Posted by: whipplelib | October 18, 2012

Charting the future through phrenology

Title page of the Chart

Title page of the Chart

To coincide with the new display in the library featuring books from our phrenology collection, this post will focus on the phrenological chart produced by Mr and Mrs Stackpool E. O’Dell. So firstly why would people have a phrenological chart made? The O’Dell’s state that the chart allows people to remind themselves of the “qualities they need to cultivate or restrain, the abilities they should try most to use, [and] the things against which they should be most on their guard”.  They also point out that the chart can provide guidance in choosing a career, explain why a child is not succeeding at school, help a person learn more about themselves and help in the selection of a wife/husband. As phrenology was seen as something similar to palmistry by some, the Stackpool’s cover themselves by saying that the chart should be read “with common sense, not taken too literally, and not looked upon as a sort of infallible, mathematical index to character”.

This chart was possibly first made available in the late 1890’s, and ran to numerous editions up until the 1920’s.  We have 3 different editions, the 22nd, 24th and 28th, here at the Whipple which date from the early 1900’s. The chart is divided into 5 sections:

  • Phrenological Chart of Character
  • Summaries of Character
  • Health Table
  • Diet Table
  • Marriage Table

Those wishing a consultation could pick which sections of the chart they wanted completed. If they have 42 s (or there about, the price increased in the later editions) there is the option of having a “full delineation” which not only has all the sections filled in but also a 30 page handwritten character profile.  Amazingly we have a one of these completed charts, more about this later.

List of the Faculties
List of the Faculties

The Phrenological Chart of Character is divided into the 42 mental faculties (see photo for complete list) defined by Johann Gaspar Spurzheim (1776-1832). O’Dell has created a scale for each faculty ranging from the 1st to 6th degree which denotes the strength of the faculty with 1 being the weakest and 6th the strongest. Each faculty also comes with brief advice on how the customer can cultivate or restrain the faculty. The 5th degree of the Faculty of Constructiveness stands out as it reflects the views on gender roles at the start of the 20th century  “You have good constructive talent ….you would make a good mechanician; if you have artistic taste, you would do well as an architect- or if a woman, as a high-class milliner or dressmaker”. Also, the Faculty of Sublimity’s 5th degree is interesting because of its over the top use of descriptiveness “You have a passion for everything that is stupendous or grand, the ocean, with its mountain waves; the lightning, with its lurid glare; the heavens, with their stupendous worlds..”.  As you can imagine the 1st degree for the majority of faculties are mostly negative: for Mirthfulness: “You generally look very sad and sever, you scarcely know the meaning of a smile”,  Hope:  “you see nothing in the future but darkness. Liable to insanity in the connection” and Vitativeness: “Love of life is small .. Avoid thoughts of ending it”. It does make you wonder if Phrenologists ever told people they had the 1st degree of these faculties, and considered the impact it would have on their customer. After this main section of the chart there is the Summaries of Character which has 6 descriptions of the most prevalent types of character.

Diet Table

Diet Table

The O’Dells point out that they are not trained physicians but “the phrenologist [can] discern the quality and condition of the brain from the texture of the skin, texture and colour of hair, colour of eyes and general temperament.”  This involves them looking at a persons Organic Quality, Organic Activity, Vital and Motive Temperaments.  By looking at these areas they are able to complete the Heath and Diet Tables. The Health Table itself covers Breathing, Circulation, Digestion, Nerves and General Health. These are each divided using the same 1st -6th  degree scale, with the 1st degree being much like before with its doom and gloom stating such things like you have sufficient lung action to keep you alive, eating is an annoyance, your circulation is so bad it might stop suddenly.  The Diet Table advises how many ounces of certain foods should be eaten during the week. It even has a section on how long it takes for certain foods and drinks to digest. My favourite beef tea (see post on sick room cookery) takes 3 hours, apples take 2 hours 30 minutes and calf’s head 3 hours.

Want to find that special person to spend the rest of your life with or want to make sure that the person you are currently with is “the one”, then why not have a Marriage Chart compiled. It gives the degree of each faculty that a potential partner should have. It also has a temperament section giving the skin, hair and eye colour and the form and height that the future Mr/Mrs should have and the most suitable age ranges that both parties should be. By having the chart completed the O’Dell’s believe it will “cause you to think of the matter in a much more intelligent and foreseeing way that would otherwise be the case”.

Front page of the Phrenological Delineation

Front page of the Phrenological Delineation

As mentioned above we have 3 versions of the O’Dell’s Chart and all of them have been filled in to some extent. Of them, the 22nd edition (PH:814), is the most complete. It has a 30 page delineation at the back performed by Mrs G Stackpool E. O’Dell.  It was completed in October 1920 for what looks like a Mr. J. G. Notts. He has been advised to pay attention to his digestion and nerves on the Heath Table, to have 4 meals a day each taking 35 minutes, take 4 warm baths a week and sleep for 8 hours each night. Should he be looking for a partner she should have fair skin, blue eyes, dark brown hair and be aged 22-24, the suitable age for him to marry is 26-30.  The 30 page delineation, which I have to thank Louisa Russell for helping me decipher, advises him to be more assertive, cultivate Hope and be wary of things having an impact on his nervous system. He has an interest in educational subjects which will improve his progressive mind but he needs to concentrate more. There is a slight clash with his desire to travel and need for a more settled life. It is suggested that he should marry an intelligent, domesticated and hopeful wife and not be too sensitive to criticism in the future.

We have no way of finding out how true the things written in this chart were or if Mr Notts acted on any of the suggestions. But would anyone really base their future on what was told to them by someone looking at the bumps on their head?



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