Mrs. Gardener's Brain Discussion/April 1998


Query From Connie Wawruck-Hemmett wawruck@uwinnipeg.edu 22 April 1998

While searching for something entirely unrelated in the 3 Sept 1925 issue of _The New York Times_, I cam e across an interesting tidbit: a very short piece headlined *Brain of Mrs. Gardener is Studied At Cornell*. Apparently Helen Hamilton Gardener, "an author," had left her brain to the Cornell Brain Association, where Dr. James Papez was comparing it with that of Dr. Burt G. Wilder, who died earlier that same year.

Dr. Papez had found at this point that Mrs. Gardener's brain weighed the same as that of Dr. Wilder, a fact which apparently was meant to back up her lifetime belief "that women's mental capacity is *potentially* [my emphasis] equal to
man's" a belief that she had aired in her book, _Sex in the Brain_.

Can anyone tell me where I might find out more about Mrs. Gardener and/or her book, and/or further results of Dr. Papez's study? Off-list would be fine, but perhaps others might be interested in this bit of women's history? Regards.

Responses:

From Nancy Marie Robertson nmrobertson@erols.com 23 april 1998

A paper on this subject was presented at the Berkshire Conference on Women's History by Kathi Kern of the University of Kentucky (there is another women's historian with a similar name, but spelled, I believe Kathy--to forestall confusion). I don't know if Kathi has published her work on this yet, but it's a fascinating story.

P.S. Info on Helen Hamilton Gardener can be found in _Notable American Women_.

From Rodney Hessinger hess@vm.temple.edu 23 April 1998

Cynthia Eagle Russett discusses Helen Hamilton Gardener's scientific beliefs
and writings about the brain, etc. in her book entitled _Sexual Science: The Victorian Construction of Womanhood_.

From Kathi Kern klkern01@ukcc.uky.edu 23 April 1998

I published an article on Helen Gardened and her brain entitled, "Gray Matters: Brains, Identities and Natural Rights" in Theodore R. Schatzki and Wolfgang Natter's _The Social and Political Body_(NY: Guilford Press, 1996, ISBN: 1-57230-140-6). There is also a nice treatment of Gardener in Cynthia Eagle Russett's _Sexual Science: The Victorian Construction of Womanhood_(Cambridge, MA: Harvard U Press, 1989).

I missed the original inquiry, so if I can be of more help on the topic of Helen Gardener and her brain, please contact me directly.

From Suzanne Gretz brax@pacbell.net 24 April 1998

I am unfamiliar with the study by Dr. Papez but I do know that Burt G. Wilder
was a professor of anatomy at Cornell University and one of the foremost scholars in that area of his generation.

This issue of measuring brains is historically a fascinating one. All throughout the nineteenth century American and European scientists were using the sizes of skulls and weights of brains to determine relative intelligence of various races, genders and classes of people. In latter decades of the 19th century and into the 20th, scientists and statesmen were urged to donate their brains to science for this important study.

The basic assumption was the larger the brain, the more intelligent the individual. Not surprisingly, while male Northern Europeans, or Americans with that ancestry, consistently came at the top of all measurements, followed by, in order, Native Americans, East Asians, then "blacks" (Africans, African-Americans and Australians). But as Stephen Jay Gould points out in
his book _The Mismeasure of Man_ (I highly recommend the first few chapters of this book if you are interested in the topic) the sciences of craniometry was as heavily influenced by the racial and/or gender prejudices of the practitioners as by any objective information they uncovered. To this prejudice can be added the invalidity of the brain size/intelligence correlation/ But before you get complacent, the use of science or pseudoscience to justify racism is still with us: evidence the recent book _The Bell Curve_.

Gould quotes from eminent French scientist Gustave Le Bon writing in 1879: "In the most intelligent of races, as among the Parisians, there are a large number of women whose brains are closer in size to those of gorillas than to the most developed male brains. This inferiority is so obvious that no one can contest it for a moment; only its degree is worth discussion. All psychologists who have studied the intelligence of women, as well as poets and novelists, recognize today that they represent the most inferior forms of human evolution and that they are closer to children and savages than to an adult, civilized man."
[The French craniometricians under anatomist Paul Broca were among the most important in this field.] In addition, as a point of argument for the innate
mental inferiority of "Negroes," G. Herve, a colleague of Broca, wrote in 1881: "Men of black races have a brain scarcely heavier than that of a white women." [Again quoted in Gould.]

I became interested in this topic while studying the problems that American women suffragists had in counteracting the argument that they were not intelligent enough to have the right to vote. I have found that many suffragists and early feminists were aware of and attempted to deal with these prejudicial scientific analyses in their writings. It seems that Ms. Gardener may be another of these women.

If you are interested in the topic of scientific racism, in addition to Gould, noted above, I would recommend: Barkin, Elazar _The Retreat of Scientific Racism_(Cambridge, 1992); Blum, Jeffrey _Pseudoscience and Mental Ability_(NY, 1978); Degler, Carl _In Search of Human Nature_(NY, 1991) and Smith, J. David _The Eugenic Assault on America_(Fairfax, VA, 1993).

I am not aware of any studies that deal exclusively with the "biological inferiority" of women.

From Ruby Rohrlich rohrlich@gwis2.circ.gwu.edu 27 April 1998

One day, a year ago, when my older son was in the sixth grade, he came home from school and quoted his male teacher as saying men are generally more intelligent than women because they are taller and their skulls are bigger. Now, my husband (ex) and I are both short, and my son was then developing into a short person, and I said, "what about the men who are taller and with bigger skulls than other men?" He caught on and just grinned. I heard no more on that subject.

From Diana Laulainen-Schein Diana.L.Laulainen-Schein-1@tc.umn.edu 28 April 1998
I am aghast! What an alarming thing for your son to be "taught" in school circa 1997.

From Heidi Campbell-Shoaf hcampbell@dar.org 28 April 1998

It is disturbing that a teacher would make such a statement to his students. This
topic is one of those age-old debates that, as of yet, has not been scientifically or sociologically proven one way or the other (at least to my knowledge). Although, while standing in line at the supermarket a couple of weeks ago, I saw on the cover of Good Housekeeping or Women's Day or some magazine of that nature, that the answer to the question of who is smarter has been found.
I was next in line and did not have the opportunity to see the article. Has anyone else seen or read it? I can guess the answer is in favor of women, or perhaps supports the theory that intelligence between the sexes does not differ, as I highly doubt that such a mainstream publication for women would tell its readers they are not as smart as they think they are and risk losing subscribers.

From Laura Moore ljmoore@email.unc.edu 05 May 1998

I've deleted the original query but ran across this in the dentist's office yesterday:
"Women ARE Smarter, Finally Science Has Proof"--it's in May's Ladies' Home Journal. The article itself doesn't really make the "smarter" point but it is about differences between male and female brains--women, though our brains are smaller, apparently have and use more neurons, and what's more, science proves we are better attuned to emotion, more verbal, have better memories and more...