Adams), although she
was indeed exonerated. And her vaunted professional relationship with financier
J.P. Morgan has little to substantiate it other than Adams’ own word.

Reading of Adams’ business practices is enlightening. She
began by offering sweeping predictions for the economy and for New York City
(including weather predictions) – what is called mundane astrology (mundo = world). She went on to offer written
horoscopes by correspondence, something that is very similar to the
computer-generated reports available today. These reports provided specific
information about character, without being very predictive and without really
integrate the information presented. As time went on, Adams became less
deterministic in her work, perhaps as a result of an increasingly sophisticated
public, perhaps as a consequence of her court cases, and perhaps reflecting her
own growth and development.

Foreseeing the Future
is a well-written and entertaining book that presents Evangeline Adams in a
realistic light, neither overly indulgent nor deeply critical. It is very well
researched, and Christino strives to substantiate both the events of her
subject’s life and her own impression of Adams. One gets the sense that the
author very much likes, but doesn’t necessarily trust, Adams. Considering that
Adams was a woman practicing astrology in the early 20th century, the reader
may be inclined to follow Christino’s lead and cut the astrological maverick
some slack.

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