Monday, November 10, 2008

Supermodel Height in the Georgiana Era

Anyone who has visited a historical building is well-aware that our ancestors were much shorter than we are now. But how short exactly? Gertrude Mahon was known as the pocket-size Venus because of her height of 4 foot 1 inch, so we know this would put her in the category of "short." On the opposite side of the spectrum, there are a few notable women of 18th century supermodel height standards. One was Thomas Jefferson's daughter Martha (aka Patsy). When Georgiana (also of supermodel height) was introduced to Patsy she was reputed to have said something along the lines of, "It is nice to meet someone the same size as me." Grace Elliott was considered to be extremely tall, hence her nickname of "Dally the Tall" (Lady Craven had a much meaner nickname for her: "Glumdalclitch", after the giantess in Gulliver's Travels).

So how tall were these women? Would they be considered tall today? Carlyn Beccia explains in The Raucous Royals how the average height for a man in 18th century Europe was about 5.5 feet. In England this went up to 5.6 feet for men but only 5 feet for women. Interestingly, Scottish women averaged at about 5.3 feet at the time. Although we don't know exactly how tall Grace, Patsy, and Lady G were, I think it can be easily assumed that by today's standards, they weren't that tall at all! In fact, they were short to average. That means my petite 5'3'' stature would tower over most women of the 18th century. Grace's biographer, Jo Mannings estimates that Grace was between 5.3-5.7 feet tall. Funny to think of when, at 5.6 feet, Kate Moss is notably one of the smallest supermodels today.

16 comments:

  1. I had no idea that they were all that tiny. I always assumed that Georgiana was probably around 5 foot 6. And the Duke wasn't much taller. I remember the first time I went to Greenwich and discovered how tiny Nelson was. I was so used to thinking of him as Laurence Olivier's height in the movie.

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  2. It makes us 5'2" folks feel tall. No wonder I'm fascinated with history, I must have been born in the wrong era. Yet I married a man who is 6'4"... mmm

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  3. I know I was certainly shocked to learn that King Edward VII was only 5'6! However, Mary Curzon was 5'8, Lady de Grey was nearly 6 ft, and Consuelo Vanderbilt was 5'7. It's so weird to think of people--especially men, in a time when writers of historical romance write these towering heroes *g*--being so tiny in the past.

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  4. Yes that's a good point! We have such a romanticized view of our tall dark and handsomes that it is quite surprising they're all Napoleons--who was actually of average height.

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  5. I think a lot of us overestimate how tall we are now. Hollywood actors are so tall, but most people are short. Today, the average height of women is around 5'3".

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  6. Oh, they were so short! That's always a little disappointing.. :D
    A love that second painting of her!! It's my favourite.

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  7. Well if our average lady was 5' and under, they would have been towering :-)

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  8. Really interesting! But let's not forget those "towering heads" when averaging height. They should add a few inches ;)

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  9. It makes me feel so tall... Sigh, if only.

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  10. Well you would have been then, especially with that towering hair!

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  11. I've always wanted to time travel, but my 5'10" height would probably cause the villagers to come out with torches and pitchforks! I'm taller than the average Viking! In Jean Hunnisett's book, Costumes for Stage and Screen: 1800-1909, she wrote about one London fashion house that employed only models over 5'10". Some of these gorgeous Amazons married into prominent families.

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  12. Ooo that book sounds fabulous! I will definitely have to look it up. It's hard to believe there even were ladies over 5'10" in the 19th century!

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  13. I never knew they were so short, but adorably so. This makes my 5'2" frame pretty tall. YES! I feel so much better now.

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  14. Yes, it would have been so much easier for us to reach cabinets in the 18th century!

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  15. We have to protect the remaining short people before we all go extinct! If that keeps going, 5'9" might be short soon! Woah.
    4'1" or whatever the "Pocket Venus" woman was is ridiculous! I don't know how that's even possible. And I thought my five foot was very short!
    Haha, yeah the cabinets might finally be attainable without having to climb all over the countertops!

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  16. They must have been absolute midgets in the middle ages.

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