A top 10 list of the tallest women that ever lived. Unfortunately, most of them lived in a period when good healthcare wasn’t present. They died at a relatively young age.
10 Maria Fassnauer: 7 foot 4 inches
Maria Fassnauer was born, the first of six children, to a poor couple in Southern Tyrol. Born in 1879, she developed normally until the age of three, at which time her growth abruptly increased and she shot up to an immense height, reaching an estimate full-growth height of between 7 foot 2 inches and 7 foot 10 inches – the huge range being attributed to poor measuring techniques and all too human embellishment and exaggeration! Regardless of her actual height Maria Fassnauer was known as the Giantess of the Tyrol and travelled throughout Europe and the United Kingdom as something of a fairground attraction. Her height was emphasised with high heeled shoes and tall hats, and this may go some way to explaining the wide variation in her stated height! The beginning of the First World War and ever-increasing health problems forced Maria to stop travelling and she died of dropsy in December 1917.
9 Ella Ewing: Seven foot four inches (maybe taller in later life)
Ella Ewing was born in La Grange, Missouri in 1872 and was an apparently normal child until her seventh year, at which time she began to grow very quickly. By the time she was fourteen she towered over just about everyone that she met, standing 6 foot 10 inches. The townsfolk of her home town were sympathetic to her growth, having seen the child grow up, but strangers were not so kind. Ella was traumatised as a teenager when, asked to read the Declaration of Independence as part of Independence Day celebrations at a neighbouring town, she was sniggered at, ‘gawked’ at and subject to unflattering astonishment. This had a profound effect on her psyche and she did not enjoy the attention she received when out in public – although she was pragmatically prepared to accept payment to travel with carnival’s and circuses for a more than handsome salary! The Guinness Book of Records has Ella Ewing’s height as 7 foot 4 inches, but agrees that, as Ella continued to grow throughout her lifetime until her death, she may have reached a height of eight feet.
8 Delores Pullard True height unknown: estimates put her at 7 foot 4½
Little is known of Delores Pullard, save that she was an incredibly tall girl! She was born to parents of normal height (although her mother was somewhat taller than average at 5 foot 11 inches). When asked, at the age of fourteen, how tall she was Delores used to answer ‘8…2’ meaning 82 inches or six foot ten. Many reporters mistakenly assumed she meant 8 FOOT 2 inches and ascribed that great height to her! She continued to grow and was billed as being 8 foot 1 at the age of nineteen, when she joined a sideshow as the ‘Tallest Woman in the World’. After an operation for a pituitary tumour, Delores seemed to be recovering well, but sadly, complications set in and she passed away a week later. At her death, aged twenty-five, she was reportedly still growing.
7 Carolina Rascon: 7 foot 5½ inches
Carolina Rascon is, if possible, even more reclusive than Delores! Born in Chihuahua, Mexico, she grew to be a reported 7 foot 5½ inches tall, and was reportedly immensely strong, once loading an iron stove onto a cart single-handedly! She had a twin sister who was of normal height and strength.
6 Anna Haining Swan: 7 foot 5½ inches
Unlike many of her excessively tall contemporaries, Anna Haining Swan was large from birth, weighing an eye-watering 18 pounds on her birthday. She grew rapidly, remaining ahead of the regular birth weight curve, and was found to be 4 foot 6 when she was four years old. By fifteen, she stood a shade over seven feet tall, and she reached her final height of 7 foot 5½ just two years later at seventeen. She capitalised on her size, and toured extensively throughout the world, even being presented at court in Britain. She married one of her travelling companions, a fellow giant called Martin Van Buren Bates, and they had two children, both of whom died at or shortly after child birth. The second child, a boy, was the largest new-born ever recorded, weighing an immense 23 pounds. The grief-stricken parents returned to touring to try and take their minds off their loss, but retired shortly after a final couple of years, moving into a house that they had designed to accommodate their rather specialised needs, with servants’ quarters built to normal dimensions. Even after death, Anna’s great height continued to plague her. A coffin was sent out to the house, after she had passed away (from tuberculosis, shortly before her 42nd birthday), but was designed for a normal height person. The funeral had to be delayed for several days while a more appropriate one was made for her.
5 Wassiliki Calliandji: 7 foot 6½ inches
Wassiliki Calliandji was known as the Greek Giantess. She is believed to have been the tallest women ever, at the time of her life, standing a reported 7 foot 6½ inches – although newspapers simply claimed her to be ‘nearly eight foot tall’. She seems to have been a typical acromegalic giant with long limbs and excessively large hands and feet. She died, in 1904 at the age of just twenty-six.
4 Sandy Allen: 7 foot 7 inches
Sandy Allen stood 7 foot 7 inches tall, and could have grown even taller had modern medicine not been able to stem her growth, which was due to a pituitary gland tumour which caused growth hormones to be dumped into her bloodstream unwontedly. She held the title of the ‘world’s tallest woman’ for many years, on and off from 1976 until her death in 2008. The surgery doubtless extended her life, as it would have prevented any of the ill-effects of gigantism from wreaking havoc on her system. Sandy Allen wrote a book called ‘Casting a Giant Shadow’ and appeared in several documentaries. Reduced to a wheelchair, she spent her last days in a retirement home, coincidentally sharing the building with the then world’s oldest person – who outlived her by a few months!
3 Yao Defen: 7 foot 8 inches
Yao Defen was born to poor farmers in the Anhui Province of China. She is known to have suffered from a pituitary gland tumour which caused her excessive growth. Her case became known to the medical profession at the age of fifteen, when she sought medical attention for another issue. Properly diagnosed she could have benefitted from treatment (although she was already six foot nine by this stage) but her parents could not afford to pay for the treatment. Yao earned a living by travelling around the country for about ten years (from 1992 until 2002) until she could have the surgery that she so desperately needed. Sadly, the tumour returned and this time was not treated, as she could not afford to pay the doctors, but she did take medication to reduce the size of the tumour. In 2009, a British documentary team featured a piece on her, which saw her seeking more medical help. Following this treatment, it was found that the previous tumour had left behind a small part which was causing other health issues, as well as continuing to flood her system with growth hormone. The new medical team managed to stem the endless flood of growth hormone (although they still could not stop it entirely) and Yao’s growth slowed down tremendously. At this time, she was found to be 7 foot 8 inches tall. Despite the continuing efforts to improve her quality of life, Yao Defen died in November 2012 at the age of forty.
2 Jane Bunford: 7 foot 11 inches
Jane ‘Ginny’ Bunford took about 7 foot 7 inches tall, but had severe curvature of the spine that, when taken into account, adds another 4 inches on to her height, making her an impressive 7 foot 11 inches tall at her peak height. Jane, or Ginny, as she preferred, was an entirely normal girl until her 11th birthday, when she fell off her bicycle and cracked her skull. This damaged her pituitary gland, triggering a rush of growth hormone into her system. She refused to capitalise on her height, refusing all offers to tour around and be seen, preferring to work in a factory or baby-sit for her neighbours. Her hair was another marvel, long, straight and auburn, falling around her body like an ankle-length cloak (it is believed that her hair would have also held a record, that as the longest known at the time). After her death, aged 26, her body mysteriously ended up in the hand of Birmingham University, a fact that was only discovered many decades later! Despite the shady goings-on, the discovery of her skeleton helped to get Bunford the status she deserved as being the tallest woman in English medical history.
1 Zeng Jinlian: 8 foot 1¾ inches
Zeng Jinlian only lived for 17 short years, but grew to the astonishing height of 8 foot 1¾. She is only one of 17 verified people to stand over eight foot tall and is the only woman on that short list. She also broke the existing records for the tallest 17 year old ever. She was born in 1964 and died in 1982.