"Speaking To The Eye": Phrenology And The Writings Of Lydia Maria Child And Catherine [I.E. Catharine] Maria Sedgwick

Date of Graduation

Summer 1998


Master of Arts in English



Committee Chair

Etta Madden


In the nineteenth century the science of phrenology was a cultural force that impacted American social philosophies, including relations between genders and interactions between people of various ethnic backgrounds. American practitioners of a popularized branch of phrenology, most importantly Orson and Lorenzo Fower, advocated types of relations among these groups of people. Phrenological literature of the period, analyzed in part according to the theories of Bruno Latour and Thomas Kuhn, evidences a clear shift away from scientific rigor; many Euro-Americans latched on to what they considered the scientific ideology of popular phrenology as proof of biological superiority. Not everyone, however, accepted phrenology's social applications as truth. Lydia Maria Child's Hobomok and Catherine Maria Sedgwick's Hope Leslie reveal the authors' concern with the social policies of phrenology. The works of these women, on the fringes of scientific discourse, vacillate between a tempered acceptance of phrenological ideology and an outright contempt for theories of exclusion and repression. This moment of interaction between the scientific and literary communities illuminates the struggle involved in determining "truth" and influencing social policies and culture accordingly.

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature


© Shelley Rene Hamilton