How Seven Victorian Sisters Made Millions With Their Long Hair

Despite marketing 49 ft (15 m) of hair, the Sutherland Sisters actually had just 37 ft (11.3 m) between them.

In the late 1800s, seven sisters from upstate New York wowed crowds with their long locks, touring the world at dime museums, P.T. Barnum’s circus sideshows, and even world’s fairs.

The Sutherland sisters—Sarah, Victoria, Isabella, Grace, Naomi, Dora, and Mary—came from humble beginnings, growing up on their family’s turkey farm, where their mother concocted a smelly lotion to make their hair grow… and grow it did. The long-haired ladies happened to share 37 ft (11.3 m) of hair between them—a length exaggerated later in their career when they were billed as the “7 Wonders of the World! 7 Accomplished musicians! 7 Ladies with 49 feet of hair! 7 Feet of hair each!”

Miss Grace Sutherland from about 1890.

They initially began their life in show business as talented singers and musicians, but people didn’t flock to see their skill so much as to see them let loose their luscious locks. This was quite a spectacle because while long hair was fashionable in the Victorian era, any respectable woman would always keep her hair up in polite society.

The family began to market their hair more than their talents and capitalized on the patent medicine trend by selling what they called “hair fertilizer” at their shows. They claimed that it was the secret lotion that their mother had used to make their tumbling tresses grow so long, but it was actually just a mixture of alcohol, oil, and water that they had recently invented. (Their mother had already died and taken the hair growth recipe with her to the grave.)

There was very little regulation surrounding “patent medicines” in the mid-nineteenth century, most of which were not even officially patented. || CC: Joe Mabel

Despite this, the concoction made them rich: along with other ointments and soaps, they netted $90,000 in sales the first year. When Naomi died in 1893, the family simply hired a replacement sister to keep the show on the road. The Sutherland Sisters fell out of favor when short bobbed hair became the fashion, but they still managed to make around $3 million over the course of their career. The girls used the money to build a mansion on the family farm, where they lived much of the rest of their lives together, as only two of the sisters ever married.

In 1981, the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! cartoon featured the Sutherland Zisters on the June 7 panel.

Snip Snip!
Short bobbed hair is still on-trend and, Believe It or Not!, is the new style for the Guinness World Record title holder for longest hair on a teenager ever! Check out the full clip of Ninlashi Patel’s majestic mane over at Guinness World Records!