Patience Worth, Writing From The Spirit World

“I was sick of myself. I wanted to feel, feel like a woman that somebody cared about.” —Mayme, in Pearl Curran’s “Rosa Alvaro, Entrante”

In A Nutshell

Between 1913 and 1937, Patience Worth wrote almost four million words, and her works of literature were counted among the nation’s best. The weirdness happens when you tried to talk to Patience. Patience was long dead, a spirit channeled through Pearl Lenore Curran, an uneducated housewife from St. Louis who began writing through a typewriter and dictation after abandoning the Ouija board she’d first used to contact the spirit.

The Whole Bushel

Regardless of how you feel about Ouija boards and channeling spirits from the Great Beyond, the story of Patience Worth and Pearl Lenore Curran is a great one.

Patience Worth was born in England in 1649 and later emigrated to America. She was said to have an air of perpetual youth about her, with curly red hair and big brown eyes. She had never married and lived in Nantucket until her death in a raid on her village by Native Americans.

More than 200 years later, she found her voice again.

Pearl Lenore Curran was a St. Louis housewife, barely educated and prone to anxiety attacks. According to those who knew her, she, too, was deeply spiritual. Perhaps most telling, she was also said to have a powerful imagination.

After the loss of her father in 1912, Curran turned to a Ouija board in an attempt to contact him. According to her, she found someone very, very different and someone who wanted—rather, needed—to speak through her. That was the long-dead Patience Worth.

Curran began writing for Patience Worth, sometimes using a typewriter, sometimes dictating to her husband. Fiction, novels, plays, poems . . . Patience was prolific. And Patience was good.

It wasn’t long before Curran took her show on the road, cashing in not only on the amazing quality of the literature she was producing but also on the modern obsession with spirituality, the occult, and mysticism. She would hold seances where she would channel Patience, writing before whoever wanted to gather around the table to see her.

There were skeptics, certainly, and countless people tried to debunk what she was doing. But no one was ever able to successfully explain just how she knew so much about obscure historical customs and references to places that she’d never been, especially when figuring in her education level. She was extremely prolific, turning out plays after poems after full-length novels; throughout her career, she wrote almost four million words.

Going back and looking at her work today, analysts point to patterns in her dialect, writing, and speech that suggest it was created by someone who had only a passing familiarity with the language and accent that Patience would have been using. And as for Curran’s seemingly sudden ability to write amazing literature? Some people now chalk up her writing abilities to going off to that creative place where so many writers spend so much time—a skill she’d always had but never been able to manifest.

Curran also wrote when she wasn’t channeling Patience, but according to her, writing on her own was difficult. And it’s one of those independently penned stories that is perhaps most interesting and most telling. “Rosa Alvaro, Entrante” was a story Curran wrote and submitted to The Saturday Evening Post, published in 1919. It tells the story of a young woman bored by her day-to-day life, looking for something more. With the help of a medium, she begins to channel the spirit of Rosa Alvaro, an exotic Spanish beauty whose presence makes her own life bearable.

What’s not all that clear is what Curran thought of Patience—whether she was, like Rosa Alvaro, a fictional creation made up to break the monotony of her own humdrum life, or if she truly did believe that there was another personality passing through her on the way to the page.

Either way, Patience and Pearl created works hailed by the New York Times as a “feat of literary composition,” had their poems ranked among the nation’s best, and earned their place in literary history.

Show Me The Proof

Smithsonian: Patience Worth: Author From the Great Beyond
Committee for Skeptical Inquiry: Ghost Author? The Channeling of ‘Patience Worth’
The Saturday Evening Post: Written by Pearl Curran . . . or by Ouija Board?

  • 1DireWolf

    Mental illness has many forms.

    • Hillyard

      Mental illness or an attention grabbing scheme to help her work sell? Could be either.

      • Amos Doyle

        According to her family, friends and the professionals who studied her, Pearl Curran was as mentally sound as any other woman of that time.

  • Hillyard

    Her husband must have had a lot of patience to put up with that nonsense. I suppose the cash it brought in helped.

    • Clyde Barrow

      Ah, Patience….I see what you did there.

    • Amos Doyle

      Pearl Curran did not charge for attendance at her sessions with Patience Worth although after she was widowed she provided lectures for various organizations. Most of the money made from her books was spent in getting them published and in paying for food for the hundreds of people whom she entertained in her home. After her husband died she depended on charity from Herman Behr to support herself, her mother and her two children. Until she remarried, Herman Behr provided a stipend to $400 a month to keep Pearl and her family financially secure.

  • I wish I could channel certain historical people, I’ve prayed and begged and pleaded, but so far, no connection – at least none that I know of. I do know that many writers have claimed that when writing, a more intelligent self takes over, and they are often surprised about the depth, quality and connotations that their own work contains, the work making the author look more intelligent than he would credit himself. This ‘second person’ is not a different entity, don’t get me wrong on that, this personae is like a focused, optimised version of the daily self. Or is it?

    Nice one, Debra Kelly.

  • Has anyone ever tried to find any evidence of an actual Patience Worth having lived in New England during the time it was claimed she lived? Or any time?
    I’ve read about this “duo” before, but this article included some info I’d run across before. Nice work here, Debra.