Helen Peters Nosworthy, affectionately know as the “Mother of the Ouija Board,” is the woman responsible for giving the Ouija its mysterious name. Her identity was originally discovered by TBHS founder Robert Murch, in a series of letter printed in the Baltimore Sun when the founders of Ouija took their grievances with one another public. Letters from both Charles Kennard, the man who claimed to invent Ouija and his friend and business partner Elijah Bond, the man who patented Ouija, stated that a woman by the name of “Miss Peters, Bond’s sister-in-law” who was known as a “strong medium,” asked the then-unnamed talking board what it would like to be called. The board spelled out O-U-I-J-A, and when asked what the term meant, it responded “Good Luck.”
Helen, who was also an early stockholder in the company, is said to have later accompanied Bond to the patent office to secure a patent. According to family lore corroborated with patent file history, the patent office declined to award a patent to the talking board unless the founders could adequately demonstrate its claimed miraculous workings. Helen and Elijah traveled to Washington D.C., where they were denied by multiple patent inspectors until the chief patent officer took an interest in the device. As the story goes, he assured the pair that if the device could spell out his name, unknown to Bond and Peters, that he would award them their patent. The board is said to have done just that, and the rest is history.
Unlike the company’s founders, Helen Peters disavowed the Ouija after a personal experience with the board that created a great feud in her family. When the family’s cherished collection of Civil War-era buttons went missing, some members consulted the board to identify the thief, and the board named another family member. The resulting feud tore the family asunder, with some believing the board and others—Helen among them—dismissing the claim. Thereafter, descendants recall, Helen rejected the Ouija and warned others not to play with the device due to its tendency toward dishonesty.
The year after the Ouija’s 1890 introduction, Helen married her husband, Ernest Nosworthy, a Shakespearean actor and artist who later became a traveling salesman. His life-like drawing of Helen, drawn at the Hotel Gladstone in Norfolk, Virginia, is the only known surviving depiction of the young Helen, done in the period she is said to have named the iconic board.
The Talking Board Historical Society, in collaboration with her surviving descendants, seeks to honor the contributions of Helen Peters Nosworthy to Ouija and American history, and is raising funds to place a marker at her grave commemorating her involvement in naming the iconic board.