Advice Giving Bibliography August 1996

Query From Debbie Nathan 20 August 1996

I'm a writer (not a scholar) currently researching the psychic telephone industry (e.g. Dionne Warwick's "Psychic Friends Network," a staple infomercial on cable TV). My main focus is to look at the business as one in which the "psychics" are mostly women and the callers are also. My impression from talking to the psychics is that they are mostly blue-collar and lower-middle-class women who find the work relatively well paid and convenient because it can be done at home around a flexible schedule that accommodates their domestic/family obligations. Training for the work is easy and there is little emphasis on "psychic ability" (except to say that "if you're a middle-aged woman who's been through knocks in life, and if you empathize with other women, then you have natural psychic abilities"). Most of the callers are poor (even though the price for the calls is exorbitant) and most are going through sever life crises--financial insolvency, husbands/partners in prison, victims of violence, etc. The telephone psychics spend little time reading cards or otherwise being "psychic" and much time trying to advise the callers about how to deal with their crises. In this they are much like social workers or psychotherapists, except, of course, they don't have any professional training in these fields.

What I am trying to research is how the "psychics" nevertheless retain a level of authority that makes callers willing to trust and pay them. Although in part they use the mention of "supernatural talents" as their claim to expertise, I think there's something else at work here: the long cultural tradition of laywomen giving other women advice--a tradition not entirely supplanted by the rise of the helping professions. (Dear Abby and Ann Landers are the most visible examples of the survival of this tradition.) I want to explore this idea but don't know where to find historical sources (except Ehrenreich's For Her Own Good, which seems too recent, too much into the period when "expert" advice supplants popular advice). Can anyone help me with some history and sources?


Borst, Charlotte Catching Babies (Harvard, 1995)

Braude, Anne Radical Spirits, Flexner Report (1910)

Owens, Alex The Darkened Room

Simond, Wendy Women and Self-Help Culture: Reading Between the Lines (Rutgers U. Press, 1992)

Ulrich, Laurel A Midwife's Tale

Other Sources:

"You might want to look at women healers who were not associated with the Spiritualism would find it under the general heading of 19th century health movement...'

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