Henry Ware Cattell and Walt Whitman's Brain Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • Henry Ware Cattell was a prominent pathologist and medical editor in late 19th and early 20th century America. Strangely, his name is unknown to most medical historians but is more widely known by aficionados of Walt Whitman's poetry. In 1892, Cattell was involved in an incident that abruptly changed his life and decreased his commitment to pathology as a career. Cattell had been serving as the pathologist/prosector for the American Anthropometric Society at the time the poet Walt Whitman died. Cattell, the pathologist for the University of Pennsylvania's Wistar Institute, performed Whitman's autopsy on March 27, 1892; Whitman's brain was removed and was to join those of other prominent American intellectuals who had donated their brains to the Society's "Brain Club," but something went horribly wrong (allegedly, an assistant had dropped the brain and destroyed it) and Cattell kept this a secret. Full of self-doubt, Cattell was anguished about his inadequacies as a pathologist and was extremely worried about how all of this would affect his career when discovered. While still continuing to practice hospital-based pathology, he began to transition into an author and editor. This essay will provide a detailed biographical sketch of Henry Ware Cattell, address his sibling rivalry with his more famous brother James McKeen Cattell, briefly discuss the fad of 19th century intellectuals embracing the pseudo-science of phrenology and their participation in anatomical "brain clubs," and, finally, address the mystery of what happened to Walt Whitman's brain. Clin. Anat. 31:988-996, 2018. © 2018 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

publication date

  • October 2018