IN History & Culture ON
Meet Sarah, Victoria, Isabella, Grace, Naomi, Dora, and Mary -- collectively known as the Sutherland Sisters. Despite being famous, they were actually born into poverty, growing up on their turkey farm in Cambria, New York in the mid-1800s. What catapulted them into celebrity status was their father, Reverend Fletcher Sutherland, who realized the musical talent of his children. This is their quirky story of how they became known as 'the seven most pleasing wonders of the world.
The Sutherland Sisters eventually toured around the country, from theaters to churches and to fairs, as their father successfully got them into show business. In 1883, they became part of Barnum and Bailey's Great Show on Earth to act as an attraction supporting the main performers.
While they could indeed sing, people were more intrigued by their incredibly long hair. It was said that all of their hair measured a whopping 37 feet. More importantly, during the Victorian era, long hair was equated with sex appeal and the ultimate sign of femininity, making the Sutherland Sisters one of America's first celebrity models.
Supposedly, the Sutherland Sisters' mother would always put ointment on their heads that would make their hair grow faster and longer. The downside was that the ointment smelled bad. The upside to this, at least for the father, was that he could sell hair growth products by advertising his children's hair.
The reverend's idea worked brilliantly, and they were soon out of poverty. The family earned millions and gave the sisters even more unprecedented fame because of the fast-selling tonic made up of witch-hazel, salt, magnesia, hydrochloric acid, and bay rum.
When their father died in 1888, the Sutherland Sisters had to manage the company. During the Victorian era, wives were deemed as fragile women. Capitalizing on this, the sisters made fierce, confident slogans such as "Remember ladies, it's the hair, not the hat, that make you beautiful." They also grew their business, introducing other products such as scalp cleansers, combs, and face creams.
The sisters had a mansion constructed for them in Cambria, New York. It was quite the luxurious home, complete with 14 bedrooms, bathrooms equipped with both cold and hot water, beds delivered from Europe, and rooms built for the cook and maids.
The Sutherland Sisters spent so much money for whatever they wanted: frequent parties with neighbors complete with fireworks, a horse carriage decorated with gold, expensive wardrobes, and seasonal clothing and funeral services for their pets.
With money comes power, and people wanted their share. The combination of excessive spending and money-hungry husbands eventually depleted their wealth. As they grew older and their hair lost its lush appeal, they were again contained in a world of poverty.