Wells, Charlotte Fowler (1814–1901)

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Wells, Charlotte Fowler (1814–1901)

American phrenologist and publisher . Born Charlotte Fowler on August 14, 1814, in Cohocton, New York; died in West Orange, New Jersey, age 86, on June 4, 1901; daughter of Horace Fowler and Martha (Howe) Fowler; attended local schools and Franklin Academy in Prattsburg, New York; married Samuel Robert Wells, in 1844 (died 1875).

Charlotte Fowler Wells was born in 1814 in Cohocton, New York, into a farming family of eight children. Her formal education consisted of attendance at the district school near her home and six months at the Franklin Academy in Prattsburg, New York. The Wells household was a stimulating environment for Charlotte, however, and her education was supplemented by her family and by self-instruction. She began a career in teaching before she was 20 years old.

Wells became interested in the Austrian "science" of phrenology in the early 1830s. This discipline taught that there were physiological determinants of character, and that character could be determined by the physical characteristics of the cranium. Her brothers Orson Squire Fowler and Lorenzo Niles Fowler adapted the practice for American audiences and helped found and popularize "practical phrenology," which sought to reform personalities and apply phrenology to all aspects of life. They established a phrenological center (including a museum, publishing house, and lecture-booking office) in New York City in 1835, which Wells joined in 1837.

Charlotte was an integral part of the center; she taught the first regular class in phrenology in America, gave readings and helped to manage all aspects of the family's publishing activities. She believed in Spiritualism, which promoted faith based on science and the promise of social reform, and was a vocal supporter for the equal rights of women. She also hosted meetings for the New York Medical College for Women and was a member of its board of trustees from its founding in 1863 until her death.

In 1844, Charlotte married Samuel Robert Wells, a recent convert to phrenology who had joined the family business. In 1855, she and her husband bought Charlotte's brothers' interests in the center, becoming full owners of the business. The Wellses continued to write, publish, and teach, and were instrumental in founding the American Institute of Phrenology. After her husband's death in 1875, Charlotte was the sole proprietor and president of the Fowlers and Wells Company. Into her 80s, Wells continued to teach the public about phrenology, writing a series of articles for the Phrenological Journal on the pioneers of the movement. In 1896, she lost sight in one eye after a fall, but still managed to continue lecturing. Charlotte Wells died on June 4, 1901, in West Orange, New Jersey.


Edgerly, Lois Stiles, ed. and comp. Give Her This Day. Gardiner, ME: Tilbury House, 1990.

James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

Read, Phyllis J., and Bernard L. Witlieb. The Book of Women's Firsts. NY: Random House, 1992.

Amy Cooper , M.A., M.S.I., Ann Arbor, Michigan

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Wells, Charlotte Fowler (1814–1901)

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