PHYSIOGNOMY

Physiognomists believed that a person’s character could be ascertained from external appearance.  In their view, the entire body can be “read” for information about character. Later theorists in this exhibit built upon the idea that the external reflects the internal. John Caspar Lavater was a Swiss physiognomist whose writings were, as he himself put it,  “designed to promote the knowledge and the love of mankind.” The five volume set was translated from the French by Henry Hunter and illustrated with engravings made by or under Thomas Holloway.  


 John Caspar Lavater
Essays on Physiognomy
Five Volumes
London, 1789-98
Syracuse University Library, Department of Special Collections
 

 

PHRENOLOGY: ca. 1800-1870

Phrenologists taught that the brain consists of many separate “faculties,” each governing an aspect of human behavior. They believed that criminal behavior is a result of the over-development of some faculties, such as combativeness and destructiveness, and the under-development of others, such as benevolence and conscientiousness.

Phrenology contributed powerfully to nineteenth-century thinking about criminality as a mental illness.  Championed most strongly by physicians, phrenology encouraged articulation of the so-called medical model of criminality, which interprets criminal behavior as a sickness and hence properly part of medicine’s jurisdiction.  Phrenology supported the belief that criminals, because sick, are not responsible for their behavior, a belief that became the basis for the legal defense of insanity.  Additionally, phrenology provided a biological (and sometimes hereditarian) explanation for crime.

Some of this exhibit’s most appealing artifacts come from the history of phrenology. They reflect the humanity inherent in the phrenologists’ ideas, which included an optimistic vision of the possibility for people to change by choosing to live in healthful and moral ways.  


Phrenological ideas strongly influenced 19th-century American art, and one can perhaps see the exhibit’s examples of phrenological heads as works of art in themselves.

 Rationale of Crime, and its Appropriate Treatment; Being a Treatise on Criminal Jurisprudence Considered in Relations to Cerebral Organization.  Marmaduke B. Sampson.  New York: D. Appleton & Company; 1846.  From the 2nd London Edition, with notes and illustrations of E[lizabeth] W. Farnham, Matron of Mount Pleasant State Prison.
Collection of the University Libraries, University at Albany

Phrenological Illustrations:  An Artist’s View.  George Cruikshank.  London, England, 1827.
Collection of New York Academy of Medicine

Page from Rationale of Crime. Marmaduke Sampson.  New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1846.
Collection of New York Academy of Medicine

Fowlers and Wells Phrenological Bust, Revealed Brain, ca. 1835
Plaster, pigment.  111/8 x 5 5/8 x 4 inches
Collection of New York State Historical Association, Farmers’ Museum, Inc., Cooperstown, New York

Phrenological Chart, ca. 1908
Lithograph on tin, pigment.
19 3/4 x 15 7/8 inches
Collection of New York State Historical Association, Farmers’ Museum, Inc., Cooperstown, New York

Phrenological Head with Fowlers and Wells Chart on Back, ca. 1850-1900
Plaster with paper.  5 3/4 x 2 3/4 x 3 1/2 inches
Collection of the New York State Museum

Phrenological Skull (schrimshawed), nd.
Bone.  6 x 5 1/2 x 7 inches (irreg.)
Collection of Grant Romer

Skull with Sinus Preparations (without mandible), nd.
Bone.  5 1/2 x 6 x 7 inches
Collection of Grant Romer

Phrenological Bust, ca. 1830
Porcelain.  11 x 6 x 7 inches (irreg.)
Collection of Grant Romer

Phrenological Bust (scored and tinted),
ca. 1820  (English)
Plaster.  10 x 4 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches
Collection of Grant Romer

Phrenological Bust, ca. 1830  (English)
Ivory.  6 1/2 x 3 x 3 inches
Collection of Grant Romer

Carte de Visité of Lorenzo Fowler, ca. 1870.
Albumen print.  2 1/2 x 4 inches
Collection of Grant Romer

Image of a Phrenological Reading in Progress, 1897
Stereograph albumen print.  3 1/2 x 7 inches
Collection of Grant Romer

Portrait of Franz Joseph Gall, ca. 1830
Lithograph.  22 1/2 x 19 inches
Collection of Grant Romer

Portrait of Johann Spurzheim, ca. 1830
Lithograph.  14 x 11 inches
Collection of Grant Romer

Devil Doing Phrenological Reading of Children’s Heads, nd.
Lithograph.  14 x 12 inches
Collection of Grant Romer

Phrenological Skulls, nd.
Lithograph.  18 1/2 x 15 1/4 inches
Collection of Grant Romer

Phrenological Skulls, nd.
Engraving.  18 1/2 x 16 inches
Collection of Grant Romer

The Relation of the Skull and Brain to Crime.  W. Norwood East, M.D.  London: Oliver & Boyd, 1928.
Informational pamphlet. 10 x 7 1/2 inches
Collection of Grant Romer

Phrenological Journal of Science and Health.  New York: Fowlers & Wells, August 1882.
9 1/2 x 6 G inches
Collection of Grant Romer

American Phrenological Journal. O.S. Fowler, ed. New York: Fowlers & Wells, May, 1848.
9 x 6 inches
Collection of Grant Romer

Phrenological Journal and Packard’s Monthly.  New York: Samuel R. Wells, September, 1870.
9 3/4 x 6 1/2 inches
Collection of Grant Romer

Phrenological Reading, nd.
Postcard.  5 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches
Collection of Grant Romer

Phrenological Character Reading of H. C. Demming by Nelson Sizer, 1866
Notebook.  8 1/4 x 5 1/2 inches
Collection of Grant Romer

Phrenological Character Reading of Master Macello Hutchinson by David Butler, 1857
Notebook.  9 3/4 x 7 3/4 inches
Collection of Grant Romer

Phrenological Head with Fowlers and Wells Readings (paper strip), nd.
Plaster.   6 x 11 1/4 x 7 inches
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History

The Mastin Murals

A series of panoramic murals by unidentified artists commissioned by George Mastin, a traveling “Bible Spiritualist.”  The murals draw on principles of phrenology.
Collection of New York State Historical Association, Farmers’ Museum, Inc., Cooperstown, New York

Van Ness House, ca. 1848
Oil on bed ticking.  6 feet 11 inches x 8 feet 9 inches

Van Ness Family after Attack, ca. 1848
Oil on bed ticking.  8 feet 9 inches x 7 feet

Freeman Stabbing Child, ca. 1848
Oil on bed ticking. 7 feet x 8 feet 11 inches

Hanging Freeman, ca. 1848
Oil on bed ticking.
7 feet 6 inches x 8 feet 6 inches

 

 

DEGENERATION THEORY: CA 1870-1910

                       

                        The phrenological view that people can induce criminal behavior through excessive eating, drinking, and sexual activity led directly to degeneration theory, the next stage in the development of biological theories of crime.  According to degeneration theorists, social problems are interchangeable. Physical defects, mental and physical diseases, poverty, crime, and delinquency are simply signs of an underlying problem – degeneration. Thus the 1880 census included statistics on the “defective, dependent, and delinquent classes” in a single volume.                       

According to degeneration theorists, self-abuse and excess lead to degeneration, a weakened physical condition that in turn weakens one’s moral capacity and thus leads to crime and other social problems.  However (these theorists continued), by obeying the laws of good health and morality, even degenerates can reverse their downward slide and begin to regenerate physically and ethically.  

In other words, degenerationists did not view inheritance as fixed and immutable.  They put forth a biological and hereditarian theory of crime, yet they believed that people can reverse the course of bad heredity.  Like phrenology, degenerationism too was an optimistic doctrine.  

 “The Jukes”: A Study in Crime, Pauperism, Disease and Heredity.  Richard L. Dugdale.  New York:  Putnam’s, 1877.
Collection of New York Academy of Medicine

The Jukes: A Study in Crime, Pauperism, Disease and Heredity.  Robert [sic; Richard] L. Dugdale.   4th ed. Reprint, New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, Knickerbocker Press, 1910.  With a forward by Elisha Harris, M.D., and an introduction by Franklin H. Giddings.
Collection of the University Libraries, University at Albany

Health and Character With Directions for Their Improvement.  Joseph Sims. New York: D.M. Bennett, 1879
Collection of New York Academy of Medicine

Copy Print of Composite Photo of Eight Cases of General Peresis.   William Noyes.  Boston: November 1887
Photograph: 5 1/2 x 4 1/2 inches.  Image: 4 G x 3 inches oval
Collection of New York Academy of Medicine

Prisoners and Paupers: A Study of the Abnormal Increase of Criminals, and the Public Burden of Pauperism in the United States; The Causes and Remedies.   Henry M. Boies.   New York: Knickerbocker Press; 1893.
Collection of the University Libraries, University at Albany

The Diseases of Society (The Vice and Crime Problem).  G. Frank Lydston.  Philadelphia, PA: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1904.
Collection of New York Academy of Medicine

The Diseases of Society (The Vice and Crime Problem),  G. Frank Lydston.   Philadelphia, PA: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1904.
Collection of the University Libraries, University at Albany

 

 
CRIMINAL ANTHROPOLOGY: CA 1880-1910

                       

In the late nineteenth century, Cesare Lombroso, an Italian psychiatrist, put forth a new biological theory of crime: criminal anthropology. According to Lombroso’s book Criminal Man, some offenders are “born” criminals, primitive creatures who can be recognized by their physical and mental abnormalities.

This message was much more pessimistic than that of earlier biological theories of crime.  Criminal anthropologists taught that some criminals are unchangeable, doomed to lives of crime.  Born criminals form a distinct criminal type with twisted bodies, minds, and morals.  Low-browed, long-armed, and apelike in appearance, they are in fact throwbacks to an earlier phase of evolution, primitives who are incapable of conforming to the laws of civilized societies.

Anatomical Studies on the Brains of Criminals.  Moritz  Benedikt.  Translated from the German by E.P. Fowler.  New York: Wood and Company, 1881.
Collection of New York Academy of Medicine

Anatomical Studies Upon the Brains of Criminals:
A Contribution to Anthropology, Medicine, Jurisprudence, and Psychology.
Moritz Benedikt, orig. 1881; repr. ed. 1981.   With an introduction by Robert W. Rieber and Heidi Gundlach.  New York: DaCapo Press. 
Collection of the University Libraries, University at Albany

Criminology.  Arthur MacDonald.   Orig. 1893; repr. New York: AMS Press, 1973.  With an introduction by Dr. Cesare Lombroso.
Collection of the University Libraries, University at Albany

The Criminal.  Havelock Ellis; London: Walter Scott, Ltd.;  2nd ed. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1900
Collection of the University Libraries, University at Albany

Anthropometric Devices for Measuring the Skull, nd.
Collection of the Mütter Museum, College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Related to Criminal Anthropology

Copy print of photograph of The Wilder Brain Collection, Cornell University
Sepia copy print. 93 /4 x 13 inches each.
Division of Rare & Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

Skull of Mirju Aslan. Romanian child-murderer, executed, age 18. 
Collection of the Mütter Museum, College of Physicians of Philadelphia.  Purchased from Prof. Joseph Hrytl, 1874.

Alphonse Bertillon’s Instructions for Taking Descriptions for the Identification of Criminals and Others by Means of Anthropomorphic Indications.  Translated from the original French work by Alphonse Bertillon.  Gallus Muller, translator.  Orig. 1889; reprinted New York: AMS Press, 1977.
Collection of the University Libraries, University at Albany

Bertillion ID Card with Envelope, City of New York Police Department, ca. 1905
Photo.  2 x 5 1/2 inches; envelope,
5 x 11 inches.  Collection of Grant Romer

Two Police Department ID Photos Bertillion Style, ca. 1905, 3 x 5 1/2 inches each
Collection of Grant Romer

Bertillon ID Card and Fingerprints, City of New York Police Department, ca. 1905
3 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches
Collection of Grant Romer

 


 

FEEBLEMINDEDNESS THEORY: ca. 1905-1920 AND BEYOND

Degeneration theory and criminal anthropology converged to convince policymakers and members of the general public of the need for eugenic policies that would prevent socially undesirable people from reproducing.  Eugenic concepts had been advocated for centuries, but they did not become the basis for an organized social movement until after 1883, when the Englishman Sir Francis Galton coined the term eugenics to refer to “the science of improving [human] stock” through selective mating. 

By the end of the nineteenth-century, policymakers were calling for sterilization or lifetime institutionalization of “born” criminals to prevent their reproduction.  But by this time it was clear that many criminals did not exhibit the physical abnormalities predicted by criminal anthropology.  The problem became one of finding a simple and sure method of distinguishing “born” criminals from offenders who merely fell into crime through circumstance.  

The introduction of mental testing in the twentieth century led to both a new means of identifying “born” criminals and a new biological theory of crime, according to which criminals are “feebleminded” or mentally weak. One result of this theory was a rapid expansion of the system of training schools for the feebleminded and their transformation into custodial institutions where people with mental retardation could be held for life.  Another result was the enactment in several states of “defective delinquent” laws that enabled authorities to hold accused and convicted offenders who seemed feebleminded for up-to-life terms.  

Women and Crime, Hargrave L. Adam. Clifford’s Inn, London: T. Werner Laurie, 1912.
Collection of the University Libraries, University at Albany

The English Convict: A Statistical Study.  Charles Goring.   London: Wyman and Sons, 1913.
Collection of New York Academy of Medicine

The Criminal Imbecile: An Analysis of Three Remarkable Murder Cases.  Henry Herbert Goddard.   New York: Macmillan, 1915. 
Collection of the University Libraries, University at Albany

Five Hundred Delinquent Women.  Sheldon Glueck and Eleanor T. Glueck.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1934.
Collection of the University Libraries, University at Albany

The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life.  Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray.  New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994. 
Collection of the University Libraries, University at Albany

Letchworth Village, New York, 1932
Photographs by Margaret Bourke-White
Margaret Bourke-White Papers, Syracuse University Library, Department of Special Collections

Girls Swinging
Gelatin silver print.  9 x 13 inches

Girls in Classroom
Gelatin silver print.  9 x 13 inches

Tying Shoes
Gelatin silver print.  9 x 13 inches

Boys Feeding Pigs
Gelatin silver print.  9 x 13 inches

Men with Hoes
Gelatin silver print.  9 x 13 inches

Women Folding Shirts
Gelatin silver print.  9 x 13 inches

Boys Digging
Gelatin silver print.  9 x 13 inches

Children Playing
Gelatin silver print.  9 x 13 inches

Bundles of Clothing
Gelatin silver print.  9 x 13 inches

Group of Children
Gelatin silver print.  9 x 13 inches

Children Sleeping
Gelatin silver print.  9 x 13 inches

  Children Playing
Gelatin silver print.  9 x 13 inches
 

 

MULTIPLE AND DIVERSE BIOLOGICAL THEORIES: CA. 1930-2000

Since the heyday of feeblemindedness theory, scientists have proposed a range of biological explanations of crime, some incorporating themes of the past, others striking out in new directions. 

The New Criminology: A Consideration of the Chemical Causation of Abnormal Behavior.  Max Schlapp and Edward Smith.  New York: Boni & Liveright, 1928.
Collection of New York Academy of Medicine

The New Criminology: A Consideration of the Chemical Causation of Abnormal Behavior.  Max Schlapp and Edward Smith.  New York: Boni & Liveright, 1928.
Collection of the University Libraries, University at Albany

Cast Human Brain, Negro, ca. 1939 Wax
Crile Collection, National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology

Cast Human Heart, Caucasian, Criminal, ca. 1939, Wax
Crile Collection, National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology

Cast Human Brain, Caucasian, Criminal, ca. 1939
Wax
Crile Collection, National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology

Cast Human Brain, Negro, Criminal, ca. 1939 Wax Crile Collection,  National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology

Anthropometry Set in canvas case,  Germany, 1925-1949
Collection of the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology

Compass Style Spreading Calipers in Leatherette Case, Switzerland, 1925-1949
Collection of the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology

Steel Compass Style Calipers, Anthropometry, date and country of origin unknown
Collection of the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology

Crime and the Man.  Earnest Hooton.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1939.
Collection of New York Academy of Medicine

Varieties of Delinquent Youth: An Introduction to Constitutional Psychiatry.  William H. Sheldon, with the Collaboration of Emil M. Hartl and Eugene McDermott.   New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers,  1949.
Collection of the University Libraries, University at Albany

Physique and Delinquency. Sheldon Glueck and Eleanor Glueck. New York: Kraus Reprint Corporation, 1956.  Reprint New York: Harper, 1965.
Collection of the University Libraries, University at Albany

Crime and Human Nature.  James Q. Wilson and Richard J. Herrnstein.  New York: Simon & Schuster, 1985.
Collection of the University Libraries, University at Albany

The new image of heredity

Model of Double Helix
Mixed media
Collection of the Department of Biological Sciences, University at Albany, SUNY

 

The Mastin Murals 
 

CONCLUSION

 

The question of what factors are responsible for people who seem to be criminalistic from birth or an early age has intrigued thinkers for thousands of years. Ultimately, it is a question about the origins of evil. There are three ways to answer it.

  • One answer is religious: according to some theologians, God predestines certain people to sin.

 

  • A second type of answer is biological: Since about 1800, scientists have contended that in some cases biological defects determine who will commit crimes.

 

  •  The third type of answer is definitional: according to such explanations, no matter what the theological or biological circumstances may be, born criminals are produced through social processes and do not – in fact cannot – exist independent of them.

 

This exhibit has focused on theories that give the second type of answer.  The exhibit itself grows out of the third approach, which stresses the social processes involved in the creation of “born” criminals.

 

          --Susan Erony
          --Nicole Rafter

            September 2000