In 1844, Lydia Folger married Lorenzo Niles Fowler in Nantucket. Fowler was, with his brother Orson Squire, the foremost proponents of phrenology in the United States, so it should probably come as no surprise that some head reading occurred at the ceremony. Lorenzo read the bumps on the head of Lydia’s uncle Walter, declaring, so the story goes, that his ego was nearly as large as his genius.

I ran across this story on the website of the Nantucket Historical Society while looking up more about Lydia Folger Fowler. Lydia was a remarkable woman. The second woman to graduate from medical school in the United States (and the first American-born–Elizabeth Blackwell was English), she lectured extensively on health, anatomy, physiology, and hygiene in addition to practicing medicine. She wrote books and taught courses to women.

In her lectures to women, Lydia praised their roles as mothers but also urged them to think about the other years of their lives, those not tied to child bearing and raising. She told them that an educated mother made the best mother. She constantly emphasized how important it was for individuals to study, practice, and perfect themselves. This was especially important for mothers, Lydia said, who had a responsibility to more than merely caretakers of their children and husbands.

Lydia’s story is little known, in part, because of her gender but also because of her marriage to one of the famous Fowler brothers. She was also the cousin of a much more famous woman: Lucretia Mott, the famed Quaker woman’s rights advocate.  But she made important contributions to the history of women and medicine. And who could forget a wedding that involved head bump reading?

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