The Brain of Helen Hamilton Gardener
Born in Winchester, Virginia - 1853
Alice Chenoweth was born in Winchester, Virginia on January 23, 1853. The family would move around and finally settled in Cincinnati, Ohio. From an early age, Alice felt that women were not getting the intellectual respect or acknowledgment from the men of her day. Alice would form a pen name, Helen Hamilton Gardener, and make it her life's work to prove once and for all that women were as smart (if not smarter) as men.
In 1887, former Surgeon General of the United States, William A. Hammond, published a paper that said he had found a neurological basis for female inferiority in the brain based on size. This paper ignited the fire in Helen and the battle was on!
Gardener began working with neurologist Edward C. Spitzka to refute Hammond's thesis of inherent inferiority of the female brain. Gardener ultimately produced a paper entitled "Sex in Brain" that was read to the 1888 convention of the International Council of Women in Washington, DC. In this work, Gardener argued that no connection between brain weight and intellectual capacity had been established and challenged Hammond's methodology of comparing the size and mass of brains. Gardener emerged from the Hammond controversy as a leading public speaker for women's rights. In 1893 she would deliver three more scholarly papers on feminist themes to the Congress of Representative Women held in Chicago in conjunction with the World's Columbian Exposition. In 1920, Woodrow Wilson appointed her to the United States Civil Service Commission, the first woman to occupy such a high federal position.
Gardener died in July of 1925 at the age of 72 in Washington, D.C. of chronic myocarditis.
Always one to prove her point, she donated her own brain to Cornell, “to help provide superior female brains for future research.” Cornell researcher James W. Papez found her brain to be abnormally large for a woman, with well‐developed frontal, occipital and parietal regions and “nothing to indicate that hers was a one-sided or single‐tract mind.”