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Primary Sources: What's in a Head?
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In February 1895, The Phrenological Journal and Science of Health published a study of Emma Goldman. Experts in phrenology, the "science of mind" that became a nineteenth-century phenomenon, thought of their practice as systematic psychology -- but many disagreed, calling "bumpology" a sham.

Phrenologists saw the brain as the organ of the mind, and thought it housed all human character traits -- stubbornness, hope, friendship, and so forth -- in individual locations. It was the first time anyone had conceived of functional separation within a single organ -- an arrangement that would be proven essentially correct by modern neuroscience.

By the 1830s, phrenologists were doing a brisk business reading the physiognomies of paying customers. Waggish author Ambrose Bierce defined phrenology as "the science of picking the pocket through the scalp." More showmen than scientists, traveling phrenologists went from town to town, pronouncing on characters and lining their wallets by feeling and measuring their eager subjects' heads.

One of phrenology's loudest debunkers was Mark Twain, who went for an anonymous phrenology reading and was delighted to learn that the shape of his skull indicated he had no sense of humor. Twain's skepticism extended to palm-reading, but he acknowledged Americans' love of all methods of character analysis or fortune-telling. "It is my impression," he wrote, "that the people admired phrenology and believed in it and that the voice of the doubter was not heard in the land."

Read the Phrenological Journal's profile of Goldman and decide what you think about phrenology.

Character In Unconventional People.

A Pair Of Anarchists.
From Personal Examinations By The Editor.

We trust the readers of THE JOURNAL will not be alarmed at the introduction of the two somewhat noted opponents of the existing order of society which we present herewith. We can vouch for their harmlessness in the shadows we print, however dangerous they may be in person and at short range.

As it is only by carefully studying and comparing all the elements of human nature, both agreeable and disagreeable, that we can hope to acquire accurate and comprehensive knowledge, we propose here to make a little excursion into the realm of unconventional mentality. Our purpose is to show a relation between peculiar ideas of life and certain types of organization. Of course we shall enter on no discussion as to the merits of the views held by the two subjects we have chosen, although it is only justice to say that both these women, especially Marie Louise, repudiate the commonly accepted idea that they advocate violence as a means of reform. Emma Goldman who recently served a year in one of the New York prisons for alleged utterances inciting to riot, is no doubt the more aggressive of the two, and is probably a fair representative of the radical class of anarchists. Marie Louise, on the other hand, professes to be what she calls a "scientific" anarchist. She is undoubtedly a scholar, while Miss Goldman is an enthusiast. Having recently interviewed and examined these two women, we hope to be able to point out certain facts about them which will be of interest.

Emma Goldman professes to be a Russian Jewess, although it is difficult to see anything in her face or head which we are accustomed to associate with the Hebrews. She is still a young woman, probably not over twenty-six or eight. She is only five feet in height but weighs about one hundred and twenty-five pounds. She has rather fine, soft, light brown hair, and blue-gray eyes of which the expression is very peculiar. Her head measures twenty-one and a half inches in basilar circumference, and the principal developments are above this line. The back head is rather long, showing friendship, domestic attachment and love of the opposite sex. There is considerable width just over the ears at destructiveness and appetite for food which the portrait does not clearly show, as it is copied from a crayon drawing. But with the further exception of the upper forehead, which in this picture is not square enough at causality, the likeness is correct. This is especially true as to the expression of the eyes and mouth. The facial signs of destructiveness and alimentiveness are very pronounced in the form of the mouth, and it is chiefly in the mouth and eyes that we may detect the signs of quality and temperament which account for the woman's disposition to attack the present social fabric.

There is a very considerable development in the rear of the crown. Approbativeness and firmness are especially strong. Conscientiousness is difficult to define. There is a latent sense of justice, but every thing in the organization points to a lack of discipline, and there are evidences of what might be called a habit of wilfulness; an abandon to the dominant impulses. In that form of chin and mouth, with the large firmness in the brain, we have the phase of persistence that may be called tenacity, and which is often referred to in popular parlance by a comparison with the bull-dog. It means a deep-seated, ineradicable instinct to hold to an opinion, a purpose, or a passion. It is a vehement clutch which is never relaxed, and it differs from obstinacy or perseverance of the ordinary type in being independent of opposing forces or other external conditions, It nurses its joys or griefs whether anybody else is present to contradict or not. It does not depend on moods. It is always present in its activity and stamps the character with an indelible dye.

The incorrigibility of such a nature is also greatly augmented, as in the present instance, by the almost utter lack of reverence and faith. Hope is also weak. This combination leaves the intellect without incentive to search for evidences of optimism, and as such a nature readily finds itself at war with the conventionalities, ill adapted to compete in the struggle for existence with those more harmoniously constituted, a pessimistic view of life with a consequent desire to alter the existing conditions is the almost inevitable result. Of course there are thousands of people who have many of these peculiarities of feeling, but who are endowed with very ordinary intellect, so that they make no outcry, no protest, and indeed have few opinions beyond the consciousness that they are uncomfortable. But Emma Goldman, although obviously of a lineage far from aristocratic in tone, is endowed with a philosophical cast of mind which is very rare. Her upper forehead is beautifully developed and our portrait utterly fails to do her justice in this respect.

The development of causality and comparison, stimulated by her pessimistic emotions, renders her a radical thinker upon social problems. In her conversation she manifests that familiarity with the vocabulary of philosophy which is ordinarily expected only among cultivated professional men. However, her lower forehead is almost as defective as the upper portion is fine. The eyebrows are almost straight, and the space between them (the glabella) is depressed much more than appears in the engraving. This shows a want of observation, precision, accuracy and specification in her collection or application of data. In other words, she will reason profoundly but often upon insufficient evidence. After assuming certain premises she follows the rule of the syllogism in the most consistent, logical manner, but she is in danger of starting with premises which are false. As may be seen by the flattened outer angle of the eyebrow, she has scarcely a trace of order; and the eyes are deep set, showing little fondness for words or fluency in speech.

There are, doubtless, certain biases or tendencies in this woman which she owes to some marked peculiarities or habits of her ancestors. She says that her father was a man of an almost tyrannical disposition, and that her mother was very weak willed. Thus there is quite a difference between the indications in her head and those in her hand as regards firmness. Her hand is quite small, very flexible, but with a poorly developed thumb, the first or nailed phalanx being very short. It is in this first joint that cheirognomists locate willpower, while the second phalanx is, according to its length, a sign of logic. This imperfect first joint of the thumb is often found in people who are undeveloped or askew in some particular. This peculiarity in Miss Goldman shows how important it is to study the brain and not to rely upon any one isolated or remote sign...

Excerpt from The Phrenological Journal and Science of Health, February 1895, pp. 88-90.

For more information on phrenology visit The History of Phrenology on the Web at, a comprehensive site created by British historian John van Wyhe.

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