Tag: Phrenology

Anti-Smoking, ca. 1879

In 1879 the Phrenological Journal published two short anti-smoking reports. The first, in February, purportedly summarized an article in the British Medical Monthly: “What Smoking does for Boys.” Apparently a physician concerned by the number of boys under 15 he saw smoking, decided to see if he could document the health issues related to smoking. So he gathered together 38 boys ranging from 9 to 15 and examined them.[1] He found “injurious traces of the habit” and

various disorders of the circulation and digestion, palpitation of the heart, and a more or less taste for strong drink, … frequent bleeding of the nose, disturbed sleep, slight ulceration of mucous membrane of the mouth.

They all showed signs of general weakness. When they stopped smoking, “health and strength were soon restored.” We should believe these claims, the Phrenological Journal assures us, because “these facts are given under the authority of the British Medical Monthly.”

Anti-smoking illustration in the Phrenological Journal

In June, the Phrenological Journal published a slightly longer piece lambasting men for smoking not because it was bad for your health, but because it was a filthy, stinky, degrading habit.

Young man, if you wish to make yourself obnoxious to a large portion of the genteel, and a still larger portion of the sensible people; if you want to contract a habit that makes necessary separate accommodation for you in cars or on boats, where your offense may not smell in the nostrils of respectable people; which makes them drop out of the atmosphere of your smokestack, or swing around the mephitic pools you leave at intervals in your wake — a habit which turns you out of the parlor and drawing-room into the club-house, bar-room, or into the streets — from the society of refined ladies into a lower order of social intercourse; which fills your system with a poison so offensive that the breath you exhale, and the insensible perspiration you cast off, vitiates the air for rods about you, and makes you a walking nuisance from which delicate nostrils turn away in disgust — then begin early the use of tobacco.

The author continues for another four paragraphs in the same tone of moral condemnation — e.g., referring to smoking as a “great canker worm” and beseeching the reader: “don’t steep your own body in the distilled juices of this defiling and paralyzing poison.” — never mentioning any health effects.

I don’t see immediately any connection between the use of tobacco and the Phrenological Journal. But clearly the editors of the journal saw the connection. I wonder how many other anti-smoking articles appeared in the pages of the journal.


  1. Clearly this physician was operating under a different set of ethical guidelines. I assume he didn’t have to get the approval from the 19th-century version of an IRB.  ↩

Relics from Medicine’s Sordid Past

Digging through another box of stuff today, I came across two great relics from earlier medicine and science. The first is a phrenology bust. It is probably a late 19th- or early 20th-century reproduction of the L. N. Fowler busts that were fairly common in the latter part of the 19th century. The Fowler brothers, Samuel and Lorenzo, were successful phrenologists in the U.S. and England, where this bust was purportedly made. This bust appears to be different from the one in James Pockett’s recent essay on phrenology and Django Unchained. If phrenology could justify slavery and its abolition, as James Pockett notes, then surely it can help me justify student grades.

An L.N. Fowler Phrenology bust.
An L.N. Fowler Phrenology bust.

And filed under “U” for “Unlikely” is this business card advertising the services of one Mrs. H. C. Potter, Indian Cancer Doctress. She claimed she “Skillfully removes Cancer, tumors, and all secondary formations without the aid of instruments.” If you doubt her claim, she promised “The best of references can be had if required.”

I know nothing about Mrs. Potter, though recently somebody on eBay was selling a ruler with the same advertisement. It appears that other women in Massachusetts identified themselves as “Cancer Doctress.” Still others identified as “Indian Doctress.” Then, in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal (1854) there is a report by W. W. G. of an “Indian Cancer Doctress,” a Mrs. Northrop.

Mrs. H.C. Potter, Indian Cancer Doctress business card.
Mrs. H.C. Potter, Indian Cancer Doctress business card.

A Phrenological Evaluation of Andrew White

Prompted by Dr. Crabtree’s recent efforts to revive head size as a meaningful indicator of intelligence, I offer the following phrenological evaluation of Andrew White straight from the pages of The Phrenological Journal and Life Illustrated. White is best known today for his polemical The Warfare of Science and Religion, which regrettably continues to structure much of the discussion about the relationship between science and religion. Despite errors and oversimplifications, White’s versions of various historical episodes are repeated today as gospel.

Andrew White from The Phrenological Journal and Life Illustrated (September 1879)

White’s appointment as ambassador to Germany motivated the editors of The Phrenological Journal and Life Illustrated to assess White’s character and his likelihood of advancing the diplomatic relationship between Germany and the U.S. Fortunately, at least from the editors’ perspective, White seemed an excellent appointment whose abilities would bring the two countries closer together.

Judging from the portrait (perhaps the one reproduced in the journal) the editors were able to discern quite a lot about White. In general:

The temperament seems to be predominantly mental; the brain is large for the size of the body, and it widens as it rises, showing that the superior portions of the head are larger than the basilar. The distance from the opening of the ear forward is long, showing ample anterior, or intellectual development. The lower half of the forehead is large, showing keenness of criticism, capacity to gain and appreciate facts, and the ability to acquire information for himself; and though he is fond of natural science and literature, and has a natural talent for business and business affairs, he has really more capacity for pushing investigations, for making discoveries in science, for comprehending remote causes with relation to truth, than for the mere matter of fact which pertains to business or scholarship.

He had a talent for language—revealed by his “fullness of eye”—and strong moral tendencies and love of justice—revealed by the large upper portion of his head. The middle sections of his head indicated a “good development of Combativeness and Acquisitiveness … and a fair share of Secretiveness”—presumably useful traits for an ambassador. In the end, they endorsed his appointment: “We regard our subject as a very superior man: first, in quality; second, in sentiment; third, in mind.”

In addition to his innate abilities, he brought considerable experience to the office, which they highlighted in their biographical sketch:
After White received his B.A. from Yale he travelled Europe for two years. He returned to Yale for a year before being appointed chair of History and English at Michigan University. There he singlehandedly elevated the institution to a level of prosperity. His labors were so arduous that his health declined to the point where he “was obliged to resign his professorship and travel in Europe for six months.” (Oh to have such health problems and the financial means to find such a cure).

As a state legislator in New York he was instrumental in establishing Cornell University in 1865 and, the following year, was appointed its first president. He promptly returned to Europe, ostensibly to examine the leading institutions of agriculture and technology.

The editors regretted that he had not had sufficient time to publish much but had at least written a few articles and a recent book. His book, The Warfare of Science and Religion they seem to damn with faint praise: “The recent volume, entitled “The Warfare of Science and Religion,” was written, we presume, mainly in answer to the many utterances which had appeared on the side of science as against revelation, but, while its reasoning is scholarly and powerful, it is not extended enough to be exhaustive.” He was, apparently in their estimation, a better speaker. They lauded his oral addresses, such as his inaugural speech at Cornell University.