One of the brains in the collection is that of Helen Gardener, a Cornell professor and suffragist. Gardener used the brains to challenge another researcher who claimed male brains were superior to female brains.
“She said alright, I’ll send you five male brains, five female brains,” DeVoogd explained. “I’ll select them randomly and you tell me who’s who. And he said no I couldn’t do that. He just avoided her completely. Her point was that he could talk all he wanted to but when push came to shove, he couldn’t back up his statements.”
Gardener went on to serve as the liaison for President Woodrow Wilson’s administration to the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Upon her death, Gardener’s brain was donated to the collection where it remains today.
At one point at least 600 specimens were part of the collection, but poor organization by a previous curator led to most of the brains missing identification. Another problem was that the curator did not refill the preservative fluid that the brains are stored in, leading to many brains drying out.
Today, students, faculty and staff pass by the brain collection while walking on the second floor or Uris Hall. The display case is featured on a scavenger hunt for first year students at the beginning of each academic year, DeVoogd said.