Familiar Lessons on Phrenology by Lydia Folger Fowler


Familiar Lessons on Phrenology was "Designed for the use of Children and Youth in Schools and Families," as the sub-title indicates. It is the companion volume to the author's book on Physiology. However, "phrenology" is a pseudoscience which involves the measurement of surface bumps on the skull to predict mental traits. This school of thought stemmed from the teachings of Viennese physician Franz-Joseph Gall (1758-1828), who proposed the concept of localized brain function. According to Gall, the different functions of the brain, such as memory, language, and emotion, were situated in specific sites or “organs” of the brain. Gall contended that each “organ” of the brain would hypertrophy (grow) or atrophy (shrink) with use, and that these changes would be perceptible on the surface contour of the skull. This discipline was influential in the 19th Century, but the theory that measuring the contours of the skull can predict personality traits has long been discredited by empirical research.

The text contains numerous black and white engravings that ostensibly portray personality or character traits by their physical location on the human skull. There is a faded inscription on the inside front cover page that reads in part: “J.J. Stiller, June 20th, 1847”. Tucked inside the back cover are faded newspaper clippings of a German poem and a ceremony honoring returning servicemen. The book is 209 pages in length.

Author Lydia Folger Fowler (1823-1879) was a pioneering American physician, professor of medicine, and activist. She was the first American-born woman to earn a medical degree, graduating from Central Medical College in Syracuse, New York in 1850. Folger was active in women's rights organizations, and participated in the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. She married American phrenologist Lorenzo Niles Fowler (1811-1896) in 1844.

Lorenzo and brother Orson S. Fowler (1809-1887) took to the road in 1834, lecturing for free and examining heads for a fee. The Fowlers examined the heads of many distinguished men, among them Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, and William Cullen Bryant. In 1835, they opened an office in Manhattan, New York, where they operated a phrenological museum and library and the publishing house of L.N Fowler & Co., which published this book. Their "American Phrenological Journal and Life Illustrated", which lasted until 1911, was the leading phrenological publication of its era.

Date Made: 1847

Place Made: United States: New York, New York City

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Credit Line: Gift of Dr. Richard Lodish American School Collection

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: 2017.3049.71Nonaccession Number: 2017.3049Catalog Number: 2017.3049.71

Object Name: book

Physical Description: paper (overall material)ink (overall material)Measurements: overall: 7 1/2 in x 4 3/4 in x 3/4 in; 19.05 cm x 12.065 cm x 1.905 cm

Guid: http://n2t.net/ark:/65665/ng49ca746b4-b1b1-704b-e053-15f76fa0b4fa

Record Id: nmah_1954502

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