The vast majority of Victorian-era mediums were women. As explained in, “Bawdy Technologies and the Birth of Ectoplasm,” few women of the time had much control over their lives and their world. Spiritualism gave them the ability to command the attention of audiences, become spiritual leaders, and manipulate others. Through their false claims about connection with ghosts, exploitation of grief, and extreme theatrical performances, they were able to step outside the narrow role that they would otherwise have been restricted to.
Many scientists and researchers like Dr. Charles Richet believed ectoplasm was real. One reason for this was that it seemed to come out of women’s bodies. At around the same time as Spiritualism was taking hold, scientists were beginning to examine female bodies in a new way. Surgical gynecology was just beginning, and little was known about female anatomy. As stated by the University of Colorado Boulder, it was common practice to remove ovaries to treat “phantom ailments” like hysteria.
Some mediums claimed to create ectoplasm from their genitals, many researchers of the time viewed ectoplasm as a “gynecological” phenomenon, possibly connected with the spirit world, that represented yet another mystery of the female body.