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Patience Worth was allegedly a spirit contacted by Pearl Lenore Curran (February 15, 1883–December 4, 1937). This symbiotic relationship produced several novels, poetry and prose which Pearl Curran claimed was delivered to her through channelling the spirit, Patience Worth.
About Pearl Curran
Curran was born Pearl Lenore Pollard in Mound City, Illinois. The family moved to Texas when she was eight months old and she started school when she was six. She was an average but uninterested student, eventually dropping out in her first high school year, later stating she had a nervous breakdown due to the strenuous academics. She later returned to classes at St. Ignatius Catholic school.
Curran was a normal girl and was sensitive about her looks, considering herself to be ugly. She admitted to having little imagination and few ambitions, except to be successful as a singer. She had a short attention span and read very little during her formative years.
Her family moved to St. Louis when she was 14. She made a last attempt at attending school but was discouraged when placed in a lower grade based on her academic skills. However, she took music lessons and training in piano and voice and aspired to be a prima donna. About that time the family moved again, to Palmer, Missouri. As Curran's musical talents blossomed, she was sent to Kankakee, Illinois for voice training, before moving to Chicago for tuition from J.C. Cooper. She worked at the McKinley Music Company addressing envelopes for $6 a week, then the Thompson Music Company selling music. From the age of 18 to 24 she worked at assorted jobs in Chicago during winter months, and during the summer she taught music at home in Missouri.
Pearl married John Howard Curran when she was 24. Though by no means wealthy, they lived a lifestyle which gave Pearl free time for movie going or playing cards with her husband or neighbors. The Currans had an average education for that time and owned few books; neither of them had travelled extensively. The first seven years of their marriage were uneventful.
The Appearance of Patience Worth
Beginning in July 1912 Pearl Curran and her friend Emily Grant Hutchings were making a call on a neighbor who had a ouija board and during that call there came what purported to be a message from a relative of Mrs. Hutchings. Mrs. Hutchings then bought a ouija board and took it to Mrs. Curran's house with the idea of continuing the communications. Pearl was somewhat indifferent and had to be coaxed to participate at the board. On June 22, 1913 a communication from "Pat-C" began to come through. Then on July 8, 1913 the board seemed to be possessed with unusual strength and supposed communications from Patience Worth began. "Many moons ago I lived. Again I come. Patience Worth my name. Wait, I would speak with thee. If thou shalt live, then so shall I. I make my bread at thy hearth. Good friends, let us be merrie. The time for work is past. Let the tabby drowse and blink her wisdom to the firelog." When asked when she lived, the dates 1649 - 94 were given and that her home was "Across the sea".
Although Worth indicated that she was from England, she never named the town or village in which she lived. She did give some clues which were deduced by Casper Yost and other intimates of the Currans to indicate that Patience Worth had lived in rural Dorsetshire with her father John and mother Anne. Mrs. Curran had a mental picture of the place in which Patience Worth lived indicating that Patience lived in "...green rolling country with gentle slopes, not farmed much, with houses here and there. Two or three miles up this country on this road was a small village ---few houses." Mrs. Curran then visualized Patience leaving for America on a huge, wood three-masted schooner. Patience was described by Mrs. Curran as "...probably about thirty years. Her hair was dark red, mahogany, her eyes brown, and large and deep, her mouth firm and set, as though repressing strong feelings. Her hair had been disarranged by her cap, and was in big, glossy, soft waves." Mrs. Curran also saw Patience "sitting on a horse, holding a bundle tied in sail-cloth, tied with thongs and wearing a coarse cloth cape, brown-gray, with hood like a cowl, peaked. The face is in shadow. She is small and her feet are small---with coarse square-toed shoes and gray woolen stockings." After a long voyage the ship arrives at the jagged coast of America where they could find no landing place for the ship. Several flat boats were launched and Mrs. Curran saw Patience standing in the prow of her boat and one of the first to reach the shore. Patience Worth was later to indicate that she was eventually killed by the Indians.
No authenticated documentation has ever been found to indicate that someone named Patience Worth had lived in Dorsetshire England during the later 17th century nor are there any ship logs from that period with the name Patience Worth. The name Patience Worth does occur in census data of early settlers of the United States but none of them has been linked to the Patience Worth of Pearl Curran.
In 1916, in a book with a foreword written by Casper Yost, editor of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Henry Holt and Company publicized Curran's claims that she had contacted the long dead Patience Worth. Curran claimed she began to anticipate what the Ouija board was going to spell and by 1919 the pointer would just move aimlessly about the board. Curran described pictorial visions which accompany the coming of the words from Patience. She said "I am like a child with a magic picture book. Once I look upon it, all I have to do is to watch its pages open before me, and revel in their beauty and variety and novelty....When the poems come, there also appear before my eyes images of each successive symbol, as the words are given me....When the stories come, the scenes become panoramic, with the characters moving and acting their parts, even speaking in converse. The picture is not confined to the point narrated, but takes in everything else within the circle of vision at the time....If the people talk a foreign language, as in The Sorry Tale, I hear the talk, but over and above is the voice of Patience, either interpreting or giving me the part she wishes to use as story." Pearl Curran went on to describe her association with Patience Worth as "one of the most beautiful that can be the privilege of a human being to experience." Pearl and Patience together wrote several novels including Telka, The Sorry Tale, Hope Trueblood, The Pot upon the Wheel, Samuel Wheaton, An Elizebethan Mask as well as several short stories and many poems.
The Patience Worth writings coincided with a revival of Spiritualism in the U.S. and Britain, possibly facilitating interest in the matter. The skeptics derided certain aspects of the supposed communication, noting particularly that Patience was able to write a novel about the Victorian age, an era some 200 years after the one in which she claimed to have lived. Still, the literature produced was considered to be of a high quality by some; the literary critic William Marion Reedy considered The Sorry Tale to be a new classic of world literature. Patience Worth was also listed as one of the outstanding authors of 1918 by The Joint Committee of Literary Arts of New York. She was also cited by William Stanley Braithwaite in the 1918 edition of the Anthology of Magazine Verse and Year Book of American Poetry by printing the complete text of five of her poems, along with other leading poets of the day including William Rose Benet, Amy Lowell, and Edgar Lee Masters. Braithwaite's index of magazine verse for 1918 listed the titles of eighty-eight poems by Patience Worth that appeared in magazines during the twelve-month period, only two of which were considered by Braithwaite to be lacking in any distinction. The same index listed ten poems by Amy Lowell and five by Edna St. Vincent Millay.
Some observers felt that because of her poor education, Curran herself could not be composing the works. The writer of a book entitled The Mystery of Patience Worth claimed that derivation of the language used in the Patience Worth historical novels was 90 percent Anglo-Saxon and 10 percent old French. No words were in use later than the 17th century. The author who wrote this was Casper Yost, the same man who introduced Patience Worth and Pearl Curran to the public.
After the death of her husband John Curran on June 1, 1922 who kept meticulous records of the Patience Worth sessions, the record of the Patience Worth sessions became episodic and fragmentary, with long gaps of time unaccounted for. Pearl was pregnant with her first child which was born six months after her husband's death. Pearl now had a family of four to support by herself and her financial situation was bleak, so much so that Herman Behr, a devoted friend sent money to Mrs. Curran and announced that he would continue to do so as long as she needed it. Mr. Behr provided Mrs. Curran with an income of $400 a month for a number of years. Mrs Curran then entered the lecture circuit to make some money to support her family. A few months later her mother Mrs. Mary Pollard died. The sessions with Patience Worth still continued regularly at Mrs. Curran's home. Mrs. Curran's financial situation continued to be bleak. She married two more times but both marriages were short-lived. In the summer of 1930 Mrs. Curran left St. Louis for good and moved to California to live with an old friend Mrs. Alexander Bailey (Dotsie) Smith in the Los Angeles area. Patience was kept busy at the sessions, as always, by requests for her comments on major topics of the day and other issues. She continued to communicate through Pearl through November 25, 1937 when she gave her final communication. Pearl apparently had received a prior communication from Patience that she (Pearl) was going to die as Pearl told Dotsie Smith "Oh Dotsie, Patience has just shown me the end of the road and you will have to carry on as best you can." Even though Pearl had not been in ill health, she developed pneumonia late in November and died on December 3, 1937.
From time to time, people claim to receive communications from Patience Worth. A notable example is a book by Irene Hickman, D.O. and hypnotist in which she claims that Patience continued to speak through an acquaintance who was given a fictitious name "Anne" by Hickman to protect her from the distress of publicity and attention. The material was produced during the years 1947 through 1950. The book contains 197 pages of mostly poems. Although Hickman states that "The style, the manner, the personality of Patience was so obviously of herself and herself alone..." the writing seems to be much inferior to the earlier work of Patience with Pearl Curran.
Many critics and anthologists turned away from Patience Worth simply because they feared becoming involved with a writer of such questionable, controversial origin. According to Mr. Irving Litvag, author of Singer in the Shadows, "The case somehow seemed to bear a taint --- of what? fraud? sensationalism? lunacy? --- and self-respecting critics and anthologists steered away from it, disdainfully lifting their skirts like a crusty old Victorian lady crossing a mud puddle." Pearl could not get her books published any more nor was the work of Patience Worth listed in any anthologies of American poetry.
A thorough investigation of the case was conducted by Dr. Walter Franklin Prince who published in 1927 his book The Case of Patience Worth. A voluminous report of 509 pages covering the Patience Worth case from its inception in 1913 to about 1927 when his book was published by the Boston Society for Psychic Research. It provided an autobiographical sketch of Pearl Curran, eye-witness reports, opinions and reviews, poetry of Patience and Mrs. Curran and much other information related to the case. As part of his investigation Prince wrote an article titled "The Riddle of Patience Worth," which appeared in the July 1926 issue of Scientific American. In it he requested anyone with information, (presumedly discrediting Pearl Curran) bearing on the case, to contact him; no one ever did.
The Patience Worth Phenomenon Today
The story and writings of Pearl Curran/Patience Worth are little known outside of occult circles today. Most of the writing is out of print, except for a few print on demand publishers who specialize in public domain works.
Irving Litvag's Singer in the Shadows, written in 1972 and reprinted by Back-In-Print publishers, offers a thorough and accessible chronicle of the Pearl Curran/Patience Worth phenomenon.
In his book Immortal Remains. The Evidence of Life after Death Stephen E. Braude thoroughly examines the case of Patience Worth and concludes that Pearl Curran was probably a highly gifted child whose talent for writing was smothered by her mother, who wanted to force Pearl into a singing career. In the alter ego of Patience Worth her subconscious could revive that talent. Patience also had a sharp tongue and was highly suspicious and critical of organized religion and formal education. She also was contemptuous of the various forms of academic and religious posturing. Braude argues that these were in fact personality traits of Pearl that she couldn't let out at that time.
- Yost, Casper S. (1916). Patience Worth. A Psychic Mystery. Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 0-7661-9536-8.
- Behr, Herman, ed. (1927). Light from Beyond, Poems of Patience Worth. Patience Worth Publishing Co. ISBN 978-0-7873-1347-0.
- Malone, R.F (1947). Patience Worth. Temptress. Psychic Book Club.
- Prince, Walter Franklin (1964). The Case of Patience Worth. University Books, Inc.
- Hickman, Irene (1971). I Knew Patience Worth. Self-published by Irene Hickman. ISBN 0-915689-06-5.
- Litvag, Irving (1972). Singer in the Shadows. The Strange Story of Patience Worth. The Macmillan Company. ISBN 0-595-19805-8.
- Theisen, James (1992). Patience Worth - Psychic Mystery of the Ages. INFO Journal#66.
- Wall, Mia-Grandolfi (2000). Rediscovering Pearl Curran: Solving the Mystery of Patience Worth. Unpublished Ph.D. Diss., Tulane University, available through UMI Dissertation Services.
- Braude, Stephen E. (2003). Immortal Remains. The Evidence of Life after Death. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 0-7425-1472-2.
- Diliberto, Gioia (September 2010). "Ghost Writer". Smithsonian: 84–100. Retrieved 14 September 2010.
- Patience Worth - Proof of Reincarnation?
- E-Text of The Sorry Tale (pdf)
- E-Text of Patience Worth: A Psychic Mystery by Casper S. Yost (pdf)
- Selected poems of Patience Worth