Sex in Brain
March 31, 1888 — International Council of Women, Assembled by the National Woman Suffrage Association, Washington DC
The political conditions of woman are very greatly influenced to-day by what is taught to her and about her by those two conservative molders of public opinion — clergymen and physicians. Our law makers have long since ceased to merely sneer at the simple claim of human rights by one-half of humanity, and for refuge they have flown to priest and practitioner, who do not fail them in this their hour of great tribulation. It is true that men, most of whom never enter a church, have grown somewhat ashamed to press the theological arguments against the equality of the sexes, and to these the medical argument has become an ever-present help in their time of trouble.
In the early days woman was under the absolute sway of club and fist. Then came censer and gown, swinging hell in the perfumed depths of the one and hiding in the folds of the other thumb-screw and fagot for the woman who dared to think. At last the theory of the primal curse upon her head has grown weaker. Mankind struggles to be less brutal and more just. Manly men are beginning to blush when they hear repeated the well-worn fable of the fall of man through woman’s crime and her inferiority of position and opportunity, justified by priest and pleader, because of legends inherited from barbarians — mental deformities worthy of their parentage.
When religious influence and dogma began to close their terrors, legal enactments were slowly modified in woman’s favor and hell went out of fashion. Then Conservatism, Ignorance, and Egotism, in dismay and terror, took counsel together and called in medical science, still in its infancy, to aid in staying the march of progress which is inevitable to civilization and so necessary to anything like a real republic. Equality of opportunity began to be denied to woman, for the first time, upon natural and so-called scientific grounds. She was pronounced physically and mentally incapable, because of certain anatomical conditions, and she must be prevented — for her own good and that of the race here — from competition with her mental and physical superiors.
It was no longer her soul, but her body, that needed saving from herself. Her thirst for knowledge the clergy declared had already damned the souls of a very large majority of mankind — in a hereafter known only to them. The same vicious tendency, the doctors echoed, will be the ruin of the physical bodies of the race in this world, as we are prepared to prove. The case began to look hopeless again. Opportunity must be denied, these doctors say, because capacity does not exist. Where capacity seems to exist, it is, it must be, at the expense of individual health and future maternal capabilities.
As a person, she has no status with these consistent believers in “equal rights to all mankind.” As a potential mother only, can she hope for consideration either by religious or medical theorist. This has been a difficult combination to meet. Few who cared to contest their verdict, possessed the bravery to fearlessly face the religious dictators, and fewer still had the anatomical and anthropological information to risk a fight on a field which assumed to be held by those who based all of their arguments upon scientific facts, collected by microscope and scales and reduced to unanswerable statistics.
The priest, reinforced by the doctor, promised a long and bitter struggle, on new grounds, to those who fought for simple justice to the individual, aside from her sex relations; who wished for neither malediction nor mercy; those who claim only the right of a unit to enjoy the common heritage untrammeled by superstition and artificial difficulties. They do not ask to be helped — only not to be hindered. They had hailed science as their friend and ally; and behold, pseudo-science adopted theories, invented statistics, and published personal prejudices as demonstrated fact. All this has done a vast deal of harm to the cause of woman.
Educators, theorists, and politicians readily accept the data and statistics of prominent physicians, and, in good faith, make them a basis of action. while the victims of their misinformation have been helpless. It is, therefore, very important to learn, if possible, just how far medical science and anthropology have really discovered demonstrable natural sex differences in the brains of men and women, and how far the usual theories advanced are gratuitous assumptions, founded upon legend and fed by mental habit and personal egotism.
I began an investigation into this matter a little while ago by questioning the arguments and logic of the medical pseudo-scientists from their own basis of facts. I ended by questioning the facts themselves, upon the evidence furnished me by leading members of the profession, some of whom are known in this country and abroad as leaders in original investigation as brain students and anatomists. None of these gentlemen knew the aim or motive of my inquiries, and they gave me all the information to be had on this subject without bias and quite freely. The specialists and brain students to whom my questions were submitted, were of widely different religious beliefs, which, of course, colored their theories as well as their motives, either consciously or unconsciously.
But the profession has reason to be proud of the ability of most of these men, no less than of their sincerity and willingness to confess to ignorance of facts where proof was lacking. The abler the man the more willing was he to do this. One or two tried to explain, and, as it seemed to me, to force an agreement between scientific facts which they did possess, and their inherited belief in “revelation.” Others, who did not themselves recognize it, performed the same mental gymnastics from mere force of habit, and gave a black eye to their facts in preserving a blind eye to their faith. But in the following results are to be found the opinions of eminent medical men, some of whom are Roman Catholic, some Protestant, and some of the negative systems of religion. So far as I know, not one is a believer in “Woman Suffrage,” nor even in the more radical but less comprehensive measures for her development. Not one, who touched directly upon the subject, believed in sex equality in its entirety or had not personal prejudice and long-cherished sentiments opposed to it, if his reason approved. By some of them this was frankly stated, even while giving facts in her favor. Not more than one, so far as I know, is “agnostic” in religion or a believer in evolution in its entirety.
I have mentioned these latter points, because I found in this line of investigation, as in all others, that a man’s religious leanings inevitably color and modify all of his opinions, and govern his entire mental outlook. They even add bitterness to his “jalop” and fizz in his “seltzer.” If he absolutely believes in the “Garden of Eden ” story he deals with “Adam” as a creature after “God’s own heart and in his image,” and therefore capable and deserving of all opportunity and development for and because of him self, and to promote his own happiness. “Eve,” of course, receives due attention as a physical, anatomical specimen, “with intuitions” — a mere bone or rib of contention, as it were, between man and man. The more orthodox the man the bonier the rib. The more literal and consistent his faith the less likely is he to deal with woman as an intellectual being, capable of and entitled to the same or as liberal, mental, social, and financial opportunities or rights as are universally conceded to be the birthright of man, and quite beyond farther controversy in his case. Evidence in her favor must be overwhelming, indeed, then, which can not be evaded if an investigator starts out handicapped with the theory of “revelation ” as a part of his mental equipment, and with the “sphere of woman ” formulated for him by the ancient Hebrews.
I went to the men whom the doctors themselves told me were the best authority to be found on the subject of brain anatomy and microscopy. One of these men, Dr. E. C. Spitzka, of New York, was referred to me by physicians of all schools of practice as undoubtedly the best informed man in America, and second to none in the world, in this branch of the profession. They, one and all, told me that what he could not tell me himself on this subject, or could not tell me where to find, could not be of the slightest importance.
I have been asked to tell you just what I started out to learn, and how far I succeeded. But before I do this it may not be out of place to tell you an anecdote of my experience in this undertaking: I went personally to about twenty of the leading physicians of New York with my questions. I had them submitted in other ways to many more in this and other cities. I got written communications from the Old World as well as the New. Nearly every one of these twenty, after very kindly telling me what he himself knew and what he believed on the subject, referred me to the same man as the final appeal; but not one of them was willing to introduce me to him. They would introduce me to anybody and everybody else, but they did not like to risk sending me to him. He was, they said, utterly impatient of ignorance, and might treat me with scant courtesy. He would very likely tell me flatly that he could not waste time on so trivial a matter — that I and everybody else ought to know all about “sex in brain.”
Now, this is a secret — I would not have it get out for a good deal. It took me a long while to get my courage up to go to that man without an introduction — a thing I did not do with any of the others. I finally, with fear and trembling, made up my mind to learn what he knew on this subject or perish in the attempt. So I took my life in my hands, put on my best gown — I had previously discovered that even brain anatomists are subject to the spell of good clothes — and went. I fully expected to be reduced to mere pulp before I left; but he listened quite patiently, asked me a few questions as to why I had come to him; told me to read him my questions; asked me sharply, “Who wrote those questions?” I said meekly, “I did.” He looked at me critically, wrote something on a card, and dismissed me. I was uncertain whether, he had been so kind in his manner, because he considered me a harmless lunatic or not. Once in the street I read the card. I was to call again when he could give me more time.
I went not once, but many times. I devoted some months to brain anatomy and anthropology. In his laboratory he had brains from those of a mouse to those of the largest whale on record. He showed me the peculiarities of brains as shown by microscope and scales. He looked up points in foreign journals to which I had not access. In short, he did all he could to aid me; and he said that no such investigation as I was trying to learn about had ever yet been made, although no fair record of the difference of sex in brain, of which we hear so much, could possibly be made without it. He was delightfully frank, earnest, and thoroughly honest. He knew — and, what is better, he was willing to tell — where knowledge stopped and guessing began; a point sadly confused, I found, by even prominent members of the profession. “I do not know,” was a hard sentence to get from a doctor so long as he was under the impression that others of his profession would know. “I do not know; nobody knows,” came freely enough from the man who was sure of the boundaries of investigation, who recognized the vast difference between theories and proof. From him, and through him, I collected material that is of intense interest and importance to woman in this stage of the movement for her elevation.
It is only right that I say here that I am of opinion that he does not him self believe in the equality of the sexes, but he is too thoroughly scientific to allow his hereditary bias to color his statements of facts on this or any subject. In the hands of a man who has arrived at that point of mental poise and dignity, our case is safe, no matter what his sentiments may be. Such men do not go to their emotions for premises when it comes to a statement of scientific facts. There are writers on this subject who do. As you all know, any statement calmly and persistently made is reasonably sure to be accepted as true, even by its victims. Frequency of iteration passes as proof.
Even thoughtful men, after spending years of time in trying to explain why a thing is true, often end with the discovery that it is not true, after all. We are all familiar with the story of the wrangle of the philosophers as to why a vessel containing water weighed no more with a fish weighing a pound in it than it did after the fish was removed. After long and acrimonious debate over the principle of philosophy involved, some one bethought him to weigh them, and, of course, discovered that no unfamiliar principle was involved, since it was a simple misstatement as to facts.
The assumption of “divine rights ” by kings and priests stood as unquestioned facts for centuries by those who were the victims of both. The “divine right ” of men rests still on the same bare-faced fraud, and is simply the last of this interesting trinity to die, and it naturally dies hard, as its fellows did. If a charlatan loudly asserts that he can do a certain thing, no matter how unlikely that thing is, if he insists that he has done it often, he will find many believers who will spend much time in an attempt to ex plain how he does it, while only the few will think to question first if he does it.
Upon this basis of calm assumption on the one side, and credulous acceptance on the other, has grown up a very general belief that there are great well-defined natural anatomical differences between the brains of the sexes of the human race; that these differences are well known to the medical practitioner or anatomist, and that they plainly indicate inferiority of capacity in the female brain, which is structural, while, strangely enough, no one argues that this is the case in the lower animals. It therefore occurred to me to question — admitting that the microscope and scales really do show the differences to exist in adults — whether it would not be fair to assume, at least, that they are not natural and necessary sex differences, but that they are due to difference of opportunity and environment, and, under like conditions, would be produced between members of the same sex; that since this superiority of brain in the male sex is said to appear in the human race only, where alone, in all nature, superior opportunities and environments are held as a sex right and condition by the miles, that the so-called “superiority of structure” is simply better development of the equally capable but restricted brain of the other sex.
I proposed to test this by an appeal to the brains of infants. And my assumption, although not new, appeared to be borne out by the accepted, though unproven theory, that the brains of the men and women are nearer alike the lower we go into the human scale. This assumption is clearly based upon the idea that where the mental opportunities of the men and women are nearer equal the physical results are also similar. Indeed, Topinard plainly states this fact in his Anthropology. He says: “The reason that the brain of woman is lighter than that of man is, that she has less cerebral activity to exercise in her sphere of duty. In former times it was relatively larger in the department of Lozere, because then the woman and man mutually shared the burdens of the daily labor. The truth is that the weight of the brain increases with the use we make of it.” Since women are not given diversified and stimulating mental employment, they can not be expected to show the results of such training on the brain itself.
I was started on my work in this matter by several articles written by the boldest of the medical men in this country, who is the leader of the medical party which claims to be opposed to the educational and political advancement of women because of the inevitable injury to her physical constitution. The writings of such a man, aided by the circulation and prestige of the leading journals of the country, which publish them as authoritative, must inevitably influence school directors, voters, and legislators, and go far to crystallize the belief that facts are well known to the medical profession, with which it would be dangerous to trifle, when the truth is that the positive knowledge on the subject is not sufficient at this moment to form even an intelligent guess upon. In spite of this fact the well-known physician of whom I speak, Dr. Wm. A. Hammond, reiterates in these articles all of the old, and adds one or two new, arguments to prove that woman should not be allowed to develop what brain she has, because she possesses very little and even that little is of inferior quality.
Professor Romanes, who is said by many to stand second only to Herbert Spencer in his branch of science, has also recently published a very extensive paper on mental differences of the sexes and the proper education of woman, which is, unfortunately, but most likely honestly, based upon this same assumption, under the belief that it was a proven fact. His paper has been very widely copied in spite of its extreme length, and the fact that the same journals “absolutely can not find space” for even a moderately long one on the other side. The editors say, “The public is not interested in it” — that is, in its correction. I mention these two men not because they are peculiar in, but because they are honored representatives of, the so-called scientific school of objectors to human equality, and claim to base the right of male supremacy upon important scientific facts.
Of course all this is an old assumption and as such has been dealt with before. But Dr. Hammond now boldly asserts that these differences are easily discoverable by microscope and scales, and that they are natural, necessary sex differences. He claims: (1.) That woman’s brain is inferior to man’s in size and quality, and, therefore, in possibility. (2.) That these marks of inferiority are natural and potential, and not produced by environment. (3.) That they are easily recognizable in the brain mass itself. (4.) That in consequence of these natural organic and fundamental differences the female brain is incapable of, first, accuracy; second, sustained or abstract thought; third, unbiased judgment (judicial fairness); fourth, the accomplishment of any really first-class or original work in the fields of science, art, politics, invention, or even literature. He points out the great danger to woman herself, and to the race, as her children, if she is allowed to attempt those things for which the structure of her brain shows her to be incapacitated.
From this outlook it is easy to see that the non-professional voter, the school director, and the legislator might really feel it to be his duty to protect woman against her own ambition. It is in this way that the assertions of such men can, and do, cause the greatest injury to woman. There are a number of other indictments; but for the present let us examine these. First, in the matter of size, the doctor concedes that the relative size and weight of the brain in the sexes is about the same, slightly in woman’s favor, which he says does not count; although, when he finds this same difference between men, as between higher and lower races, he argues that it does count for a great deal. But in the dilemma to which this seemed to reduce him in proving his case, he says: “Numerous observations show beyond doubt that the intellectual power does not depend upon the weight of the brain relative to that of the body so much as it depends upon absolute brain weight.” Now, if this were the case, an elephant would out-think any of us, and the whale, whose intellectual achievements have never been looked upon as absolutely incendiary (if we except Jonah’s friend), would rank the greatest man on record, and have brain enough left to furnish material for a fair-sized female seminary.
The average human male brain is said to weigh from 1,300 to 1,400 grammes, and even a very young whale furnishes 2,312 grammes of ” intellect-producing substance,” as the doctor felicitously terms it, while the brain of a large whale weighed in 1883 tipped the beam at 6,700 grammes. Truly, then, if absolute brain weight and not relative weight is the test, here was a “mute inglorious Milton,” indeed. Almost any elephant is several Cuviers in disguise, or perhaps an entire medical faculty.
The doctor says: “The female brain, however, is not only smaller than that of man, but it is different in structure, and this fact involves much more as regards the character of the mental faculties than does the element of size.” Again he says: “Thus accurate measurements show that the anterior portion of the brain, comprising the frontal lobes, in which the highest intellectual faculties reside, is much more developed in man than in woman, and this not only as regards its size, but its convolutions also. Now, the part of the brain which is especially concerned in the evolution of mind is the gray matter, and this is increased or diminished in accordance with the number and complexity of the convolutions. The frontal lobes contain a greater amount of gray cortical matter than any other part of the brain, and they are, as we have seen, larger in man than in woman.”
Accepting these sweeping statements for the moment — although many of them are questioned by the highest authority — would it not be fair to test the case as to whether this difference in adults is fundamental and prenatal, or whether it is the result of outside artificial influences, by an appeal to the brain of infants. If the brains of one hundred infants (each child weighing ten pounds) were examined, would the brains of the fifty males be distinguishable from those of the fifty females? In other words, when the weight of the body, the age, and other conditions are the same as to health, parentage, etc., and before the artificial means of development, educational stimulus and opportunity are applied to the one and withheld from the other, could the sex be determined by the difference in brain, weight, shape, size, quality, or convolutions? That would be the test, although it would not allow for the ages of hereditary dwarfage of the one, and healthy exercise of the brains of the other sex; but, as an opening, I was willing to stand on that test. It was in pursuance of this idea that I caused the following questions to be submitted to a large number of the leading brain students of America, went myself somewhat into the study of anthropology, and collected from several countries certain bits of information as to just how much basis there is for all this cry about the difference in men’s and women’s brains. Being a matter of heads, I wanted to know how much was “cry ” and how much was “wool.”
These are the questions submitted to the doctors, brain anatomists, microscopists at the outset of my task: (1.) Is it known to the medical profession whether in infants (of the same age, size, health, and inheritance at birth) the quantity, quality, and specific gravity of the gray matter differs in the sexes? Does the relative amount of gray matter differ? (2.) Do the convolutions? Form? Actual amount of gray matter differ? (3.) Given the brain, only, of a number of infants of the same age, weight, etc., could the sex be determined by the difference in shape, quantity, quality, and convolutions? (4.) If so, are the differences more or less marked in infants than in adults? Is the frontal region of the brain larger and more developed in male than in female infants? Is the difference as marked as in adults? (5.) Does use, training, etc., develop gray matter, change texture, size, shape, etc., of the brain mass, or are these determined and fixed at birth? The same as to convolutions? (6.) Does use have to do with the location of the fissure of Rolando, or is that fixed at birth? In an uneducated man would there be as much of the brain in front of this fissure as in a man of trained and developed mind? (7.”) Does use or development of the mental powers change the specific gravity of the brain mass? Would it be the same in a great scholar as in a common laborer of the same general size and health? (8.) Is there unanimity of opinion on these questions? Are the facts known or only conjectured? (9.) If ten boys of the same weight, health, and general inheritance were taken in infancy and five of them subjected for fifty years to the conditions of a street or farm laborer, while the other five received all the advantages of the life of a scholar, would the ten brains present the same relative likenesses at death as at birth? Would opportunity and mental exercise make a change in the brains of the five students that would be discoverable by microscope and scales?
In reply to the last question, the universal opinion was that it would be fair to assume that such difference would be perceptible. But one of the replies was that these points must necessarily remain only conjectural, since we can not do as the Scotch villager who shows to a wondering public the remains of a famous criminal, with this bit of history: “his is the skull and brain of a man who was hanged, at the age of forty, for murdering his entire family. This is the skull and brain of the same man at the age of seven. You can readily trace in the boy the man that was to be.” Since it might be looked upon with disfavor if we were to attempt to brain people from time to time in an effort to discover the effects of culture upon the fissure of Rolando, we must base all such arguments upon reason and analogy. Is it not a fair presumption, since reason and analogy lead to this universally accepted theory as between man and man, that the same causes would produce the same results when applied between man and woman? Strangely enough, this is not held to be the case by these acute reasoners against sex equality in brain.
But to illustrate once more the necessity of questioning facts first and the reasons for them afterward, I am assured by the most profound and capable students of these branches of science, that if such differences exist in the brain of infants as are indicated by my questions, it is not known to those who make a specialty of brain study; but, upon the contrary, the differences between individuals of the same sex — in adults, at least — are known to be much more marked than any that are known to exist between the sexes. Take the brains of the two poets, Byron and Dante. Byron’s weighed 1,807 grms., while Dante’s weighed only 1,320 grms., a difference of 487 grms.; or take two statesmen, Cromwell and Gambetta. Cromwell’s brain weighed 2,210 grms., which, by the way, is the greatest healthy brain on record — although Cuvier’s is usually quoted as the largest, a part of the weight of his was due to disease, and if a diseased or abnormal brain is to be taken as the standard, then the greatest on record is that of a negro, criminal idiot — while Gambetta’s was only 1,241 grms., a difference of 969 grms. Surely it would not be held because of this, that Gambetta and Dante should have been denied the educational and other advantages which were the natural right of Byron and Cromwell. Yet it is upon this very ground, by this very system of reasoning, that it is proposed to deny women equal advantages and opportunities, although the difference in brain weight between man and woman is said to be only 100 grms., and even this does not allow for difference in body weight, and is based upon a system of averages, which is neither complete nor accurate. There is, then, not only no proof that the sex of infants could be distinguished by their brains, but all of the evidence which does exist on this subject is wholly against the assumption.
Up to this point in my investigation I learned only what I had fully expected to learn. At the next step, and in connection with it, I met with information which seems to me to offer an opportunity for reflection upon the matter of mental — not to say verbal — accuracy in the sex which does not wear “bangs.” In the papers referred to, Dr. Hammond asserted, and no male voice or pen has seen fit to publicly correct him, that ” it is only necessary to compare an average male with an average female brain to perceive at once how numerous and striking are the differences existing between them.” He then submits a formidable list of striking differences which include these: ” The male brain is larger, its vertical and transverse diameters are greater proportionally, the shape is quite different, the convolutions are more intricate, the sulci deeper, the secondary fissures more numerous, and the gray matter of the corresponding parts of the brain decidedly thicker.”
But as if all these were not enough to enable the merest novice to distinguish the one from the other, even if he were near-sighted, he offers these reinforcements: “It is quite certain, as the observations of the writer show, that the specific gravity of both the white and gray matter of the brain is greater in man than in woman.” This would seem to leave woman without a reef to hang to; for if by any chance her brain did not fall short in gray matter, the specific gravity of the rest of it would enable the doctor to ticket her as accurately as though she were to appear with ear-rings and train in a ball-room. Of this point this is what the leading brain anatomist in America wrote me: “The only article recognized by the profession as important and of recent date which takes this theory as a working basis is by Morselli, and he is compelled to make the sinister admission, while asserting that the specific gravity is less in the female, that with old age and with insanity the specific gravity increases.” If this is the case, I don’t know that women need sigh over their short-coming in the item of specific gravity. There appear to be two very simple methods open to them by which they may emulate their brothers in the matter of specific gravity if they so desire. One of these is certain, if they live long enough, and the other — well, there is no protective tariff on insanity. But to finally clinch his argument, Dr. Hammond continues: “The question is, therefore, not so much that of quantity” (which appears to collide with his statement that it was the ” absolute brain weight ” which was the sublime test, and drops my whale into the water again), ” as it is of quality. The brain of woman is different from that of man in structure.”
Again I applied my test. Does all this difference of structure and quality appear in the infant or only in the adult brains? Since it is held that these very differences are the ones produced by education and properly- diversified mental stimulus — as between man and man — is it not fair to assume that like causes produce like results as between man and woman? Since woman has never had the advantages of these brain-developing processes, is it not fair to assume, if all these differences do exist, that it is less a matter of natural and characteristic inferiority than of environment and opportunity, unless it exists in the same ratio in infants? That would be the test as to whether these are natural, necessary, pre-natal sex characteristics, or whether they are developed by external circumstances and environment. The physical sex characteristics, which are natural, are as readily distinguished at birth as at maturity.
But after a woman’s waist and brain are put into tight laces and shaped to fit the fashion, it is a rather poor time to judge of her natural figure, either physical or mental. There was but one reply to my questions. It was this: No such test has ever been made with the brains of infants, and the wildest imagination could only stand appalled at the effort. It would be impossible to distinguish the male from the female child by these ” radical, natural, easily-discovered sex differences” in brain. I held, then, that the inference was perfectly legitimate that the great and numerous differences in the brains of adults, in so far as that was not, also, a mere flight of fancy, was not natural, pre-natal, and necessary, but that it was certainly fair to assume it to be producible, by outside measures or environment, and that it could be no more natural nor desirable, for the digestive organs and the brain of one sex. to be decreased and deformed by pressure, than it is for those of the other.
But I confess I was wholly unprepared for the final result of my last question and argument. I discovered that these differences are not only not known to exist in infants, but that in spite of all the talk, the pathetic warnings, and the absolute statements to the contrary, that in a like number of adult brains such differences are not only not to be “perceived at once,” but that if Dr. Hammond or anybody else will agree to allow me to furnish him with twenty well-preserved adult brains to be marked in cipher, so that he will not have his information before he makes his test, he will find that his “numerous, striking, and easily perceived “differences will not appear with any relation to sex, so far as is known at the present time. I made this offer to him through the Popular Science Monthly some six months ago. Up to date the twenty brains I offered him to try on have not been called for. Upon the contrary there will be found greater difference between individuals of the same sex than any known to exist between the sexes in any and all of these test characteristics; that, in the main, since women weigh less than men, it would be pretty safe to guess that most of the lighter brains belonged to the women, but that this test would prove wrong in many cases, and that the others would fail utterly.
I asked them why they did not correct the general impression which men of their profession had given out in this matter. They said they did not see the use of it; what difference did it make, anyhow? And then it was a good enough “working theory.” I said, ” But suppose it worked the other way, do you think that you would say that it made no difference, and that a working theory that worked all one way was a safe or an honest one to put forth as an established fact? ” “Well, we are willing to tell you the truth about it,” said they; “the fact is, it is all theory as yet; there has not been a sufficient number of tests made to warrant the least dogmatism in the matter; what more can you ask of us than that?” What, indeed?
I made another discovery; it was this: The brain of no remarkable woman has ever been examined! Woman is ticketed to fit the hospital subjects and tramps, the unfortunates whose brains fall into the hands of the profession, as it were, by mere accident; while man is represented by the brains of the Cromwells, Cuviers, Byrons, and Spurzheims. By this method the average of men’s brains is carried to its highest level in the matter of weight and texture; while that of women is kept at its lowest, and even then there is only claimed 100 grammes difference. It is with such statistics as this, it is with such dissimilar material, that they and we are judged.
Finally, I discovered that there is absolutely no definite information on the subject now in the hands or books of the medical profession which can justify the least show of dogmatism in the matter; or if it were on the other side, would not be explained entirely away in five minutes, and there would not be the least question as to the desirability of the explanation, either. They told me not only that they did not know, but that no one could possibly know upon the statistics and with the instruments in the hands of the profession to-day.
This being the case, perhaps it will be just as well for women to take a hand in the future investigations and statements themselves, and I sincerely hope that the brains of some of our able women may be preserved and examined by honest brain students, so that we may hereafter have our Cuviers and Websters and Cromwells. And I think I know where some of them can be found without a search-warrant — when Miss Anthony, Mrs. Stanton, and some others I have the honor to know, are done with theirs. Until that is done, no honest or fair comparison is possible. At present there is too great a desire on the part of these large-brained gentlemen, like Dr. Hammond, to look upon themselves and their brains as “infant industries,” entitled to and in need of a very high protective tariff, to prevent anything like a fair and equal competition with the feminine product.
But the fact is that we have heard so much on the one side about woman’s physical and mental short-comings, and on the other side, from our prohibition friends and others, so much of the moral delinquencies of men, that it seems to me that we are in danger of believing both. And I, for one, am beginning to feel a good deal like Mark Twain’s Irishman, whenever I hear either one discussed. He had been having a controversy with another man, and, as a final “clincher” to his side of the argument, said, with emphasis: “Now, I don’t want to hear anything more from you on that subject but silence — and mighty little of that.”
Allow me to read the closing paragraph of a letter to me from Dr. E.C. Spitzka, the celebrated New York brain specialist, to whom I am greatly indebted for much valuable information:
You may hold me responsible for the following declaration: That any statement to the effect that an observer can tell by looking at a brain, or examining it microscopically, whether it belonged to a female or a male subject, is not founded on carefully-observed facts. The balance and the compasses show slight differences; the weight of the male brain being greater, and the angle formed by the sulcus of Rolando, forming a larger expansion of the frontal lobes; but both these points of difference have been determined by the method of averages. They do not necessarily apply to the individual brain and hence can not be utilized to determine the sex of a single brain, except by those who are willing to take the chances of guessing. The assertion that the microscope reveals definite characteristic points of difference between the male and female brain is utterly incorrect. No such difference has ever been demonstrated, nor do I think it will be by more elaborate methods than those we now possess. Numerous female brains exceed numerous male brains in absolute weight, in complexity of convolutions, and in what brain anatomists would call the nobler proportions. So that he who takes these as his criteria of the male brain may be grievously mistaken in attempting to assert the sex of a brain dogmatically.
If I had one hundred female brains and one hundred male brains together, I should select the one hundred containing the largest and best developed brains as probably containing fewer female brains than the remaining one hundred. More than this no cautious, experienced brain anatomist would venture to declare.
Source: Gardener, H. H. Sex in Brain. (New York: R.F. Fenno & Company).
Also: Report of the International Council of Women, Assembled by the National Woman Suffrage Association, Washington, D.C., U.S. of America, March 25 to April 1, 1888, (Washington, DC: Rufus H. Darby), 1888, pp. 369-382.