Gladys Osborne Leonard

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Gladys Osborne Leonard (May 1882 - 1968) was a British trance medium, renowned for her work with the Society for Psychical Research where she attempted to prove life after death.


Leonard was born in Lytham in May 1882. She claimed to have experienced her first 'visitation' by spirits when she was a child.[1] She claimed that the spirits would show her landscapes which she would refer to as the 'Happy Valley'.[2] She was trained as a singer but childhood illness in 1906 prevented her from continuing. Her interest in spiritualism developed whilst she was ill when a Spiritualist nurse in the hospital invited her to take part in her first table seance.[2]


By 1915 Leonard was giving professional readings. She claimed to channel the spirit of an Indian woman named Feda who had been married to her great-great-grandfather, and readings were given 'through' her.[1][2][3] Patrons of Leonard attested that when Feda was being channeled Leonard spoke in broken English with little understanding of the language.[4]

She gained famed as a medium after a session with the family of Sir Oliver Lodge, which was publicised in his book Raymond.[5] In 1918 Leonard began working with the Society for Psychical Research.[6] The Society would often use proxies in place of grieving relatives in an attempt to minimise fraud.[3] However, their publication detailing the results of these sittings was glowing in praise, and resulted in even more publicity for Leonard.[6] Leonard later worked with Radclyffe Hall and the results of those sessions were published in the Proceedings for the Society for Psychical Research in 1919.[4]


In 1917, Edward Clodd analyzed the mediumship of Leonard and came to the conclusion that she had known her séance sitters before she had held the séances, and could have easily obtained information by natural means.[7] Leonard's work has been analysed thoroughly and many suggestions have been made as to how she managed to dupe her séance sitters. As a medium she specialised in 'book tests', whereby she would select a book from the shelf which held special significance to the deceased.[5] Eleanor Sidgwick analysed these tests and found that only 36% were successful.[5]

Furthermore, skeptics who have analysed the writings found in Raymond have concluded that autosuggestion is the likeliest explanation for the information supposedly gathered by Leonard.[8]

One of Leonard's supposed "spirit" controls was Raymond the son of Oliver Lodge, however when asked specific questions he failed to answer them. Her control Raymond could not remember the name of a single soldier he had been with before his death.[9] According to spiritualists the spirit control of Leonard known as 'Feda' could speak independently of the medium.[10] To investigate this the psychical researchers Theodore Besterman and Gerald Heard tested with microphones the amount of displacement from the medium's mouth. A voice was heard on occasion but no displacement was detected. The conclusion was that the voice effect was merely a ventriloquial illusion.[11]

The researcher Walter Mann was convinced that Leonard was a fraud. In a séance on December, 3, 1915 Leonard described an army photograph featuring Raymond the son of Oliver Lodge sitting on the ground with an officer placing his hand on his shoulder. Mann wrote that Leonard had already seen the photograph as she had five days to obtain the photograph before the séance.[12]

Other sceptics have alluded to the possibility that Leonard was trained as an actress in her formative years and have suggested that this aided her mediumship.[3][8]


  1. ^ a b Sylvia Browne; Lindsay Harrison (25 May 2010). The Secret History of Psychics: How to Separate Fact From Fiction - and Tap Into Your Own Psychic Abilities. Simon and Schuster. pp. 171–. ISBN 978-1-4391-5050-4. Retrieved 29 October 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c C. E. Bechhofer Roberts (15 October 2004). The Truth about Spiritualism 1932. Kessinger Publishing. pp. 202–. ISBN 978-1-4179-8128-1. Retrieved 29 October 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c Dr. Mehra Shrikhande (8 June 2009). Paranormal Experiences. Unicorn Books. pp. 146–. ISBN 978-81-7806-166-5. Retrieved 29 October 2011. 
  4. ^ a b Richard Dellamora (30 June 2011). Radclyffe Hall: A Life in the Writing. University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 56–. ISBN 978-0-8122-4346-8. Retrieved 29 October 2011. 
  5. ^ a b c David Ray Griffin (February 1997). Parapsychology, philosophy, and spirituality: a postmodern exploration. SUNY Press. pp. 55–. ISBN 978-0-7914-3316-4. Retrieved 29 October 2011. 
  6. ^ a b "Leonard, Gladys Osborne 1882-1968". The Element Encyclopedia of the Psychic World 10. Harper Collins. 2006. pp. 388–391. 
  7. ^ Edward Clodd. (1917). The Question: A Brief History and Examination of Modern Spiritualism. Chapter Mrs. Leonard and Others. pp. 215-241
  8. ^ a b Harry Price (1939). Fifty years of psychical research: a critical survey. Ayer Publishing. pp. 149–. ISBN 978-0-405-07043-3. Retrieved 29 October 2011. 
  9. ^ Alfred W. Martin. (1918). Psychic Tendencies of To-Day. D. Appleton and Company. p. 97
  10. ^ Allan Barham. (1984). Strange To Relate. Colin Smythe. p. 74. ISBN 978-0861401864
  11. ^ Julian Franklyn. (2003). A Survey of the Occult. pp. 395-396. Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 978-0766130074
  12. ^ Walter Mann. (1919). The Follies and Frauds of Spiritualism. London: Watts & Co. pp. 187-188. "There is not the slightest doubt in the present writer's mind that Mrs. Leonard had seen the photo in question. Let us go over the dates again. Captain Boast sent the negatives to England, where they arrived on October 15, 1915. A large number of copies appear to have been printed-there were twenty-one- officers and their friends to supply.On November 28 Mrs. Cheves had six in her possession, with a key to the names, and wrote offering Lady Lodge a copy, which was not sent until December, 7 after an interval of nine days. On November 28, then it was common knowledge in Sir Oliver's household that the photo existed. On December 3, five days later, Mrs. Leonard describes the photo at a sitting with Sir Oliver. Five days gave ample time for her to obtain a copy of the photo; and the unfortunate delay of Mrs. Cheves in not sending her copy until the 7th gave just the chance needed to work the miracle."

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