Popular Science Monthly/Volume 31/September 1887/Correspondence



Editor Popular Science Monthly:

SIR: In replying to a letter by me, published in the June number of this journal, Dr. William A. Hammond dispensed with the ordinary courtesy of discussion, and, at the same time, quite dexterously evaded the question at issue. He drops the "numerous, striking, and easily-detected sex differences in brain" which were "to be perceived at once" in comparing the two, and devotes himself to the one element of weight, which, so far as I know, no one has questioned, provided the relative body-weight is not allowed for between the sexes as it is in the tables where men alone are compared.[1]

Dr. Hammond quotes from various writers on anthropology to prove points with which my questions had nothing whatever to do. Some of his quotations are from authors whose theories are discredited by later investigations; others are simply unsupported assertions; while his display of dialectic pyrotechnics and personal innuendo are both interesting and amusing even to me, their victim, but they are certainly not argument.

The doctor acknowledges that he can not accept the offer I made him—to distinguish the male from the female brains of twenty specimens marked in cipher—thus corroborating my position and that of the able and unprejudiced anatomists and physicians who assured me that there exist no sufficient data upon which to make the bold (and to use the doctor's own words) "rough-and-tumble" assertions which have been made by him as to the "radical and easily , to be discovered characteristic sex differences in brains." To cover this, he makes a proposition to me, which is entirely aside from the question at issue, and in the face of the fact that I have never said that I could perform any of these wonderful feats.

I am quite willing to say that I can not. And since the science of anthropology is as yet in its infancy; since its various students disagree; and since within the past few months one of its cardinal principles has been found to be unsound, I am all the less willing to accept the sweeping statements of Dr. Hammond in regard to his being able to tell "at once the difference between a male and a female brain" by "numerous, easily-discovered, natural sex differences"; because of which differences he asserts both the incapacity of woman to learn and the danger of allowing her to attempt studies and occupations which he holds are unsuited to her lower brain organization.

It is just here that I join issue with him. And I maintain that no anatomist or physician has a right to assume these radical differences to exist, and, upon insufficient and conflicting data, make positive statements calculated to restrict woman in the use of whatever brain capacity she may have.

He finds woman's brain deficient m gray matter he says. Why deficient? Because man has more than she, and of course he is always assumed to be the highest type. But in this connection I find that Meynert says, "It" (the gray substance) "is more abundant in the brains of animals than in that of man, and indeed the proportion of gray substance increases the more remote the brain-type is from the human." The italics are mine.

"A nervous impulse takes, according to Helmholtz, about twelve times as long to travel through the gray substance as it does to be transmitted through the peripheral nerves."—Ibid.

Is this a reason why women are said to think more rapidly than men, or to have "intuitions" which, Dr. Hammond graciously says, "stand her in good stead for thought"?

The doctor once more uses as illustration the "well-known fact" that these characteristic brain differences are greater between the sexes, and more to woman's discredit, the higher we go in the scale of civilization.[2] This he uses again as evidence that woman has not utilized the opportunities which she has never been allowed to have. But here comes—a few weeks ago—the news that the assumption upon which this is based is all wrong.

The Terra del Fuegans' brains have been used to illustrate the low organization of brain possessed by the lower races of man. It was assumed that the anatomical differences between their brains and ours were so marked and so well known as to be quite beyond further dispute.

The latest test reveals the somewhat startling fact that these great race differences, even, are unproved assumptions, and the Terra del Fuegan brain is now said to possess proportions and characteristics that in no way enable anatomists to distinguish it from that of a Caucasian of the higher races. Here is a revelation, indeed, as to the state of anthropological knowledge! Now all this is frankly stated and acknowledged by the able brain anatomists who have no axe to grind, and are anxious to follow truth, even though it may confound their own theories.

This latest discovery in anthropology gives a pretty clear hint as to the accuracy of the information to be had, not only as to sex differences, but as to whether "these sex differences are greater the higher we go in civilization."

Since the foundation itself is knocked from under the theory, it looks as if the superstructure also may possibly need to undergo more or less repair at no distant day. This is what I contend for. Not because I pretend to be a brain anatomist, nor even a thorough student of anthropology. I have made no such claim; but I have said, and I now repeat, that those who are both of these (and whose standing as such I do not feel called upon to defend against Dr. Hammond's "fine and noble scorn," more especially since one of these very men was recently referred to by him as "the leading brain-anatomist in New York"), who are careful and honest brain students and anatomists, assure me that the present state of knowledge can not justify any one in making the sweeping statements made by Dr. Hammond as to the "numerous, striking, easily to be detected sex differences in brain."

The doctor invites me, in a tone of triumph (although I repeat this is not the question, and no amount of rhetorical dust can hide that fact), to find in all the records a woman's brain which weighs as much as Dr. Chalmers's (fifty-three ounces). Then he asserts that no woman's brain has ever been weighed in all the world which, if healthy, weighed over fifty-six ounces, while Cuvier's (whose brain, by-the-way, he does not mention, was not a healthy one, and that a part of its weight was due to that sad fact), and Abercrombie's weighed more than fifty-six ounces, and Webster's, Lord Campbell's, and Spurzhiem's, came within two or three ounces of weighing as much.

Now, so far as I am able to learn from books and from the profession, the brain of no remarkable woman has ever yet been weighed, to pit against those of these remarkable men. The brain of a Sappho, a George Eliot, or an Elizabeth Cady Stanton, might possibly make as fair a show as those of these gentlemen; but, unfortunately, woman's brain is, at the present time, labeled to fit the tramps, hospital subjects, and unfortunates, whose brains have, so far, been weighed and analyzed, and these are what are held up as the fair representative of woman and her capabilities, as against the Cuviers, Websters, and Byrons.

I assure Dr. Hammond that I am quoting a gentleman of his profession, and a friend of his, when I say "this is wholly unjust and absurd. It is simply no test at all." But in this connection it is only fair to state that, taking both sexes in this class of brains—hospital and unfortunates—Weisbach found that in the frontal lobes, which Dr. Hammond says is the intellectual part of the brain,[3] the female brains were relatively larger than the males. The per cent being, males, 87·86, and females, 88·03;[4] while Meynert reports the cerebellum in this class of brains to be exactly alike in the sexes—4112 per cent each.

It is a significant fact that Welker and the more recent Italian writers differ 100 grammes in their estimate of the weight of Dante's brain. If this enormous variation of estimate is possible in an individual brain, it seems not wholly impossible that there may be room for corrections in estimates made on sex differences where it is only claimed that these same 100 grammes exist as an estimated sex difference covering many cases, nations, and conditions, and containing brains of only the most ordinary women.

But the doctor says, "Now let Miss Gardener and the twenty leading brain anatomists, etc., search the records of anthropology and their own immense collections for the brain of a woman weighing as much as the least of these—Dr. Chalmers." There is in Dr. E. C. Spitzka's collection a female brain to meet even this unreasonable requirement, and she was not a remarkable woman either. Unimportant as she was to the world, she not only met Dr. Chalmers, but gave a point or two in the matter of weight to Lord Campbell, Daniel Webster, and Spurzheim. Her brain weighed 54 ounces. Now I trust that Dr. Hammond will not fly to the conclusion that I suppose this woman to have been the superior, mentally, of those remarkable men. I do not myself lay so much stress upon mere brain-weight as the doctor does, but I simply meet his case as a matter of charity, and because it is easy to do so.

One other point, and I am done for the present. I shall shortly review the matter at greater length in a more readable form. The doctor says: "I stated . . . that the human head does not grow after the seventh year. . . . Instead of head" (the italics are the doctor's, although he says the use of them is a feminine characteristic and most objectionable), "I should have said brain, and then the point involved would have been more correctly stated." Perhaps it would have been, although that, also, is questioned by competent authority, but for the moment I have nothing to say as to that.

It is unfortunate, however, that a "scientist" should permit himself to resort to this sort of trickery in words. Perhaps it would have been more exact to say brain instead of head in that connection, but the doctor did not say brain, and he did not mean brain at that time, and until he was absolutely cornered on that point. How do I know? Allow me to quote the rest of the sentence in which it occurred, and which I omitted before, only because I, unlike the doctor, was limited as to space, and thought verbosity unnecessary, not dreaming that he would resort to such a trick. Here is his original sentence: "A fact which is somewhat astonishing to those not aware of it is, that the head of a boy or girl does not grow in size after the seventh year, so that the hat that is worn at that age can be worn just as well at thirty." (I regret that I had to use italics here to call the doctor's attention to his own meaning, since he does not like italics. I do not myself; but there are times when they seem to be very necessary.)

Now, unless the doctor is in the habit of fitting his hats to his brains and not to his head, this last explanation is simply a bit of artful dodging, and surely unworthy of any one who is in search of simple truth.

Helen H. Gardener.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

Sir: There was to be seen in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in 1841, and for several years afterward, a vegetable phenomenon which puzzled the rural observers and the few professed naturalists of the county. Two beech staddles, some six inches in diameter, grew within a foot of each other. About eight feet from the ground a lateral branch of one of them, growing tightly athwart the trunk of the other, had become incased by that trunk, so as to present the appearance of being thrust through it. Some one had cut off the absorbing stock two or three feet above the surface-soil, so that it hung by that lateral branch, and might be easily swung to and fro, thus: PSM V31 D718 Natural tree growth anomaly.jpg

The severed stock continued to live and grow, not only above the supporting limb, but between the limb and the severance below.

It was manifest that the top of the sundered tree was supplied through the transverse branch in the ordinary method of upward growth; but not so apparent how the lower portion continued its existence. If by the same agency, then seemingly by a reversal of the laws of vegetable circulation. It would not have been strange that shoots should appear on the severed stock the second season after the separation, since sap sufficient to start them might be retained in its tissues, particularly if the excision were done during the winter, which may have been the fact—this I do not know; but that this life should continue in the lower portion for successive years, is the mystery of the matter. I saw it during the third or fourth season after the separation, and can testify to life therein, though not the vigor of a thrifty young tree. The supporting trunk had increased much more than its mutilated companion. This shrinkage of vitality might have resulted in ultimate death, had not further experiment been precluded by the thoughtless removal of both for fire-wood by an ignorant chopper.

Will some of your learned correspondents explain to us rural marvelers this growth from downward-moving sap, or, apparently, from no sap at all obtained directly from mother earth?

E. W. B. Canning.
Stockbridge, Mass.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

Sir: In "The Popular Science Monthly" for February, 1887, you say: "Everybody, nearly, has been reading 'King Solomon's Mines,' but perhaps not very many have noted the startling fact recorded in it. The gifted narrator tells us how, shortly after the sun had sunk in the west, there came a glow in the east, and presently 'the crescent moon peeps above the plain'"; then you tell Mr. H. R. Haggard that it "won't do." Now I wish to call your attention to the fact that there must be people who think it will do, because, in "The Book-Buyer" for April, 188*7 (Charles Scribner's Sons), in a short review of "Cathedral Days," by Anna Bowman Dodd, Mr. Edmund C. Stedman quotes a descriptive passage. He says, "Take this sunset picture with its felicitous touch at the close." The "felicitous touch" contains the following: "The work of the day for man and beast, and for the sun, as well, was done: all three were going to their evening rest. A boy with a sickle over his straight young back walked near us, whistling a gay little air. The sickle was repeated in silver in the sky, the dawning crescent of the young moon cleaving the eastern horizon." I do not like Mr. Haggard's books; they are as sickening as raw meat. But he has been rated so soundly on that one mistake that I wish it noted that others, and educated people, too, can make the same blunder.

Yours respectfully,
Anne M. Johnson, 494 Centre Street.
Jamaica Plain, Mass.

  1. See Le Bon, "Schwalbe Neurologie."
    148-158 centimetres. 1,289 grammes.
    158-168 " 1.328 "
    168-178 " 1,373 "
    178-182 " 1,387 "
  2. This does not agree with Huschke and Le Bon. oven upon the old theory and estimates.

    The German average brain-weight is given as superior to the French, the former being 1,416 grammes and the latter 1,333. yet the estimated difference between the sexes is 222 grammes, for the French, and only 130 for the Germans.

  3. I give these authorities, fully recognizing that in this case it is against my point to do so. Munk says, "Intelligence is located everywhere in the cerebral cortex, and nowhere in particular." "I wish to add, in corroboration of this view," says Meynert, "that no author of the present day would be likely to insist on one special seat of memory, for memory is the common property of all cortical cells and fibers, which are able to receive and conduct external stimuli of all sorts." When Meynert said "No writer of the present day would be likely to insist," etc., he did not know Dr. Hammond.
  4. "Pfleger insists on the relatively greater development of the hemispheres in man as compared with those of woman, the exact relation being as 795 to 787 on the scale of 1,000. Engel has shown that this assigns the larger cerebellum to woman during the prime of life."—Meynert's "Psychiatry," p. 56.