- Historic Sites
August/September 1980 | Volume 31, Issue 5
The young ladies below believed, they said, that “a woman’s Crowning Glory is her hair. ” This was not mere narcissism on their part; their livelihood depended on American women sharing their view. They were the Seven Sutherland Sisters, purveyors of hair and scalp tonic “for the production and maintenance of beautiful, soft, lustrous hair.”
They were born to an impoverished upstate New York farmer in an era when having a succession of daughters was not considered unalloyed good luck. But when their harassed father saw how lustily the girls’ hair was coming in, Yankee inspiration spurred him to develop a hair tonic. By the 1880’s, when this picture was made, the girls were a superb advertisement for this product; their hair, taken in aggregate, was thirty-seven feet long. It made them famous, and after their father’s death, they signed up with Barnum and Bailey. Eventually they struck out on their own, touring the country with seven maids standing by to keep all that hair under control between performances.
By the early years of this century their hair grower had made them millionaires, and the popular—if dubious—tonic continued to sell throughout the First World War. But in the early 1920’s bobbed hair came into fashion and dealt a mortal blow to their fortune. The Seven Sutherland Sisters died poor.
Our thanks to Mrs. Karin Marzlock of Woodhaven, New York, for sending us this advertising photograph (it carries on its back a testimonial to the efficacy of the tonic from J. B. Duff, M.D., “Late Vice-President Louisiana College of Pharmacy and Medicine”) showing the sisters and their wonderful torrents of hair at the peak of their glory.