Date of Award

Fall 12-18-2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Dr. Janet Gabler-Hover

Second Advisor

Dr. Audrey Goodman

Third Advisor

Dr. Gina Caison


In this essay, I examine how the nineteenth-century cultural phenomenon of phrenology is made apparent in the abolitionist arguments of Rebecca Harding Davis’s “Blind Tom” (1862), a nonfiction character sketch of the popular blind slave and idiot savant-musician. The first portion of my argument constructs a probable reality that allows for the influence of Davis’s exposure to phrenology first as a student, then later as a writer. I then perform a critical assessment of “Blind Tom,” revealing how Davis relies upon phrenological terminology, such as that employed by famous phrenologist Orson Squire Fowler, in her descriptions of the musician’s physical appearance in order to call for his freedom, from not only slavery on the Georgian planation he called home, but also, from being paraded as an sideshow and a spectacle before audiences across America.