The sisters Sarah, Victoria, Isabella, Grace, Naomi, Dora and Mary Sutherland — and their one brother, Charlie — were born between 1845 and 1865 in New York State. As they grew up they achieved a very unusual kind of fame.
The children lived with their mother and father, a pastor, on a turkey farm and were very poor. Their mother, who unfortunately died in 1867, was extremely proud of her children’s long, thick hair. To keep the hair growing she smeared a special secret concoction into it every day. The only problem with this homemade hair gel was that it stank horribly. The stench was so bad, in fact, that the children tried to avoid school at all costs, to avoid the teasing they received from their classmates. But whatever was in that stinky goop certainly worked: the child with the “shortest” hair still had a five-foot mane and Victoria had the longest at over six feet!
Their father, Fletcher Sutherland, had his children perform in church, but he soon noticed that the congregation was less interested in their musical abilities than they were in their combined 30 feet of hair. Instantly he saw the opportunity for turning this infatuation into a profit. He took his children on tour as a musical group and to great success. In 1880 they even performed on Broadway and while wandering the streets of New York they were approached by many fans who recognized their famous hair. But their greatest fame came when their father signed a contract with the Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1884. People came from far and wide to see the young women who were billed as the “Seven Wonders of the World,” among other things.
At the end of the 19th century, disease and poverty were rampant and in such an environment, the sisters’ thick, glossy locks were considered the ultimate symbols of health, vitality, and exoticism. People were simply fascinated by them and they soon came up with an idea that would capitalize on this fascination. They began producing their own hair care products, acting as the perfect spokespeople themselves. By 1890 they had sold over 2.5 million bottles at $1.50 a piece — a hefty price considering that the amount corresponded to an average weekly salary at that time.
The Sutherland sisters made a fortune, and after their father died they transformed the family’s little turkey farm into a grand estate. Contrary to their image as innocent, hymn-singing sisters, stories began to circulate about the extreme life of excess they were leading on their new estate where drugs, affairs, and jealous disputes were all part of the daily routine. They spent money like it was going out of style and soon their vast fortune was all but depleted.
Then came the final blow — in the roaring 20s short hair in the form of “bobs” were the new standard and long hair was considered old-fashioned. The sisters’ heyday was over and they sank into obscurity.
All that remains of the famous Sutherland Sisters are the numerous photographs of them and their impressive heads of hair. To this very day they remain fascinating for some. It’s like a real-life Rapunzel story, but without the happy ending.