Reader Lindsey H. sent me a copy of a book called Vaught’s Practical Character Reader, apparently published in 1902 and revised in 1907 by Emily H. Vaught. Also available on Amazon. The book can best be described as an application of the theory of physiognomy, which is the idea that you can tell all kinds of things about a “person’s character or personality from their outer appearance” (wikipedia). Some images from Vaught’s book:
The book is full of images in which the features stereotypically associated with Northern and Western Europeans, or the mythical Aryan race, are associated with sincerity, honestly, a work ethic, and every other positive character trait, whereas large and especially hooked noses and small, hooded, or almond-shaped eyes were indications of negative traits.
Here we learn that the broadness of a person’s face tells you whether they are vicious or harmless:
The text does not explain whether the implication is that all Native Americans are vicious and all Blacks are harmless, or if these are just examples and those races would have just as much variety as we see among Whites.
For those of you who are considering procuring yourself a wife, Vaught provides some tips on picking out a woman who will be a good mother (the same general head shape indicates a good father as well):
Avoid at all costs a man or woman with this head shape (notice the pointed nose, larger ears, and smaller eyes compared to the image above, in addition to the apparently super-important head protuberance):
Also, based on the illustrations, apparently men who wear bowties are good fathers but those who wear neckties should arouse your suspicion. There is also a section titled “How to Pick Out a Good Child,” which I intend to take with me next time I am child shopping.
The back page advertises other books available from Vaught’s press, including Human Nature Year Book from the Human Science School and the new Text Book on Phrenology, which addresses “Heads Faces Types Races.”
I have seen examples of physignomy and phrenology before, and images of their practitioners measuring people’s heads and facial features, but I have never before seen an entire book devoted to it. These pseudosciences were taken quite seriously at the time, with “experts” showing that Africans and African Americans, for instance, had facial features that proved them to be less civilized and intelligent than those of European descent and that Jews were inherently deceitful.
Thanks a ton for sending it in, Lindsey!
Originally posted in 2009.Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.
Tiffany — July 2, 2009
The "vicious" man looks a lot like Benjamin Franklin, right down to the spectacles.
Kay McCurley — July 2, 2009
With the eugenics movement came quite a few books on the subject (they also existed before it). Sir Francis Galton, Charles Darwin's cousin, published on the topic of hereditary traits and physiognomy. I think there were quite a few books published detailing which facial features and body types were trustworthy and which were thieves/criminals/undesirables. Sort of related are the better baby and fitter family contests of the eugenics era.
Brady — July 2, 2009
In undergrad, I had an anthropology professor whose granddad was a phrenologist, and he brought in his granddad's calipers and head model. It was about as awesome as you'd expect, if you're into weird old psuedoscience.
The thing I remember best re: differences between races/within races is that the ratio of head width to head depth (measured front-to-back) was supposed to be indicitave of intelligence, as a narrower head was taken to signify a larger frontal lobe. However, the "best" head dimension ratios were often found among a group of people from Northern Africa. This was explained by arguing that the Northern Africans simply had bigger occiptal lobes (being more physically agile, of course).
Stentor — July 2, 2009
Bizarrely and unfortunately, this kind of thing hasn't entirely fallen out of fashion -- my wife is a lawyer, and she went to a Continuing Legal Education class (officially sanctioned by the state of AZ) that turned out to be about how to use physiognomy when questioning witnesses.
caity — July 2, 2009
I've always like the idea of retrophrenology that I saw in a Terry Pratchett book once (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minor_Discworld_concepts#Retrophrenology). Pratchett's version involved hitting the client on the head with a variety of small hammers to get the desired pattern of head bumps.
Oddly, a lot of barristers and judges use antique phrenology heads (ie model heads that show the phrenology patterns) to rest their wigs on when they're not in court. Since most people on this site seem to be Americans - a barrister is a court specialist lawyer - in most higher courts in Australia (and the UK - and probably other Commonwealth countries) barristers and judges wear special robes and a horsehair wig in court.
On a less humorous note, I'd bet money that there are plenty of people who get plastic surgery in order to make themselves look "more honest" on these sorts of principles - eg getting their nose straightened or eyes widened.
Anonymous — July 3, 2009
well its nice to know what to look out for isn't it.
Links of the Day (7/3/09) | my five year plan. — July 3, 2009
[...] A Guide to Reading Character, as examined by Gwen at Sociological Images [...]
Magnetic Crow — July 3, 2009
Looks like a guide to designing Disney heroes and villains.
Tullia — July 4, 2009
Take a look at Stephen Jay Gould's _The Mismeasure of Man_. This sort of thing took many different forms over the years -- checking the slope of foreheads, brain size (yes, posthumously measured) to height and weight of different racial groups, you name it. The thing about criminal features was used a lot in Europe in the nineteenth century.
imnotemily — July 4, 2009
Wow, that image of the 'deceitful nose' is one of the most anti-semitic things i've seen in a long time.
Anne Ominous — August 12, 2009
Apparently, Willem Dafoe is not to be trusted.
albon tiong — September 25, 2009
I cannot say it's entirely false, but I believe that by expressing your facial in vicious way will eventually shape your facial to a "vicious" looks. You'll built up the your facial muscle. Thus, people who always been vicious all the time will get "the face".
There's a Japan Folk story about a princess who is most beautiful in the era because she never has expressions in her face. There's no single wrinkles nor aged lines on her face. At the aged of 40, she still looks like in her 20s. A perfect face like a doll.
Racism in Bull Durham Tobacco Ads » Sociological Images — November 21, 2009
[...] For more historical U.S. representations of blacks, see these posts: one, twp, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen. [...]
“Shall the Pueblos Be Civilized?” » Sociological Images — January 25, 2010
[...] sure they were, indeed, of immense interest to artists, scientists, and writers (also, physiognomists). And since they are of interest to them, that should definitely be taken into account when we [...]
Jenn93 — April 9, 2011
In film school, I remember when talking about designing characters to animate, we were told that certain shapes represent how the audience will percieve them. Round=cute, square features=dependable and strong, and long, skinny, triangular features are reserved for villains. I decided I will henseforth make my creepy looking characters the morally good and the cuties the villains. I want to fuck with people's stupidity.
Bing Li — September 19, 2011
Recently the idea of what we perceive as beautiful/ugly in people has been fascinating me. Why is it that a select few body and face types have been ordained as 'bueatiful' and exclusively used in advertising and media, encouraging everyone else to feel 'less than' and like they need to change something? Why can't we let every kind of facial feature and body type be beautiful in our society and portray them all in media and art? What's the point in living our brief lives on this earth without appreciating whatever the hell it was that nature had to give us, without having to compare ourselves to others?
Zoe — January 30, 2015
(Im not an english speaker native)
I remember i once saw a Vedic book in a hindu temple (hare krishna) talking about face features and longetivity, trustfullnes and intelligence. I was reading that with a korean friend of mine, and i laugh so hard when i saw her face changing from excited to super sad when she found out that her life will be short because of her eyebrows were short. I thought it was ridiculous. I dont get it....but still, vedic knowledge is very wise. I hope she have a long and healthy life. Hare krishna.
Today in history: Physiognomy and advice for men who wish to "take a wife" (feimineach) — January 31, 2015
[…] are some wonderful illustrations here (thesocietypages.org) from a book published by Emily H Vaught in 1902. It is about using physiognomy to assess the […]
Ulrich Sollmann — January 31, 2015
Ulrich Sollmann — January 31, 2015
Your warning is good and helpful. Over here in Germany there was a time about 80 years ago when the Nazis followed such Body language ideologies and took this as an Argument to kill People if they were not real Germans or arian people.. If you are interested we could communicate on this. If you want toget to know my contact to Body language please have a look www.sollmann-online.de
Physiognomy: Faces, Bodies, and the “Science” of Human Character - Treat Them Better — January 31, 2015
[…] Physiognomy: Faces, Bodies, and the “Science” of Human Character […]
WillWhiteWilliams — March 8, 2015
The hooked nose and hooded eyes realy do look "deceitful." Semitic?
Hp B — August 5, 2015
That deceitful nose looks really really familiar.
abdul rahman — November 29, 2015
Beneran Gak Sih Orang Ber-IQ Tinggi Bisa Baca Pikiran Orang? Kok Bisa? -Arsypedia- panduan bitcoin cara nambang bitcoin indonesia - BOTBISNIS — May 29, 2017
[…] Physiognomy: Faces, Bodies, and the “Science” of Human Character […]
Zahra Shaygan — November 6, 2017
in Iran 99% of people have nose job and beauty surgeries. how this theory works there?!! nobody has the real face now
Anonymous — April 12, 2018
It’s really interesting but can’t be applied to real life?
Kevin Karell Klein — July 22, 2019
>Africans and African Americans, for instance, had facial features that proved them to be less civilized and intelligent than those of European descent and that Jews were inherently deceitful.
This is literally true.
Ulrich Sollmanndoesntknowhathestalkingabout — September 7, 2019
yo um yeah
Hobson.Judy — December 22, 2019
Never give up is the only secret to your dreams
Physiognomy: Real Or Pseudoscience? – Bioinformatics Services — January 13, 2020
[…] to Gwen Sharp, PhD, “These pseudosciences were taken quite seriously at the time, with “experts” showing […]
------- — April 11, 2021
Kevin, are you trying to say that black people are stupid and Jews are deceitful. We are in the twenty-first century. Wake-up from your ignorance!
Salesh Mishra — April 20, 2021
ever since the FBI released the protocols of Zion, with Twitter able to ban those posts from their own website? purposely sending out bans & suspensions for anyone who posted that information...
I don't think it's ever going to be the same. Just like with woofloo you trained millions of people to put on a mask and not take chances well that's exactly what they're doing with Jews and black people in 2021.
after video surfacing of Chinese buying up stores and supplies all over the world especially Australia it became apparent to many people all over the world that it's better to just be safe and wear the mask and that also includes designating certain racial characteristics of a group as dangerous and to take precautions.
they just ripped it out of the black lives matter play book
crazy to believe but what's been happening is that feminism and also the left's crazy attack on ideological beliefs relating to White racism and white supremacy are now being used kazzy official verified reference of this kind of potato science
The death of authority — August 22, 2021
This is article is what happens when one replaces their observation with their schooling.
Sienna — December 24, 2021
The modern trend in relationships has gone towards online communication now. as an example you can look at the classic dating site - quickflirt. The science of face reading was relevant for ftf meetings. But it remains a fun hobby at a time when most young people (and older people too) communicate in chat rooms.
Anonymous — March 29, 2022
The deceitful man looks a helluva lot like Chuck Schumer so... some truth in everything.