We take a look at the board’s invention, in particular two women behind it, Helen Peters and Ouida: a highly-educated, unconventional medium who later ended up denouncing Ouija, and the eccentric, dog-obsessed English writer whose name may have inspired the board’s.

In 1886, homemade talking boards became a new “Ohio craze” that newspapers reported widely around the country. Five years later, a man named Charles Kennard started a company to create his own talking board, which he claims he invented (though the prototype may have been made by his neighbor, a coffin maker turned undertaker.)

But what most people don’t know is that one woman’s involvement in the Ouija board’s creation had been totally written out of the history, until Ouija historian Robert Murch unearthed her story. We look at how a woman named Helen Peters was integral in ensuring the board got patented. She also was at the Ouija board session that the board’s name came from, and wore a locket around her neck with another woman’s name, Ouida, which is where the name “Ouija” may have emerged from. 

Ouida was a real character–an extremely prolific, oddball author of somewhat scandalous 19th-century adventure novels–so we take a look at her life and wonder how we’d also never heard of her.

We’ll pick up again next week to talk about what happened to Kennard’s company, and what happened to Ouija as the 20th century dawned.

 

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Pictures

A couple demonstrating the use of a talking board

The New Talking Board: The Mysterious Amusement Which is Fascinating Ohio People. The News, Frederick, Maryland, Sat, Apr 10 1886

Elijah Bond's Patent for the Kennard Ouija Board

Elijah Bond’s Patent for the Kennard Ouija Board

Planchette and Automatic Writing Sources

Websites about the Ouija board

Historical articles and advertisements about the Ouija Board and its invention

  • The New Talking Board: The Mysterious Amusement Which is Fascinating Ohio People. The News (Frederick, Maryland) · Sat, Apr 10, 1886 · Page 3

  • An Ohio Craze: The Mysterious Talking Board and Table Over Which

  • Ohioans Are Agitated. (Reprinted from the NY Tribute.) The Clay Democrat (Clay Center, Kansas) · Thu, Apr 22, 1886 · Page 2

  • The Columbus Journal (Columbus, Nebraska) · Wed, Apr 21, 1886 · Page 2

  • Ad. The Norfolk Landmark (Norfolk, Virginia) · Sat, Jan 31, 1891 · Page 2

  • Ad. The Norfolk Landmark (Norfolk, Virginia) · Fri, Apr 3, 1891 · Page 3

  • Ad. The Sun (New York, New York) · Sat, Mar 14, 1891 · Page 9

  • Ad. Fall River Daily Evening News (Fall River, Massachusetts) · Sat, Oct 3, 1891 · Page 4

  • Ad. Pittsburg dispatch. [volume] (Pittsburg [Pa.]) 1880-1923, February 01, 1891, SECOND PART, Page 12, Image 12

  • Ad. St. Joseph Gazette-Herald (St. Joseph, Missouri) · Sat, Apr 16, 1892 · Page 1

  • The Indianapolis Journal (Indianapolis, Indiana) · Sun, Dec 6, 1891 · Page 14

  • Ouija Board. The Thayer News (Thayer, Kansas) · Fri, Apr 8, 1892 · Page 4

Check out the shownotes for the rest of the series to see all of the sources used.

Listen to the rest of the Ouija board series:

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