Phrenological Examinations of Emma Goldman and Marie Louise (1895)



From Personal Examinations By The Editor.

We trust that the readers of The Journal will not be alarmed at the introduction of the two somewhat noted opponents of the existing order of society which we present herewith. We can vouch for their harmlessness in the shadows we print, however dangerous they may be in person and at short range.

As it is only by carefully studying and comparing all the elements of human nature, both agreeable and disagreeable, that we can hope to acquire accurate and comprehensive knowledge, we propose here to make a little excursion into the realm of unconventional mentality. Our purpose is to show a relation between peculiar ideas of life and certain types of organization. Of course we shall enter on no discussion as to the merits of the views held by the two subjects we have chosen, although it is only justice to say that both these women, especially Marie Louise, repudiate the commonly accepted idea that they advocate violence as a means of reform. Emma Goldman who recently served a year in one of the New York prisons for alleged utterances inciting to riot, is no doubt the more aggressive of the two, and is probably a fair representative of the radical class of anarchists. Marie Louise, on the other hand, professes to be what she calls a “scientific” anarchist. She is undoubtedly a scholar, while Miss Goldman is an enthusiast. Having recently interviewed and examined these two women, we hope to be able to point out certain facts about them which will be of interest.

Emma Goldman professes to be a Russian Jewess, although it is difficult to see anything in her face or head which we are accustomed to associate with the Hebrews.

She is still a young woman, probably not over twenty-six or eight. She is only five feet in height but weighs about one hundred and twenty-five pounds. She has rather fine, soft, light brown hair, and blue-gray eyes of which the expression is very peculiar. Her head measures twenty-one and a half inches in basilar circumference, and the principal developments are above this line. The back head is rather long, showing friendship, domestic attachment and love of the opposite sex. There is considerable width just over the ears at destructiveness and appetite for food which the portrait does not clearly show, as it is copied from a crayon drawing. But with the further exception of the upper forehead, which in this picture is not square enough at causality, the likeness is remarkably correct. This is especially true as to the expression of the eyes and mouth. The facial signs of destructiveness and alimentiveness are very pronounced in the form of the mouth, and it is chiefly in the mouth and eyes that we may detect the signs of quality and temperament which account for the woman’s disposition to attack the present social fabric.

There is a very considerable development in the rear of the crown. Approbativeness and firmness are especially strong. Conscientiousness is difficult to define. There is a latent sense of justice, but every thing in the organization points to a lack of discipline, and there are evidences of what might be called a habit of wilfulness; an abandon to the dominant impulses. In that form of chin and mouth, with the large firmness in the brain, we have the phase of persistence that may be called tenacity, and which is often referred to in popular parlance by a comparison with the bulldog. It means a deep-seated, ineradicable instinct to hold to an opinion, a purpose, or a passion. It is a vehement clutch which is never relaxed, and it differs from obstinacy or perseverance of the ordinary type in being independent of opposing forces or other external conditions. It nurses its joys or griefs whether anybody else is present to contradict or not. It does not depend on moods. It is always present in its activity and stamps the character with an indelible dye.

The incorrigibility of such a nature is also greatly augmented, as in the present instance, by the almost utter lack of reverence and faith. Hope is also weak. This combination leaves the intellect without incentive to search for evidences of optimism, and as such a nature readily finds itself at war with the conventionalities, ill adapted to compete in the struggle for existence with those more harmoniously constituted, a pessimistic view of life with a consequent desire to alter the existing conditions is the almost inevitable result. Of course there are thousands of people who have many of these peculiarities of feeling, but who are endowed with very ordinary intellect, so that they make no outcry, no protest, and indeed have few opinions beyond the consciousness that they are uncomfortable. But Emma Goldman, although obviously of a lineage far from aristocratic in tone, is endowed with a philosophical cast of mind which is very rare. Her upper forehead is beautifully developed and our portrait utterly fails to do her justice in this respect.

The development of causality and comparison, stimulated by her pessimistic emotions, renders her a radical thinker upon social problems. In her conversation she manifests that familiarity with the vocabulary of philosophy which is ordinarily expected only among cultivated professional men. However, her lower forehead is almost as defective as the upper portion is fine. The eyebrows are almost straight, and the space between them (the glabella) is depressed much more than appears in the engraving. This shows a want of observation, precision, accuracy and specification in her collection or application of data. In other words, she will reason profoundly but often upon insufficient evidence. After assuming certain premises she follows the rule of the syllogism in the most consistent, logical manner, but she is in danger of starting with premises which are false. As may be seen by the flattened outer angle of the eyebrow, she has scarcely a trace of order; and the eyes are deep set, showing little fondness for words or fluency in speech.

There are, doubtless, certain biases or tendencies in this woman which she owes to some marked peculiarities or habits of her ancestors. She says that her father was a man of an almost tyrannical disposition, and that her mother was very weak willed. Thus there is quite a difference between the indications in her head and those in her hand as regards firmness. Her hand is quite small, very flexible, but with a very poorly developed thumb, the first or nailed phalanx being very short. It is in this first joint that cheirognomists locate willpower, while the second phalanx is, according to its length, a sign of logic. This imperfect first joint of the thumb is often found in people who are undeveloped or askew in some particular. This peculiarity in Miss Goldman shows how important it is to study the brain and not to rely upon any one isolated or remote sign.

In the head of Marie Louise nearly all the developments seem to have been inherited from the father. She is a large woman, being five feet six inches in height and weighing 175 pounds. She has dark brown hair and gray eyes, a combination which is very favorable to strength of character and logical judgment. Her hands and feet are large. She wears a N0.8 glove and a No. 7 shoe. Her hand is of the square type, which indicates practicality and a sense of utility. She has excellent health. All the nutritive functions are strong. Her head measures 21 1/2 inches in circumference by 13 1/4 from ear to ear over the top.

In this head, also, there are many contrasts of strength and weakness. The cerebellum is large, and she is naturally a strong lover; but it is easy to see that the distance from the top of the ear backward is short to the region of attachment, either for a conjugal partner or for friends. It will also be observed that the opening of the eye is rather flat, which agrees with the form of the head as to attachment in love. Philoprogenitiveness is rather well developed and gives rise to much tenderness of feeling for all weak or helpless creatures there is not much continuity; that is to say, she is very restless and impatient as to her methods of working. She loves variety in almost everything, and in this respect she is like the majority of the French. Self-esteem is also very small.

Combativeness and destructiveness are moderate. The lack of aggressiveness is also plainly shown in the concave bridge of the nose. Acquisitiveness and secretiveness must be marked at the bottom of the scale, and the same is true of the two faculties in the top of the head which produced submissiveness, confidence and trust. In this sloping top head, which may be seen on the line of the part in the hair, accounts for much of the woman’s rebelliousness and irreverence for the old ideas. A line from The ear to the top of the head shows a good degree of conscientiousness. Firmness is a little less than it appears in the portrait. There are signs of honesty about the mouth and chin, but not the phase of firmness already pointed out in Miss Goldman. Benevolence is rather larger than it appears in the engraving. Indeed sympathy and kindness are among her most active qualities. Imitation is moderate, and the position of the eye and lack of expression in that organ show indifference to language. Although she is something of a linguist, her ability to acquire languages depends upon her mechanical faculties. Constructiveness is remarkably developed. There is also a very great distance between the eyes and the eyebrows. Observation and sense of form are thus very strong. The perceptives as a whole are exceptional, and the reflectives are about equally active.

From comparison up to where the hair begins there is a slope over the sense of human nature. She is not a good detective, and will often be imposed upon by designing people. She has really a very capacious and well-balanced forehead, well-adapted for science, art, or philosophy. She could have accomplished a great deal in sculpture. As the photograph was taken purposely to show the profile the forehead was sacrificed to some extent.

Marie Louise is unquestionably a woman of vigorous intellect, although as a result of the angularities of her organization she uses her intelligence in a somewhat original and decidedly unconventional manner. Thinking that it would be interesting to have her tell the readers of the Journal something of her life history, we invited her to write a sketch of her experiences. At first we were disposed to prune down a few sentences, but the article as she wrote it is so much more temperate and sensible than most people would expect from her, that we concluded to let it stand as it was. We publish it as an aid to the study of character as an expression of organization, and we are certain that a striking correspondence will be seen between what she says of herself and what is to be inferred from her head.

The following is the story she has furnished:

A Sketch Of My Life.


I WAS born in the east of France, on the chain of mountains called Yura, which divides French territory from that of Switzerland. To the best of my knowledge my ancestors were born and lived in that locality for several generations. Their massive frames and peculiar features leave no doubt as to their connection with the atmospheric influence of the lofty Yura mountains whose bold and towering peaks dart forth to meet the clouds.

Each province in France has its own idiosyncracies, but none have native characteristics more emphasized than the inhabitants of Lorraine and Franche-Comte, whose territory stretches along the line dividing France from Germany on the north, and Switzerland on the south. These people, like the Germans, are noted for their physical sturdiness as well as their mental balance and depth; the former being enlivened and the latter clarified by the use of generous wines as an ordinary beverage.

The central portion of the east of France has given birth to numerous men of large mental caliber, such as Dr. Louis Pasteur, Jules Grevy, Alphonse de Lamartine, Victor Hugo, P. J. Proudhon, Chas. Fourrier, Victor Considerant, Etienne Cabet, J. J. Rousseau, Blaise Pascal, etc. The provinces in the south and center furnish brilliant orators, great warriors and ardent revolutionists of the type of Chas. Barbaroux, Napoleon Bonaparte and Leon Gambetta, while those of the west produce sailors, men of religious and conservative tendencies,of whom Larochejaquelion and Chateaubriant are types.

My ancestors and myself were born Roman Catholics, but when I was four years of age, my father, who had intense observing power and great depth of thought, met a man who had severed his connection with the Roman Catholic church because he found her dogmas at variance with the teachings of the Bible. He soon prevailed upon my father to read the unabridged Bible, and the result was another desertion from the fold of the church. There being no secular school in that part of the country, I was obliged to attend a Catholic one managed by nuns. From these and the parish priest I received very bad treatment, and but for the extreme kindness of the sister under whose direct tuition I was, I would not have been able to stand the ordeal. The memory of that woman is enshrined within my heart with all that is noble and lovely on earth.

Thus, at an early age, I was a heretic and called upon to battle with my surroundings and to batter on the angular corners of tradition and convention. My god-father, who was one of my father’s brothers and was childless, once called on us and said to me:

“Marie, I have always contemplated making you my heir, but I cannot do it unless you return to the Roman Catholic church.”

“Money could not induce me to become a Roman Catholic,” I replied.

“Our forefathers were all Roman Catholics,” continued my god-father; “it is our duty to tread in their steps.” (C’est notre devoir de marcher sur leurs traces.)

“Had our forefathers been thieves, ought I to be one also?” I gravely questioned.

I was then about eight years old. That I had already suffered and bravely borne my suffering was evidenced in my speech.

The first years of my infancy were passed in the tumultuous agitation and repeated insurrections which shook France between the overthrow of King Louis Philippe in 1848 and the beginning of 1852, when Louis Napoleon strangled the second republic and erected his imperial throne. My father was a republican; was so, I think, from the pressure of environment, for his mind was more directed toward the study of the Bible and the worship of Cod than toward political movements. I, though so young, was a republican by the force of my nature. When the people shouted, Vive la republique!—every tissue of my body seemed to hear it and thrill. I was seven years old when a red flag, the emblem of the republican party called The Mountain (La Montagne), was placed in my hands to carry it a long way at the head of a column returning from a political banquet in a forest. I shall never forget the joy I felt when I grasped the pole of the flag and saw its crimson folds wave over my head. My father was one of the many thousands whom Louis Napoleon imprisoned at the Coup d’Etat on December 2, 1851, and during the following month. He was arrested at night and when in the morning I found him missing, I divined where he was. Had not I during several preceding nights heard the tramping of horses and the rattling of chains in the street? Going to my window, I had seen gendarmes on horseback leading, or rather dragging along, prisoners who were manacled and sometimes chained to the horses. These prisoners had been arrested in the surrounding villages, in the dead of the night, and were hauled to the prison of the town. I knew that my father’s turn had come. I went straight to the prison gate and asked to see him, but was referred to the military commander, for France was under martial law. That important individual received me brusquely and, with a look full of hatred, refused my request. My heart sank within me, for I adored my father and could not reconcile myself to being parted from him. But to the look of hatred of Napoleon’s officer, I replied with another just as intense and more weighty, for that man was in the decline of life, while I was in the dawning of it, and the insignificant little girl might become a significant woman. Do oppressors realize what there is in trampling on the tender nature of a child? Napoleon went to Sedan in 1870 surrounded by hundreds of thousands whose infantile eyes had gazed on the horrors of the Coup d’Etat, and he never returned.

After his release from prison, my father left our native province and went to settle in Paris. The suburb Saint Antoine, famous in the history of Paris for its intelligent laboring population and revolutionary character, was selected for our abode. On my arrival at the capital, that which, above all other things, impressed me most was the houses wrecked and pierced by the bullets of the soldiers on the days of the Coup d’Etat.

A few months later, my father fell dangerously ill and was taken to a Protestant hospital connected with an Institution of Charities managed by sisters called Diaconesses. I was placed in the apprentice department of the same institution. Mechanical talents were soon discovered in me and, before the age of eleven, I was installed as head of the shirt workrooms, where I instructed the girls (every one older than myself) in the art of producing a perfect shirt, all by hand work. Having served about a year in that capacity, I was removed to the dressmaking department, where I was intrusted with taking measures, cutting, fitting and superintending the sewing girls. My superiors, who were charmed with my mechanical talents, were still more delighted to find me possessed of knowledge of the Bible and capable of making a good speech at prayer meetings. As was to be expected, they sought to retain me in the

establishment as postulant to the sisterhood. But there was too much about me that did not exactly tally with their teachings, and I candidly informed the director that I could not join the Order. This was another step in heresy, another protest against established powers. I did not fail to reap the fruit of my rebellion, and the words of praise previously bestowed on me were transformed into burning censure. Through my exaggerated timidity and slowness to defend myself, slanderers always got the best of me.

At the age of twelve I left the house of the Diaconesses and went home. A man born in FrancheComte used to visit my father and have with him long and animated discussions on the merit of the Bible. He was a university graduate and a Voltairian of the nineteenth century. With the advantage of his education, he overthrew my father at every turn, though he never conquered him. I sat hour after hour, silently listening and eagerly drinking every word of that man’s logic, and a few months of that experience made of me what is termed an infidel. One more step in heresy; nay, a leap!

On Sundays, my father compelled me to read the Bible for hours consecutively, but soon discovered my skepticism and assumed toward me an attitude akin to estrangement. At the age of eighteen I graduated. The minister of the church I attended desired me to take charge of the girls’ school of his parish. In an interview with him on this subject I inquired: “Shall I be obliged to teach the Bible to my pupils?” To his affirmative answer I rejoined: “Then let us drop the subject; I cannot teach the Bible.”

This latter step in heresy blighted all my future prospects. Aside from my infidelity, my father could not forgive me for having thrown away a lucrative position and alienated influential friends. From that time onward, I was left at the mercy of the storm, tossed here and there, sometimes disabled, sometimes nearly shattered by angry, opposing winds. Under the plea that I was not capable of taking care of property, my father undertook to strip me of the property left me by my mother. Loving him dearly, and not suspecting his designs, I was easily led to sign the documents annulling my rights of possession. When I discovered the truth and realized what little chance a woman has to get justice in the courts of France, and of what little consequence she was in all matters, I departed from Paris and settled in London, England.

During my sojourn in that city,  joined several progressive societies, French and English; was a member of the General Council of the International Workingmen’s Association, also of several sections of the Reform League under the presidency of Mr. Edmond Beales, in 1868. I readily learned how to write English, but during several years was unable to speak that tongue; this I attribute to my native timidity in the presence of strangers. A few months previous to the outbreak of the Franco-German war I came to America. In my spare time I studied physiology, economics, sociology, and was greatly interested in phrenology. From the study of the latter I concluded that man’s power of volition was severely limited by propensities, innate or developed, which are indicated by special forms of brain. This gave a swing to my former standard of social ethics. I had been taught that children must be severely chastised and transgressors of the law sternly punished. This could not be wholly reconciled with the idea of limitation in volition. I dropped the theories of severe chastisement and entered a line of thought more in keeping with the law of love in human relations. Owing probably to superficiality in my new mode of reasoning, I hailed the doctrines of equality and altruism as expounded by State Socialists and remained several years under that fascinating delusion.

Soon engaging in business, I gave to my work all my time and my energies. In a harassing and ceaseless labor I passed several years, dead to all thought, save that of getting money to pay notes matured, and preserving the means for earning an honest and independent livelihood. But adversity cheated me of my hopes, and misfortunes fell upon me fast and swift. I was too good a mechanic in my trade not to disturb the equanimity of my competitors; independent and self-willed, to suit the narrow views of the people around me. Conspiracies against my person and my belongings soon sprang up, and one night my store was burglarized of nearly all its valuable contents. This heavy disaster inevitably generated many others, and, within three years, I was reduced to poverty. Single-handed, how could I fight against my numerous assailants? My enemies chuckled and scoffed and jeered. Never had I suspected that so much of wickedness lodged in the human breast.

I had now reached that point in misfortune when the victim curses society; when criminals are evolved. But in my case the cruel ordeal begot opposite results. Though my reason had received a severe shock, my mind refused to become distorted. I began to question whether those persons who had so injured me were conscious of the depth of their wickedness, and whether motives personal with them did not present their conduct, to their own judgment, in a light very different from that in which it appeared to me—and the verdict of my own conscience was in their favor. I further questioned whether my own position and relation to them were not, in themselves, the provocator of their evil deeds—and I found another verdict against myself.

The measure of evil, then, is dependent on the way we look at it, and this confirms the axiom that we love a man in proportion to the good, and hate him in proportion to the harm, we do him. The conclusions which forced themselves upon me were that injustice, hatred and severity were fatal to the general welfare of society, while equity and benevolence contrived to perfect man and cement social relations. The injunction of Christ, “Love one another; love your enemies,” presented itself in all its beauty and usefulness. Our enemies are lovable, for it is not the man that is bad; it is the conditions about him that force him to do evil. What the human creature needs is opportunities to do good and freedom to develop his potential qualities.

Of the philosophy I have just outlined I am a zealous advocate. My writings on Economics, Sociology and History have placed my name on the roll of advanced thinkers and defenders of human liberty. My principles logically involve a supreme regard for life. Partly not to destroy life wantonly, partly not to inflict suffering, and partly for hygienic reasons, I am a vegetarian. Meat eating, I maintain, familiarizes us with cruelty, blunts our sensibilities, excites and develops animalism.

This is a synopsis of the general incidents of my life and their bearing upon my mental unfoldment.

The Phrenological Journal and Science of Health 99 no. 2 (February, 1895): 88-96.


About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.