Universal York

Part of the USA Today Network

Never ask a woman her weight


I was again looking for something else in the newspaper images at the York County History Center Library/Archives, when a short piece in the York Daily of November 2, 1875 left me nearly speechless. It reads:

A writer from Stewartstown to the Gazette of this week, writing under the date of Oct. 26th, says:

We observed yesterday in this town, the weighing of fourteen ladies, who may with great propriety be called “heavy weights.”—It is not often that such a number of large women are incidentally assembled in this borough. Their weights, respectfully were as follows:

Mrs. Daily, 220
Miss Sallie Edie 197
Mrs. Winter, 194
Mrs. Anstine, Sr. 190
Mrs. Fulton, 186
Mrs. Anderson, 178
Mrs. Dowers, 171
Mrs. Sykes, 167
Mrs. Anstine, Jr. 165
Mrs. Freeston, 160
Mrs. Bowmen, 144
Mrs. Mummy, 144
Mrs. Zeilers, 141
Mrs. Bell, 141,

Their total weight was 2,398 lbs. and their average weight 171 lbs. This is considered hard to beat, and the proposition has been made to send them to the Centennial exhibition.

(The last reference is to the large celebration to be held in Philadelphia from May 10 to November 10, 1876 in commemoration of the United States Centennial.)

This seems so wrong in so many ways. Between 200 and 300 people lived in Stewartstown at that time, so why were these women being weighed? Why were they allowing their weight to be made public? Who decided they were “heavy weights?” Why was it sent to the papers?

I also can hardly believe that four women who weighed in the 140s were included in this spectacle. And most of the others were not all that overweight. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): “Weight that is higher than what is considered as a healthy weight for a given height is described as overweight or obese. Body Mass Index, or BMI, is used as a screening tool for overweight or obesity.” Their link takes you to the National Institutes of Health chart that shows a woman today that is five feet, five inches tall needs to be at least 150 pounds to be considered overweight and 180 to be obese.

I thought it was the tightly-laced corsets that made the women of the Victorian era look so skinny and also made them prone to fainting. Perhaps it was hunger.

(Local newspapers of the past two hundred years have been mostly microfilmed and can be read and printed out at the YCHC Library/Archives. Thanks to a generous donor, YCHC also now subscribes to the Pennsylvania edition of newspapers.com, a searchable database of many Pennsylvania newspapers, including some from York. Those articles can also be printed out.)