In recent years, interest in astrology has been on the rise. Many of us eagerly wait for the daily horoscope or chalk up certain personality traits to our signs. We’ve wondered: is our fate determined by celestial bodies, or are we wandering stars traversing the cosmos, fashioning our destiny as we go along? The fact that such conversations have entered our modern lexicon is largely due to the meteoric rise of one woman: Evangeline Adams, who happened to hail from Jersey City. Read on to learn about Jersey City’s Evangeline Adams and her impact on modern-day American astrology.
Who Was Evangeline Adams?
Evangeline Adams has been called the godmother of modern astrology. Before her, only 20 people in America could calculate a birth chart (none of them American) — after Evangeline, thousands were familiar and interested in astrology.
At her height, she read horoscopes and counseled the greatest elites of her time: King Edward VII of Britain, J.P. Morgan, Charlie Chaplin, Eugene O’Neill, Joseph Campbell, the head of the New York Stock Exchange (Seymour Cromwell), and Hollywood starlets such as Tallulah Bankhead and Lillian Russell. It was J.P. Morgan who famously said, “Millionaires don’t need astrologers, but billionaires do.”
For nearly 3,000 years — since the days of ancient Babylon — astrology had been dominated by men, but after Evangeline Adams, women had taken the throne.
Evangeline’s Upbringing + Background
If the planetary alignments are so significant to our future, then perhaps Evangeline’s birth in Jersey City on February 8th, 1868 (at exactly 8:36AM) divined her life, setting the course for a woman who would alter the American understanding of astrology forever.
Evangeline was born an Aquarius, sometimes characterized as rebelliously independent and one who despises authority. Or, to put it in Evangeline’s (humble) words from her 1931 publication Astrology for Everyone: “Men and women born strongly under the influence of [Aquarius] live for humanity. They pour themselves out on the world. And they reap the reward which the world gives to such people — fame.”
Looking at Evangeline’s life, it’s hard to refute such a claim. Evangeline was born of meager means at 5 Exchange Place in a building which has since been demolished to make way for the present building, built in 1920 — now the Hyatt House at 1 Exchange Place.
At the time, “Exchange Place” was merely a location between the railway and docks, a slum so neglected, Jersey City left it off the map until 1891. Interestingly, the Hyatt House still stands between the train tracks of the Light Rail and the waterfront. This building is also currently home to the RoofTop at Exchange Place, which just reopened for the spring on May 12th. Evangeline’s father died when she was only 15 months old, and the family moved to Massachusetts, where at a young age, she had to provide for her mother.
Evangeline became engaged to her employer, but broke off the engagement — which was utterly scandalous at the time. When she decided to settle in New York, the Fifth Avenue Hotel where her family had visited for generations refused her entry for practicing astrology. But her initial fame arose in 1899, from the one hotel which took her in: the Windsor Hotel, located at 575 Fifth Avenue.
A Quick Rise to Fame + Notoriety
At the Windsor Hotel, the proprietor, Warren Leland, not only permitted Evangeline’s occupancy, but even appeared interested in her cosmic claims. He asked to have his horoscope read. Startled by what the stars revealed, Evangeline prophesied that she foresaw a terrible calamity.
Amused, but unalarmed, Mr. Leland took no action — though the very next day, his hotel was destroyed by fire. All at once, Mr. Leland lost his wife, his daughter, and his livelihood, and he recounted Evangeline’s prediction to the press. Leland died less than three weeks later, while newspapers clamored for insight from Ms. Evangeline Adams, her fame rising like the Phoenix from the ashes of the Windsor Hotel fire.
Soon, people sought out Evangeline, but there was one overwhelming problem: practicing astrology was illegal. At that time, fortune-telling, palm reading, and astrology were considered “black arts” and were associated with newly arriving immigrant populations. As cops cracked down, Evangeline was arrested for fortune-telling in 1911. Though the charges were dismissed, she gained further publicity as a result. Her second arrest in 1914 would not only change her life, but also change the legality of fortune-telling and astrology forever.
Evangeline Fights Back
The penalty for fortune-telling carried a similar sentence as that of prostitution. If Evangeline could pay the fine, perhaps she could evade imprisonment. Yet, ever rebellious — she was an Aquarius after all — she used this opportunity to buck the system, contesting the case in court.
Evangeline argued that as an astrologer, she was not definitively forecasting what would happen. Rather, she argued, astrology was an “applied science” — it takes established principles as a guide to chart human characteristics, and any assessment is based on mathematical calculations.
Evangeline had one more trick up her sleeve. She’d made her reputation by turning disbelievers into believers, and she would cast this same spell on Judge John H. Freschi.
Evangeline asked Judge Freschi the exact date and time of his son’s birth. Using that information, she gave such a compelling description of the judge’s son that Freschi said: “The defendant raises astrology to the dignity of an exact science.” With the acquittal, Evangeline not only won the court case, but also decriminalized astrology.
See More: The Phases of the Moon, Explained
Stepping into Prominence
Freely able to practice her craft, Evangeline rented out an office space at Carnegie Hall, receiving King Edward VII of Britain, J.P. Morgan, U.S. Senators, executives, and business elites. She became known as “the Wall Street Seer,” and published books and pamphlets while contributing to nationwide newspaper columns. She soon occupied six suites on the 10th floor of Carnegie Hall and hired dozens of employees to answer 4,000 pieces of mail a day. By 1930, she broadcast syndicated primetime radio programs from Carnegie Hall three times a week, reaching thousands of people across the United States.
Evangeline is said to have correctly predicted the stock market crash of 1929 — and in 1931, she foretold that the United States would be at war in 1942. She’d even booked a 21-night lecture tour, but canceled after (correctly) predicting her own death in 1933.
In 30 years, she’d gone from being denied entry to a hotel for practicing astrology, to practicing astrology from Carnegie Hall. In emulation of the night sky which she so charted, she too became a star. If time and space are so tied to fate, then Jersey City opened up the portal to astrology in America.