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August 25, 2011

In his report on the first ever meeting of the Faculty of Antioch College, held in his parlor at West Newton, MA in November 1852, Horace Mann described the assembled as having “a most remarkable coincidence of opinion and sentiment among the persons present, not only as to theory, but in practical matters…we were all teetotalers; all anti-tobacco men; all anti-slavery men; a majority of us believers in phrenology…” Though long since discredited as pseudoscience and worse, in the mid-19th century phrenology was all the rage among the learned, with Mann among its greatest adherents.

Best understood as an early form of behaviorism, phrenology purported to understand human character based on a division of faculties in the brain. These forty-some traits, catalogued under such grandiose terms as Amativeness (sexual desire), Approbativeness (love of praise), Benevolence (capacity for goodness), Conjugality (desire for permanent union with another) and Veneration (pursuit of higher aspirations and values), were discernable because they affected the size and contour of the cranium, and could therefore be measured. Measurability of these faculties caused phrenology to take off in the United States; true to form, American phrenologists took the broad theoretical discussions of European thinkers, applied them directly to the individual skull, and made a buck on it by giving character readings and charging so much a head. Thus was born practical phrenology.

The major-domo of the practical phrenologists was Orson Squire Fowler (1809-1887). The larger-than-life Fowler was one of the leading proponents of the age in what was then called self-culture, known today as self-help. Through his publishing house Fowler & Wells, he advocated such reforms as rights for women, child labor laws, hydropathy (alternative medicine also known as water cure), and sex education. He decried the use of tobacco for men and corsets for women (and was presumably against the converse as well). John Brown, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Walt Whitman, and Brigham Young were among the host of notables that showed up at Fowler’s Manhattan offices to have their characters read. His reading of Horace Mann’s ample pate in the 1840s began a lifelong friendship between the two.

In the Spring of 1857, Fowler visited Antioch College, possibly to attend its first ever commencement. Such an august personality should not have gotten out of town without making a public appearance, but no record exists in Antiochiana to prove one way or another. However, two items in the papers of Eli and Mahala Jay, members of the first graduating class in 1857, document Fowler’s trip to Ohio: the Jays’ phrenological character studies conducted by Fowler himself. The studies provoke wonder at how such diagnoses could be achieved by merely studying the bumps on the subject’s head. They also show Fowler to be a man largely ensconced in the views of his time, particularly regarding gender roles, although Fowler is exceptional for a man of the Victorian age in his recommendation that Mahala should have more sex for the sake of her health, a decidedly modern outlook.


Phrenological Character
of
Mahala Jay
as delineated by
O. S. Fowler
at
Yellow Springs, O.
May 26,1857
Mahala Jay

You have an unusually large head for a woman and it is supported by a good muscular system but impaired by a rather poor circulation. You ought to have good sound health, to live to a good old age, to enjoy life while you do live and especially be useful. Your one predominant characteristic is goodness. And you certainly (are) about as good-hearted benevolent, affectionate a woman as comes under my hands. You will live for others more than for yourself. Have a large, hearty, truly missionary spirit. Have ever, felt as if to do good would be the height of your ambition. Are very active and a little too excitable and growing more so. Need coolness quiet and soothing. Need just what a right conjugal state would give you. I speak mainly in reference to health.

I especially charge you to cultivate deep breathing for, I perceive that you breathe only with the top of your lungs. You seem to me to have had a good deal of anxiety & to have settled down into a very different state to that you experienced heretofore. You are one of the fondest and most affectionate wives I have examined: but I am obliged to add that your love is too platonic. More personal love would improve you, more amativeness.

Your love of children is extreme, so is attachment to home and spot, so is friendship. Have conjugal devotion, to become just what your husband wants. Have not many superiors in this respect. Would live for husband and lay down your life for his. Will wear out in the service of family. Must take good care of your health while nursing or your health will break down. Your system lacks the vivifying and inspiriting influence of a hearty amativeness. I speak of it as applying to your intellect and moral sentiments as well as health. Your vitativeness is very large, and will keep you alive through an amount of ailment which few persons could stand. You have prodigious combativeness, and will defend the truth most heroically. Are too exact, scrupulous and require that others should live clear up to the tip-top of your high standard. Are acquisitive in a high degree; frugal, saving, industrious; but care less for the dollar. Are very reserved; too much so, too noncommittal, cautious, very anxious; but fond of praise. Care a great deal too much what others think of you; but too little what you think about yourself; fortunately approbativeness takes a moral turn. Still your ambition exceeds your strength. You are very firm, almost contrary. Are tolerable hopeful but more anticipation would improve you. Are not despairing or desponding; but after all you get all you expect and a little more, and ought by whatever power you possess to cultivate anticipation. Are wanting in Devotion yet well developed in spiritual presentiment. Are told beforehand what you ought to do and what not. Your husband should follow your presentiments.

Are fond of the beautiful and perfect. Are lady-like, refined, genteel, but your refinement pertains much more to mind than body. Are running too much to intellect and too little to the animal. Are studying and feeling too much. Are becoming too ethereal and mental. I tell you plainly, more animality is especially what you want.

You remember countenances always. Measure accurate by eye. Are a good botanist. Are methodical and systematic. Are good in figure; better than is usual in women. Are a great observer wanting in memory of names and dates. Fine in composition. Endowed with excellent speaking talents at least talking. Belong rather to the woman's rights class. Feel that the sphere of your sex is too much restricted. Are for bursting conventional bonds. Would make a good speaker only are too secretive only are to blow it all right out. Have a first-best memory of places, facts, words, ideas. Are rather agreeable, would improve on acquaintance. Ought to write for the papers. Are good in argument; love it as you love your dinner. Would excel in language the classics, English and ancient. Are first-best in mathematics. Are admirably adapted to teach. Have a much better head than the generality of your sex; but I declare I don't like your physiology. But I perceive you are obeying many of the health laws. You are a natural teacher. Live too much in the present too little in the future.

Phrenological Character
of
Mr. Eli Jay
as delineated by
O. S. Fowler
at
Yellow Springs, O.
May 26,1857
Mr. Eli Jay

Your mental temperament decidedly predominates, yet your muscular is good and vitae fair and improving. You inherit most of your temperament, and emotions, and moral sentiments from your mother but your firmness, self-esteem and intellect from your father, possibly mother's father. You need physical animation - this is about all you need. I think health is improving but more exercise would materially benefit you. You are naturally inclined to work, all the time and with all your might. You have more activity than excitability. There is more in you than you can well get out. You need sleep, vivacity, need inspiriting; for you at one time run down quite low, but now are running up. Your intellect is taking decidedly the lead. Your philosophical organs predominate in your intellect. You are doing a great deal of thinking on a great variety of subjects. Have a clear, analytic, investigating cast of mind. Have excellent sound sense but not quite as much observation as reason. Have good observing process. Evince quite a talent in the study of botany. Have an excellent eye either for measuring bulk or proportion. Most excellent local memory. Most excellent memory of facts, circumstances; and a most uncontrollable desire for knowledge of all kinds and on all subjects. Love(?) facts, reasons. Are particularly good in criticizing, drawing inferences putting this and that together, analyzing, scanning; would make a good phrenologist.

Are a first-rate reader of character, still are better at acquiring than at imparting. Are fair in language; but I doubt whether you express anything near as much as you are capable of expressing, for you lack animation, combativeness, fire. Should cultivate versatility, a get-out-of-my-way-spirit, energy, selfishness and expectation. Cautiousness is too large. Are too prudent. Your domestic affections are hearty. Attachment to woman is hearty. Conjugality stands out conspicuously. You are fond of home, spot and place. Have excellent tenacity of life. When opposed, you will resist; but you will forbear much more than resist. Have most excellent acquisitiveness. Your cautiousness is the great bane of your character. Still, fortunately, well-developed firmness and self-esteem partially off­set it. You are too long in making up your mind: but once made up you push right through, at least, with stability if not energy.

More Hope would improve you; yet you are not gloomy. Belief is exceedingly limited. Devotion excellent. You're a faithless Thomas and must have indisputable proof. Still are devoted, philanthropic, reformatory, and would do well in phrenology if you had more snap and force. Have most excellent imitative powers; but are rather wanting in taste especially personal, hence may cultivate taste, elegance. Have good mechanical ingenuity; but if in the mechanical world should be a loss. Would do better in carpentering than anything I now see. You are a natural builder. Would set men to work advantageously. Know where to begin and how to proceed. Have as accurate an eye for working by eye, as I ever came across. It is actually remarkable. You can make an excellent teacher and govern your school well; partly by love and partly by dignity.

You have a fine harmonious, well balanced intellect & I like your head well. As a life business choose first teaching, second building and add horticulture to both. You ought to yield to the inspiriting influence of your wife and you need just such a go-ahead article as you have.