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Promises of Love and Money

Promises of Love and Money

(p.199) Chapter 5 Promises of Love and Money
Looking Forward
Jamie L. Pietruska
University of Chicago Press

This chapter examines the policing and prosecution of urban fortune-tellers, primarily in New York, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, analyzing the entwined histories of fortune-telling as a social fad and a social threat. It traces the growth and transformation of the fortune-telling business in late-nineteenth-century cities, its rise as middle-class entertainment, and fortune-tellers’ professionalization as well as literary and journalistic critiques of fortune-telling and turn-of-the-century moral reform at Coney Island, where fortune-tellers maintained a thriving business despite antidivination prosecutions. The chapter focuses on a series of appellate court decisions in the 1890s and first two decades of the twentieth century that grappled with how to apply the law against “pretending to tell fortunes” to fortune-tellers’ intent and formulated a new legal framework permitting occult predictions that acknowledged their own uncertainty. This chapter emphasizes the significance of gender and race in the history of fortune-telling and especially in the careers of astrologer Evangeline Adams and character reader Adena Minott, both of whom operated successful businesses in New York in the 1910s. It also examines legal frameworks for astrology and Spiritualism in the 1910s and concludes with a discussion of congressional hearings on fortune-telling in 1926.

Keywords:   fortune-telling, astrology, Spiritualism, Coney Island, policing, moral reform, law, antidivination prosecutions, Evangeline Adams, Adena Minott

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