“THE POWERS OF THOUGHT” – October 6, 1907

In this second address before the Society of Bible Spiritualists, meeting in A.O.U.W. Temple1, Scott Duniway examines another dimension of the paranormal: hypnotism. Her immediate concern is the recent murder trial of Charles H. Reynolds in the shooting death of George Herbert Hibbins, who was having an affair with Reynolds’ wife, Lulu.2 Although Abigail thinks that Mrs. Reynolds must have been under Hibbins’ “Svengalian spell,” she does not condone the woman’s actions on this account. In fact, she takes umbrage at those who have excused the woman’s weakness while laying all the villainy on the man. However, this is not because Abigail thinks that hypnotism is a fraud and the woman blameless. On the contrary, she takes for granted that hypnotism exists as a power of the mind, and that Hibbins’ use of this power was evil. But, she believes, Mrs. Reynolds was duty-bound to “parry” his hypnotic influence “by the power of her own thought and action.” Here is evident the same faith in knowledge and reason as antidote to evil, and the same emphasis on personal moral responsibility, that Abigail also displays in other contexts. Yet, it is ironic that, here, her faith is tempered by an image of frail, vulnerable, mentally overpowered womanhood.

The text is taken from the Morning Oregonian of October 7, 1907, which quotes Abigail “in part”:

It is related of God’s servant, Job, that, when suffering under dire affliction, the old man, in answer to a taunt, exclaimed: “Shall we receive good at the hands of God, and shall we not receive evil?”

This afternoon, seeing in the papers that I was to lecture here this evening, I recalled the fact, previously forgotten, that in answer to a request from your president, by telephone, I had said that I would try to attend the meeting and possibly take part in a discussion on the power of thought for good and evil. I did not expect my theme to be dignified by the title of “lecture,” but since it has been so announced I will give you, briefly, some of my ideas upon one particular line of thought, known in these latter years as hypnotism.

I think it will hardly be denied, in this era of demonstration, that hypnotism, like every other attribute of mind or thought, is a power for good, that in the keeping of unscrupulous persons may and often does become a power for evil. Believing, as I have learned to believe, that all evil is undeveloped good, and that it is ignorance of evil, of which the human family is so often the victim, I do not scruple to investigate, and as far as I am able, analyze every line of thought that current events is [sic] stimulating.

I have been especially stirred by a recent event, resulting in murder, wherein a woman otherwise of blameless character was so far led astray by the evil designs of a man who had evidently made her the victim of hypnotism, that I restrained with difficulty a desire to submit to the newspapers an attempted analysis of this mysterious power, which no one in any way connected with the tragedy or trial seemed to understand, except, possibly, the evil-intentioned man who paid the penalty for his crime through the loss of his physical life.

I am convinced that nothing but the lingering power of a Svengalian spell would have induced his unfortunate victim to throw restraint to the winds and, regardless of the presence of others, cast herself upon the clay-cold body of the villain who, even in death, held her will, or thought forces, spellbound. The letters written by this woman under the influence of this spell show her to have been not a bad woman at heart. Not a word did she pen in those letters against her wronged and outraged husband, and not a motive did she disclose from first to last other than blind obedience to a hypnotic power, as potent while it lasted as a virulent case of typhoid fever or confluent smallpox.3

Quite frequently this form of hypnotism is dual in character, affecting two victims simultaneously, as in a case of “love at first sight,” when a youth and a maiden, with no legal barrier between them, joyfully accept each other for better or for worse at the marriage altar; and, shielded “till death doth them part,” by its mysterious power, they are ennobled to endure all the trials, as well as enjoying all the pleasures of life, till a ripe old age, in each other’s company. It is the greatest of blessings.

But woe to the man or woman who enters the marriage relation when one or both the contracting parties has not been enthralled by this power of thought, if, among the ships that do not “pass in the night,” comes along an “affinity,” who professes and does not scruple to use hypnotic power to entice a man or woman–for both the sexes may be subject to its spell–causing an innocent victim of the disease to forsake, and for a time forget husband or wife, children and all else previously held sacred for the sake of an ephemeral impulse, so ruthless while it lasts as the thought power that enthralls it.

Do not understand me as condoning the weakness of any man or woman who catches this unclean contagion. But I do most solemnly protest against the maudlin sentimentality that has become a part of our unwritten law, which excuses the woman in the case as weak, while all the villainy is charged up to the man. Any married woman understands the advances of a hypnotic prac[ti]tioner long before they become serious; it is her duty to parry them in such a way, by the power of her own thought and action, that the most designing villain will skulk away abashed.

But, in a case like the one under review, where both parties have fallen victims to hypnotic disease and have lost the divinest of human attributes–self-control–it would, in my opinion, be far more salutary to lock them up together and give human nature a chance to effect a lasting cure by repulsion, which, in time, would surely come to their relief, than for an innocent or injured husband or wife to stain his hands in the blood of one and leave the other an incurable sufferer from a disease that, like alcoholism, can only be effectually cured by creating a chemical change in its victim, induced by compulsory overdoses of opportunity.

I also deem it wise, while this theme of the power of thought is under discussion, to consider another case, wholly unlike the one just cited, of which the papers are full. In this case, also, maudlin public sentiment is endeavoring to shield a woman from the consequences of an act of which no man could be guilty, and which calls so loudly for a jury of women to sit in judgment upon it, that I do not wonder that papers like The Oregonian are analyzing her act and slowly coming to the conclusion, reached long ago by thoughtful mothers of men, that men are in no position to deal justly by a woman who uses the baleful influence of perverted sexual power to place public men in compromising positions.4

It is no excuse for a woman guilty of such conduct to say that she is weak. I blushed anew for my sex when I read in the evening papers that two organizations of women had stood sponsors for liberty, pending trial, of a woman who could be guilty of such an act. But, when I read their indignant denial I was overjoyed that the press should so readily correct the rumor and the accursed organizations so hastily demand it. The Oregonian manfully exposes the salacious wiles of a woman who, lost to all sense of honor or decency, lends herself to schemes with which men are powerless to cope.

This is the evil side of hypnotism, or the power of thought perverted. Its cure is knowledge; its preventive is understanding. Properly controlled and understood the power of hypnotic thought is infinite for good. In the hands of the unscrupulous it is like dynamite. In the hands of the ignorant it is like a lighted match to a powder magazine. But when used with wisdom and discretion it is like the ether that pervades all space, or the electric power that lights and moves the world and runs the universe.


    1. The Ancient Order of United Workmen. On both the building and the order, see Walt Lockley, “Ancient Order of United Workmen Temple.” []
    2. On June 19, 1907, Reynolds, a former scout for General George Armstrong Custer and owner of the Natatorium Baths at Second and Washington in Portland, shot Hibbins (a.k.a. George Herbert), of Walla Walla, after discovering the music professor together with his wife in their home. []
    3. When police arrived, Lulu at first denied being Mrs. Reynolds and then contended that Hibbins was present only for the purpose of putting some of her verses to music. Reynolds shot first and asked questions later, eventually confessing. Before he died, Hibbins corroborated Lulu’s account. The truth, however, was revealed when, unable to contain herself in the morgue, Lulu threw herself prostrate upon Hibbins’ corpse and kissed him on the lips; she subsequently confessed that the two had been intimate for several months and planned to elope. From jail, Reynolds professed his love for his wife and claimed that she must have been hypnotized, which Lulu denied. The salacious details were widely reported, and love letters were reprinted in the papers. Reynolds was charged with first-degree murder, but his defense classed Hibbins among the “human vipers who prey upon frail womanhood,” and Reynolds was acquitted in late September, just about two weeks before Abigail’s talk (Morning Oregonian 20-22 June 1907, 17-21 Sept. 1907; Sunday Oregonian 23 June 1907). []
    4. Ten days before this speech, on September 26, E. S. Radding, a local Labor party politico, heard a woman’s screams and, upon breaking down the door to a private office in the Hamilton building, discovered 20-year-old Belle Waymire in a compromising position with Portland Mayor Harry Lane. She claimed to be in his office innocently (seeking his assistance in recovering her child from the custody of her estranged husband’s parents), and that he had attacked her. He claimed that she and Radding had conspired to entrap him, in order to ruin his political fortunes and blackmail him. The papers followed the twists and turns in this unfolding case intently; the Oregonian reported daily from September 27 to October 4, consistently backing the Mayor’s story. Eventually, a grand jury indicted Waymire and Radding on charges of committing an act that “outrages public decency and is injurious to public morals.” At trial, both pled “not guilty,” but a jury needed only an hour to return a “guilty” verdict. The defendants appealed, on both substantive and procedural grounds. The case eventually reached the Oregon Supreme Court, which upheld their convictions (in State v. Waymire et al., 52 Or. 281, 25 Aug. 1908).

      To precisely what “maudlin public sentiment” Scott Duniway is referring is unclear, although, as she notes in the next paragraph, the Y.W.C.A. was rumored to have posted Waymire’s $750 bail, which it “indignantly” denied (Morning Oregonian 2 Oct. 1907). It bears emphasizing that Abigail felt that this case demonstrated the need for female jury service even though she (like the all-male jury that would convict Waymire) was convinced of Waymire’s guilt. []

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