When we speak of world records, we tend to have a male bias: fastest man, tallest man, largest man, etc. Consequently, either intentionally or unintentionally, female record holders are often ignored altogether. So today we’re going to shine a spotlight on the unfortunately more omitted sex by telling you about the tallest women who ever lived.
Website TheTallestMen.com is dedicated to recording the heights and life details of the tallest people to ever have lived, and provided a wealth of information about the following ten women.
8 Maria Fassnauer – 7’3”
German Maria Fassnauer is the only person on this list to be distinguished by not only one but two monikers: the “Giantess of Tirol” and “Mariedl.” Born to a family of farmers, Fassnauer appeared to be developing much like other children until the age of three, when she started to grow leaps and bounds over her peers. At fifteen years old she was over two metres tall. Though her parents received many offers from travelling circuses, they refused until Fassnauer herself acquiesced. Travelling with her sister, she used the money she earned to help her parents and spent much of her alone time praying in various churches across the land. The constant standing required by her circus work exacerbated her physical condition, and she retired in 1913, living with her parents until her death at the age of 38 in 1917.
7 Ella Ewing – 7’4.5”
The tallest American during her lifetime, Ella Ewing lived from 1872 to 1913 in Missouri. Ewing grew normally until the age of nine, when she began a growth spurt that would last much of the rest of her life. She made a name for herself by appearing with circuses and side shows, first with the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and later with the P.T. Barnum and Bailey Circus and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. While her size impeded her for most of her life, requiring specially-made size 24 shoes and making train travel difficult, she seemed nevertheless well-intentioned, with TheTallestMan.com reporting that she wanted to give her parents a good home with her earnings—which she did. The completed home had custom-made doors and ceilings that better accommodated her size. Ewing ultimately died of pneumonia in this house.
6 6, 7 and 8. Anna Haining Swan. Carolina Rascón and Delores Pullard – 7’5.5”
As rare a height as seven feet and five and a half inches is, it was shared by three women to date.
Anna Haining Swan, a Canadian, was born in Nova Scotia in 1846. From a young age, she was already growing quite rapidly, standing over four feet at the age of four(!) and over six feet by the time she was ten. By the time she was 16, she topped out at 7’5.5”. Besides her unusual height, Swan was also known for her talents in the arts, particularly music and theatre. She also had the distinction of giving birth to the largest newborn in recorded history, weighing over 20 pounds and measuring over two feet in lengh. Sadly, the baby died after several hours. Swan herself died at the age of 42 from heart failure.
Mexican by birth, Carolina Rascón has fairly little information to her name, other than a few newspaper articles and their accompanied photographs. Her unusual stature became apparent early on in life when she began outgrowing her twin sister Simona. She also exhibited great strength, being able to “easily carry a man in each arm,” and could “lift a pony as easily… as a dog,” an article in the Evening Independent said. It unknown when she died.
Delores Pullard (seen above) hailed from Louisiana, born to parents of above-average height (5’9” father, 5’11” mother). She became part of a circus side show at the age of 19, according to TheTallestMan.com, where her height was often mistakenly reported as 8’2”. She wore whopping size 23 shoes as well. Her death at the age of 24 in 1971 was due to complications that arose from surgery to remove a tumour adjacent to her pituitary gland.
5 Wassiliki Calliandji – 7’6.5”
Little is known about Grecian woman Wassiliki Calliandji, save that which can be gleamed from three newspaper clippings. We know that she was born in 1882, that she lived until 1904, and that her eyes were “as large as hens’ eggs.” She would have been 22 at the time of her death.
4 Sandy Allen – 7’7.25”
Holding the distinction of the tallest American women to have ever lived, Sandy Allen was born in Chicago in 1955. As with many other very tall people, Allen’s height arose from a defect in her pituitary gland which, when acting normally, regulates the amount of growth hormone in the human body. TheTallestMan.com says that Allen underwent surgery at the age of 22 to remove the tumour affecting her growth, which in turn avoided the further complications associated with gigantism. As an adult, she appeared in Fellini’s Casanova, a movie directed by the famed Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini.
Allen spent her later years wheelchair-bound as she was not being able to support her own stature. She died in the summer of 2008 from renal failure according to the Indianapolis Star.
3 Yao Defen – 7’8”
One of the more recent women on this list, Yao Defen was born in rural China in 1972, according to TheTallestMan.com. Tall from a young age—Defen measured over six feet at the age of 11—it’s believed a tumour in the girl’s brain affected her pituitary gland. While doctors were able to remove the tumour, putting a damper on her extreme growth, a remnant remained and it began growing again. Her condition, acromegaly, contributed to a number of health issues, which TheTallestMan lists as hypertension, osteoporosis and delayed puberty, among others. While a British TV program was able to raise awareness of Defen enough to get her more advanced medical treatment, she nonetheless died in 2012 at the age of 40.
2 Jane Bunford – 7’11”
Jane Bunford was born in Bartley Green in Birmingham in the U.K. on July 26, 1895. Though Bunford was tall for her age as a young girl, it appears there wasn’t anything anomalous about her height until an accidental skull fracture damaged her pituitary gland, according to TheTallestMan.com. Interestingly, Bunford reportedly opted not to benefit financially from her height, preferring to work as a babysitter and caretaker in Bartley Green until her death.
Jane Bunford died in April 1922, and according to an undertaker’s report was buried in a coffin topping out at over eight feet in length. During her lifetime, Bunford was the tallest person in the world from 1916 to 1919, and again from 1921 to the spring of 1922. She remained the tallest woman on record until Zeng Jinlian.
1 Zeng Jinlian – 8’1.75”
Born in China in 1964, Zeng Jinlian has the distinction of being the tallest woman in recorded history. Measuring nearly two inches over eight feet, Jinlian remains the only woman on record to top eight feet. TheTallestMan.com notes that her full height was very rarely shown, as scoliosis prevented her from standing fully erect. According to available measurements, her growth patterns were very similar to those of Robert Wadlow, who at just under nine feet was the tallest person in the world on record. Jinlian died in 1982, at the age of 17, and while her cause of death has not been recorded it wouldn’t be a wild guess to suggest her condition and its effects on her body played some part.