Leaving Your Brain to Science? Please Fill Out This Form

The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Feb. 28 2013 12:00 PM

Leaving Your Brain to Science? Please Fill Out This Form

The Vault is Slate's new history blog. Like us on Facebook; follow us on Twitter @slatevault; find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

This bequest form was provided to people interested in donating their brains to the Wilder Brain Collection at Cornell University. Physiologist and anatomist Burt Green Wilder started the collection in 1889, hoping to understand potential correlations between brain “weight, form, and fissural pattern” and “bodily and mental powers of various kinds and degrees.”

Wilder wanted only the brains of “educated and orderly persons rather than those of the ignorant, criminal or insane.” Many specimens available for study in the nineteenth century tended to be from bodies of people in the latter three categories. Wilder’s was one of a few late-nineteenth-century groups of  “educated persons” who pledged to remedy this situation by analyzing each other’s brains upon death. The French Society for Mutual Autopsy was one such group; the American Anthropometric Society, housed at the University of Pennsylvania, was another.

Advertisement

This form asked for the donor’s educational qualifications, including alma mater. Reflecting Wilder’s expectation that many donors would be scholars of some stripe, the Association also requested that the donor specify academic lineage.

Helpfully, the form advised any descendents who might be reading it on the matter of how to mail the brain to the laboratory:

A brain is most safely transmitted in a tin pail of saturated brine, the lid secured with surgeon’s lead plaster; the pail should be addressed as follows…

The Wilder collection fell into disarray by midcentury, as neurology moved away from phrenological speculations. Partially rescued in the late 1970s, the collection now contains seventy brains, in comparison to its former 600. One of these belongs to Wilder himself, who died in 1925; other famous brains in the collection include the remains of psychologist Edward B. Titchener; naturalist Henry Augustus Ward; and suffragist Helen Hamilton Gardener.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Dear Prudence
Oct. 21 2014 9:18 AM Oh, Boy Prudie counsels a letter writer whose sister dresses her 4-year-old son in pink tutus.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 8:38 AM An Implanted Wearable Gadget Isn’t as Crazy as You’d Think Products like New Deal Design’s UnderSkin may be the future.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 21 2014 7:00 AM Watch the Moon Eat the Sun: The Partial Solar Eclipse on Thursday, Oct. 23
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.