We continue visiting gold-rush-era California this week, primarily because that historic earthquake shaped or reshaped almost every aspect of California as we know it today.
There were very few women among the new arrivals so busy shaking up the Golden State, but, many of them were literate and articulate, and engaged observers. Including Eliza Farnham, a popular lecturer, writer, abolitionist, prison reformer, phrenologist, and spiritualist who fully engaged the public imagination. She frequently lectured on the natural superiority of women, though, because she believed women superior, she did not push for equal rights.
Not all of Farnham’s ventures succeeded. Her tenure as prison matron at New York’s Sing Sing was controversial, given her belief that she could determine a woman’s character by studying skull shape and size. (A quick aside: The pseudoscience of phrenology led to some notably racist conclusions. On the plus side, it helped establish present-day neuropsychology, at least the understanding that the brain is an organ that influences emotion, thought, and behavior.)