Sidgwick, Eleanor Mildred Balfour
(1845–1936)
Psychical researcher and president of the Society for Psychical
Research (SPR). Sidgwick was born on March 11, 1845,
the older sister of Arthur James Balfour (later British Prime
Minister Premier) and Gerald William Balfour, both of whom
were also elected president of the SPR. In 1876 she married
Henry Sidgwick, who would go on to become a professor of
moral philosophy at Cambridge and in 1882 the first president
of the SPR. Though without formal training, she was of great
intellect and began to participate in research alongside her
husband. Her sister Evelyn Balfour married John William
Strutt (Lord Rayleigh), also an SPR president.
Mathematics was her forte. With her brother-in-law Lord
Rayleigh, she conducted several experiments in electricity and
with him published three papers in the Philosophical Transactions
of the Royal Society. Lord Rayleigh later won the Nobel Prize
for physics.
She joined the SPR, and in 1888 she assumed the duties formally
assigned to her husband as editor of the society’s Journal
and Proceedings. In the 1890s, deemed the best at handling
large masses of information, she was placed in charge of the
Census of Hallucinations and was the author of the final report.
She was elected president of the SPR for 1908–09. After
her term of office was finished, she acted as honorary secretary
until 1931. At the society’s Jubilee Celebrations in 1932, she
was appointed as President d’Honneur. Over a 30 year period
she collected and analyzed the many communications that
made up the bulk of the cross-correspondences.
Over the years she wrote a number of papers for the Journal
and Proceedings of the SPR. She assisted Edmund Gurney, F.
W. H. Myers, and Frank Podmore in the compilation of their
key work Phantasms of the Living (2 vols., 1886) and edited an
abridged edition in 1918. She also contributed the entry on
Spiritualism to the 9th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica
(1875–89). She died February 10, 1936.
Sources
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of
Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York Paragon
House, 1991.
Gauld, Alan. The Founders of Psychical Research. New York
Schrocken Books, 1968.
Pleasants, Helene, ed. Biographical Dictionary of Parapsychology.
New York Helix Press, 1964.
Sidgwick, Eleanor. ‘‘Discussion of the Trance Phenomena of
Mrs. Piper.’’ Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research
(1899).
———. ‘‘An Examination of Book-Tests Obtained in Sittings
with Mrs. Osborne Leonard.’’ Proceedings of the Society
for Psychical Research (1921).
———. ‘‘Hindrances and Complications in Telepathic
Communication.’’ Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research
(1923).
———. ‘‘History of the SPR.’’ Proceedings of the Society for
Psychical Research (1932–33).
———. ‘‘Phantasms of the Dead.’’ Proceedings of the Society
for Psychical Research (1885).
———. ‘‘The Physical Phenomena of Spiritualism.’’ Proceedings
of the Society for Psychical Research (1886).