Newspaper drawing of Estelle advertising as Mrs. Dr. De San, 1891
Her wonderful gift of second sight enables her to search your most secret thoughts, dig deep down into your very soul, collect the fragments of your broken heart and cement them with a balm so soothing that it instills new life, new hope, new vigor, starting you once more on life's journey.
- Minneapolis Star Tribune, 16 August 1891.

While Estelle shared many things in common with her fellow clairvoyants and life readers, she also set herself apart by the unique combination of talents and tasks she would share with her patrons, and those she would not. In this episode, we'll explore the boundaries she set in her advertising. Would she tolerate semi-barbarous nonsense? Find out in today's episode.

Listen to this episode or access the transcript below.

Transcript for How to Be Estelle: Boundaries

[00:00:04] Narrator: Estelle True-Nell was a remarkable woman. Our modern era has forgotten her, and I think that's too bad. I'd like to introduce you to her amazing life, one career at a time. Along the way, we might pick up a tip or two for ourselves, as we learn How to Be Estelle.

[00:00:25] Narrator: One of the lessons Estelle True-Nell left for us involves setting good boundaries. Estelle was clear about what she would offer, and equally clear about what she would not. When I'm searching for her in the newspaper, those boundaries are a good way to tell whether the person advertising is likely to be Estelle, and that's important, because she operated under many different names.

[00:00:47] Narrator: Here's an example of some of the things she promised from an ad in the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 1891:

[00:00:54] Estelle (advertisement): This lady is a forecaster of the highest order. She tells your past, present and future with the utmost truth. Her wonderful gift of second sight enables her to search your most secret thoughts, dig deep down into your very soul, collect the fragments of your broken heart and cement them with a balm so soothing that it instills new life, new hope, new vigor, starting you once more on life's journey; accompanying you to that journey's end, avoiding the snares and pitfalls that obstruct the way. She treats matters of a delicate nature with the greatest consideration, uniting the separate and forming union between you and the one your heart craves.

[00:01:36] Narrator: Those are big promises, but to Estelle, it was all part of her natural gift.

[00:01:41] Estelle (advertisement): She lays no claim to the attributes of Deity, but merely employs the powers by Deity endowed. There's an indefinable something about her which has baffled the skill of scientists to solve, and which you can feel the influence of as soon as you come in contact with her. She will speak to you in parabolic language so plain and distinct that you will be amazed at the remarkable truth of her narrative.

[00:02:06] Narrator: Estelle was also very careful to define her boundaries and explain what she wouldn't do. Here's how that looked in the Omaha World Herald in 1892:

[00:02:16] Estelle (advertisement): She wishes to state to ladies in particular that no "LUCKY CHARMS," MAGIC BELTS, OR BREAST PLATES have any connection whatsoever with her work. No EGYPTIAN TALISMAN, no MEDIEVAL art, no HOODOOISM or WITCHERY, no SEMI-BARBAROUS NONSENSE. Call and see her and you will be bolder, stronger, and wiser than before.

[00:02:37] Narrator: In addition to avoiding witchery, medieval art, and semi-barbarous nonsense, she set another boundary:

[00:02:45] Estelle (advertisement): Without trickery, pretense, or sham, but in the broad, open light of sober sense, she will read your entire life. Positively no massage treatment or anything of a questionable character solicited or tolerated.

[00:02:58] Narrator: “Positively no massage treatment” was an important statement, because Estelle's ads often ran in the same section of the classified ads as those offering such treatments. Estelle also made it clear that she did not make the usual claims one would see in ads for fortune-tellers and clairvoyants.

[00:03:16] Estelle (advertisement): She does not wish to assume a false position before the public. She, therefore, positively asserts that she is not a 'TRANCE MEDIUM,' was not born with a 'DOUBLE VEIL,' nor is she a 'SEVENTH DAUGHTER' of the 'SEVENTH GENERATION,' nor any other such mediaeval nonsense. She deals with the living and not with the dead; shudders at the thought of the sacrilegious practices of invoking the aid of departed kindred. She makes no attempt to account for her seemingly mysterious power, she cannot place its source. She can only give you evidence of her possession of it. Her work is convincing and beyond dispute.

[00:03:53] Narrator: As a scientific life reader and not a trance medium, the limits she placed on her business may have set her apart from others in her field. We find a hint of that in this ad from July 1892:

[00:04:07] Estelle (advertisement): Mrs. Dr. Van True is the only scientific life reader in the country now before the public. She stands isolated and alone, laboring in a field in which the divine ordinance of creation has placed her, weeding and pruning from the furrows plowed by sorrow and care, the tares and thistles life's disappointments have sown.

[00:04:27] Estelle (advertisement): She does not boast of her ability to hold converse with the shades of bygone ages; she is only mortal and moves in the sphere of PEOPLE NOW ON EARTH, and not with those who have RETURNED TO DUST, whose spirits (as professed by some) continue still to stalk this earth in shapeless form of GHOST or spirit.

[00:04:46] Narrator: Estelle did believe in spirit, but not in the spirit world. She felt a direct connection to her clients and to all things.

[00:04:55] Estelle (advertisement): This may be true, though not in the sense implied by spiritualists. The countless millions that lived before us continue still to live -- though not in the same form, nor the same individuality -- but unconsciously of any former existence, in FLESH, BLOOD, BONE, NERVES, BRAIN, IN OUR VERY FINGERNAILS -- in OURSELVES, just as we will live in those that follow after us. In fact, WE NEVER DIE. The very process of dissolution is the first stage of new life. From our dead bodies, no sooner dead than millions and millions of molecular beings quicken into visible life, until at last our bodies are completely absorbed by the vegetable kingdom through which our souls smile and whisper to those that behold in the delicate shades and tints, and in the delicious fragrant perfume of the flowers.

[00:05:50] Narrator: While on earth, before we are absorbed by the vegetable kingdom, Estelle would say that it's possible for us to communicate in the form of Transmission of Thought. Here's how she described it:

[00:06:02] Estelle (advertisement): The destiny of mankind is foreordained to be worked out here on earth in corporeal rather than spiritual form. We are always progressing, gradually evolving, until eventually we will have reached the highest stage possible for us to attain. We are on the dawn of a new era, approaching a new stage of development, acquiring a SIXTH SENSE through which we will be able to transmit our thoughts instantaneously to each other's minds, annihilating time, distance, and atmosphere, discarding our present imperfect method of communication for TRANSMISSION of THOUGHT by absorption, by intuition.

[00:06:41] Narrator: In the Transmitter of Thought episode, you'll find a description of a device advertised by Estelle, Mrs. Dr. De San, and others. It was a tool that they claimed would enhance this electric form of communication. Estelle featured the Transmitter less often, especially as time passed, I think because she viewed herself as the ultimate receiver and transmitter.

[00:07:02] Estelle (advertisement): It is this new trait of human nature that distinguishes Mrs. Dr. Van True from all others in her profession, for she is known to possess it in a remarkable degree of development, so much so that she need not ask a single question of her patrons. She tells everything, everything, even anticipating the thoughts that chase each other through your brain. She is a bunch of nerves from the soles of her feet to the crown of her head, and so sensitive that the lightest sensation you feel is recorded at once in her mind. She takes upon herself your symptoms, sighs when you sigh and weeps when you weep, thrilled with the same emotion that agitates you, entering into the minutest details of your life.

[00:07:46] Narrator: It must have taken enormous energy and stamina to make such deep connections. One of Estelle's ads from 1893 Chicago tells us just how much energy she must have required:

[00:07:59] Estelle (advertisement): Mrs. Dr. True Nell, the scientific life reader, is still in the city and is consulting with from 40 to 60 people every day. The doctor is undoubtedly the busiest woman in the city, but she never hurries her patrons through. She tells everything, everything; even anticipates the thoughts that are to follow each other through your brain.

[00:08:21] Narrator: So, if Estelle worked from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and saw 40-60 people per day, by my count that's about 15 minutes per person. It doesn't seem like a lot of time to tell everything, but there's no doubt she was a hard-working and very clever person.

[00:08:38] Estelle (advertisement): There have been many here in advance of her, many of whom boasted of that distinction of birth that branded them as monstrosities, most of whom were densely ignorant and preyed upon the credulity of their class. Hence it is, she is forced to gather up her robes, as it were, to avoid contamination with them, laboring, as she is, in the same field, but with that sincerity of feeling and honesty of purpose that stands in glaring contrast with their trickery and deceit.

[00:09:05] Narrator: No nonsense, no trickery, no deceit. Estelle was in a class all her own.

[00:09:12] Estelle (advertisement): In duty to herself and in justice to her patrons she feels it incumbent upon her to make these remarks, especially since she has a very strong impression that many of her readers among the educated class feel strongly inclined to call on her, for something tells them that there is something beyond the ordinary in this woman.

[00:09:30] Estelle (advertisement): Little do they dream that she is in their presence (in thought waves). Many of them have asked themselves: 'I wonder if she could tell me so and so? If I thought she could, I would call on her.' To all such she wishes to say: 'Feel yourselves invited to call.' She will give you more substantial proof of her phenomenal gift than mere assertions in print will bear. Don't fail to see her if you are interested in the affairs of life.

[00:09:59] Narrator: There was definitely something beyond the ordinary in Estelle. So, high standards, clear boundaries, self-confidence, a willingness to work hard and demonstrate results, and a firm commitment to avoiding medieval and semi-barbarous nonsense are all key elements. Those are commitments we can all agree will help us as we learn How to Be Estelle.