sutherland sisters hair tonic
H. Armstrong Roberts_Classicstock _ Contributor via Getty Images

After Discovering a ‘Magic’ Tonic That Grew Her Seven Daughters’ Hair, Mother Made Millions

History

| LAST UPDATE 05/26/2022

By Hayden Katz

From rags to riches, the Sutherland sisters made millions off their hair growth tonic. But their journey to fame and fortune was also met with lots of road bumps. Here's their remarkable story.

The Sutherlands

In the 1880s, Methodist minister Fletcher Sutherland inherited a huge chunk of land from his father, Andrew. The 136-acre property also included a quaint cabin. Sure enough, he and his wife Mary soon moved into the home.

sutherland sisters famous familysutherland sisters famous family
Kirn Vintage Stock / Contributor via Getty Images

At the time, the couple had already welcomed their first child, Sarah, who would later become the older sister of 7 other siblings. From the years 1851 to 1865, Mary birthed one son, Charles, and 6 other daughters named Isabella, Naomi, Mary, Victoria, Grace, and Dora.

Living On a Farm

While later in life, the Sutherland sisters became the owners of an extravagant mansion, their upbringing was spent in the compact home, as the family wasn't exactly wealthy. But living in upstate New York wasn't so bad for the young girls. They found many things to do to keep busy.

circus family Sutherland sisterscircus family Sutherland sisters
Sepia Times / Contributor via Getty Images

Although the large family lived on a farm, Fletcher wasn't a big fan of doing any manual labor. Instead, his 7 daughters often participated in maintaining their land. Their father was more interested in music, something his children would soon also grow fond of.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

All Eyes On Them

All of the Sutherland sisters had a talent when it came to their singing voices. So much so that they often performed at the Methodist Church, where their father often led the religious services. Each time they went up on stage, all eyes were on the girls.

sutherland sisters long hairsutherland sisters long hair
Rudolf Eickemeyer Jr. via Wikimedia Commons

But it wasn't only because they had pleasant voices - it was thanks to their exceptionally long locks. All seven of them were blessed with a head full of hair that reached their legs. Apparently, their mom was the reason for that: Mary would often give the girls a 'magic' tonic treatment so their hair would grow.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The 'Magic' Tonic

Although the ingredients of the special mixture were never revealed, it was said to have a horrible smell. This caused the young girls to often fall victim to bullying from the other kids in their town. But that never stopped the Sutherlands from using it.

hair tonic sutherland sistershair tonic sutherland sisters
adoc-photos / Contributor via Getty Images

And later on, it would prove worth it as the tonic was the reason why the sisters became millionaires. Mainly because it worked so well! Each one had hair longer than the next, and okay, maybe genetics played a role, but we have no doubt Mary's secret recipe also played a part in their hair length.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Reaching Great Lengths

Altogether it was reported that the sisters' hair length reached an impressive 37 feet! The longest length was Victoria's, the second oldest of the bunch, who had a mane of 7 feet long. Following her were Isabella and Mary, who each had 6 feet of hair.

seven sutherland sisters hairseven sutherland sisters hair
H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock / Contributor via Getty Images

Up next was Naomi, whose luscious locks spanned 5.5 feet long. And although Grace, Dora, and Sarah each had only 3 feet of locks, that measurement was still deemed extremely grand. Of course, their jaw-dropping manes soon caused a commotion in their community.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Going On Tour

At the time, it was common for women to place their hair back since having it out in the open was seen as being provocative. But that mentality didn't stop the Sutherland sisters from showing off their achievements. While their performances began in their hometown at the church, they soon made their way to bigger audiences.

barnum circus sutherland hairbarnum circus sutherland hair
H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock / Contributor via Getty Images

Their supportive dad was the one who had the grand idea of taking the girls on tour around New York City and, soon enough, in the Southern States of America. By 1881, they had made their way down to Atlanta, Georgia, where they performed at the International Cotton Exposition and World’s Fair. 

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

"The Greatest Show"

Their fame continued to expand, and in no time at all, the 7 sisters started making their way to international locations just two years later. While in Mexico, they made their very first appearance at a circus, where they were named  'the seven most pleasing wonders of the world.'

barnum circus sutherland singingbarnum circus sutherland singing
Hulton Deutsch / Contributor via Getty Images

Soon enough, what was deemed "The Greatest Show on Earth" at the time reached out to the siblings. By 1884, the girls had joined the iconic P.T. Barnum cabaret. He wanted them to sing at The Barnum & Bailey Circus since he often recruited "freaks" for the shows... and their hair made them just that - or at least that's how he saw it.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Freak Shows

During this era, anyone who didn't look like everyone else was considered to be a "freak." And Barnum, the creator of the circus, took an interest in these types of people. They were often overweight, covered in many piercings, or like the Sutherlands, had extremely long hair.

freak show circus barnumfreak show circus barnum
Bettmann / Contributor via Getty Images

Typically, these individuals were born with some form of disability or physical deformity that made them stand out from what was seen as the norm in the 1880s. While today we understand the types of conditions these people had, back then, they were recruited to perform at circuses -for entertainment purposes only.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Minnesota Woolly Girl

The out-of-ordinary people were used to attract the attention of many tourists and visitors who were eager to see these "freaks" in real-life. One performer who brought in many customers was the Minnesota Woolly girl, also known as Alice Elizabeth Doherty,

minnesota woolly girl freakminnesota woolly girl freak
Unknown Author via Wikimedia Commons

At just two years old, she was already making an appearance in shows, thanks to the fact that her entire face and body were covered with patches of blonde hair. This amused and confused audiences. But today, we know that Alice suffered a rare condition that caused an excessive amount of hair to grow.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The Dog-Faced Man

As it turned out, Alice wasn't the only circus "freak" who would have been diagnosed with hypertrichosis lanuginosa if they had been born later on in life. A man named Fedor Jeftichew started making headlines in shows as a "Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy," which later turned into "The Dog-Faced Man."

dog faced man circusdog faced man circus
Charles Eisenmann via Wikimedia Commons

These nicknames sparked because his entire face was (obviously) covered in a lot of hair. He was an instant success as a star in Barnum's show. We guess those who enjoyed watching the circus were fascinated by hair growth. This may be why the Sutherland sisters went on to catch Barnum's eye.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Marrying Into The Business

In 1885, one of the seven sisters was wed to non-other than Barnum's business partner, Harry Bailey. Due to his closeness with the family and the circus business, Naomi's husband became the girl's manager. They were excited to enter this new chapter of their life.

sutherland sisters circus barnumsutherland sisters circus barnum
Unknown Author via Wikimedia Commons

The Sutherland sisters didn't care about being labeled as "freaks," especially since the idea Bailey came up with would make them famous and rich. Even more so than their performances at the circus could. And it was all thanks to their mother's secret tonic...

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Revealing The Tonic

Because so many people admired their long locks, Bailey decided to use that to their advantage. He not only teamed up with the 7 sisters but also with their father, Fletcher, to curate a tonic to sell to customers. They had no doubt it would sell fast.

sutherland sisters seven tonicsutherland sisters seven tonic
Jay Paull / Contributor via Getty Images

After all, the girls were a walking example of just how well the hair tonic could work. It promised to help grow the natal locks of women who used Lucky Number 7 Seven Sutherland Sisters Hair Grower. By 1883 their name was patented. Just like they had expected, it was an instant success.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Secret Recipe

Due to the equivalent of today's $15 price point, it was mainly the richer women that opted to try the pricey tonic. But it wasn't actually the same tonic the girls used as children… Since Mary had passed away in 1867, no one knew what the real ingredients inside her serum were.

lucky number seven sisters lucky number seven sisters
"The Wilkes-Barre Record" via Wikimedia Commons

Based on reports, it was said that the ingredients used for the product they sold were witch hazel, bay rum, hydrochloric acid, salt, and magnesium. Although many were not sure if it really worked, the product became a best seller. It ultimately even led to an entire line of hair care products.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

An Entire Empire

Their Sutherland Sisters hair care brand continued to grow. As they expanded the line, they added a scalp cleaner (which was technically shampoo), a comb, a brush, and even a hair coloration which was offered in 8 different shades. Just like the tonic did, these products were flying off shelves!

hair growth tonic sutherlandhair growth tonic sutherland
Sgerbic via Wikimedia Commons

The prices ranged from 50 cents to $1.50, and while that may not sound like much, at the time, that was worth roughly an entire week's worth of work! But the high price tag didn't deter customers. In fact, so many bottles were sold that by the end of the first year, they made $90,000 (which is equal to over $2.2 million today).

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Millionaires & Mansions

Things weren't slowing down for the sisters. By the time 1890 rolled around, they had nearly 28,000 dealers selling their hair products across the nation. As each bottle was sold, more money was made, and before they knew it, the Sutherlands had racked up $3 million! 

barnum circus sutherland sistersbarnum circus sutherland sisters
The History Center of Niagara via Facebook

According to the Niagara County Historical Society, the 7 girls decided to use that money to build a mansion in 1892. Located in upstate New York, the home included 14 rooms constructed out of the most luxurious material. The ceilings were decked out with crystal chandeliers - yet still, nothing was fancier than their bathroom...

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

"First-Ever" Bathroom

Based on reports by the hobbyist website Collectors Weekly, in the 1880s, the sisters' indoor bathroom was one of the first-ever built in rural New York. From hardwood flooring to black walnut woodwork, the girls didn't skimp out on getting the finest quality material for their luxury home.

luxury bathroom sutherland mansionluxury bathroom sutherland mansion
Heritage Images / Contributor via Getty Images

Even the outside looked like something straight out of a mythical story -with the peaked turret and a wrap-around exterior porch. The long-haired sisters had truly gone from rags to riches, and their grand mansion proved that to be true. But the home wasn't the only thing the sisters were extravagant with.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Their Royal Companions

Being millionaires helped the sisters accomplish whatever they had pleased. In fact, it has been said that their spending was unhinged, and they often shelled out on servants, clothes, fine jewelry, seconds homes, globe-trotting, booze, and more. They even spent hundreds on their animals.

animal royalty Sutherland sistersanimal royalty Sutherland sisters
Print Collector / Contributor via Getty Images

The pets that got the lucky opportunity of being owned by the Sutherlands were treated better than some humans. According to the April 1982 edition of Yankee magazine, Dianne L. Sammarco and Kathleen L. Rounds wrote that the "pets were treated like royalty."

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Living Like a King

"[The pets had] winter and summer wardrobes, and grand funerals and obituaries in the local newspapers," Sammarco and Rounds added. "The carriage horses were shod in gold." It was even reported that the sisters once paid roughly $500 dollars on a pet's memorial that included glorious flowers and a casket.

gold memorial Sutherland sistersgold memorial Sutherland sisters
Harvey Meston / Staff via Getty Images

But animals weren't the only ones who got special treatment. The sisters often hosted guests for many lavish parties: "the sisters sponsored many a gala social for the neighbors, often including fireworks," the magazine reported. Their parties were popular around the town of Niagara County.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Seven Mannequins

Now that they had become household names, the seven sisters were too busy to attend every single boutique or salon that promoted their hair tonic. So instead of traveling back and forth from the city to their house in upstate New York, they created special mannequins.

seven sutherland hair mannequinsseven sutherland hair mannequins
William Vanderson / Stringer via Getty Images

Of course, each doll had hair that grazed the floor that was maintained by the maids living in the Sutherland household. After every promotional event, the 7 mannequins were brought back to be taken care of. Because, after all, their entire brand was beautiful hair, so they had to ensure that's what the figures had.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Chaos Emerges

To the public eye, the sisters were glorious, thanks to their extremely long locks, amazing mansion, and overflowing cash flow. But what fans of the Sutherlands didn't know was how much drama was happening behind closed doors. Apparently, they often partook in substance abuse, alcohol, and other antics.

circus scandal Sutherland sisterscircus scandal Sutherland sisters
Keystone-France / Contributor via Getty Images

Their spending habits began to worsen and many fights sparked between one another. The Sutherlands were even reported to be involved in various love triangles that led to speculations that the sisters might have been polyamorous. Sadly, their reputation began to slowly tarnish.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Gossip Around Town

Niagara County began to become overflowed with rumors and gossip about the once-adored family. They believed that the girls might have been witches, which in the 1880s was extremely frowned upon. The community assumed the Sutherlands were involved in some form of spiritualism.

1880s witches gossip Sutherlands1880s witches gossip Sutherlands
Fotosearch / Stringer via Getty Images

Yet the things people were saying about the sisters didn't seem to faze them. In fact, they had even welcomed a man into their lives who had also been speculated to be using illegal substances. But despite his reputation, the sisters welcomed Frederick Castlemain into their home...

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

A New Love Interest

Based on accounts from a Yankee article, Castlemain "had a few eccentricities of his own, like addictions to [narcotics], and the unnerving hobby of shooting the spokes out of wagon wheels from his seat on the Sutherland's front porch." But that wasn't the only rumor surrounding Frederick.

sutherland sisters hair tonicsutherland sisters hair tonic
George Eastman House museum via Wikimedia Commons

Originally, Castlemain came from France to New York to pursue Dora, the 6th sister who was often referred to as the most beautiful one. But that relationship never took off as he and Isabella hit things off. Although she was 10 years older than him and in her 40s, the two eventually got married.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

When Tragedy Strikes

During all this time, the sisters never gave up touring with Barnum's circus. They even continued up until the year 1907. But tragically, during one of their trips, an unfortunate event occurred. "In 1897, while accompanying the sisters on one of their tours, Castlemaine [took his life]," explained the Yankee article.

sutherland sisters circus historysutherland sisters circus history
Hulton Getty / Staff via Getty Images

The sisters were so distraught that rather than properly bury the body, they placed him in a glass case at their mansion so they could frequently visit the late nobleman. But after 10 days, authorities took over since the smell became too appalling. For two years, the heartbroken Isabella visited his gravesite each night.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Spooky Speculation

More gossip began to emerge due to Isabella's wandering the streets and graveyard late at night holding a lantern. The locals at Niagara Country even began to come up with imaginative stories about how she might even be a ghost. But those quickly ended after she met a new guy.

ghost witch sutherland sistersghost witch sutherland sisters
SasinT Gallery via Getty Images

Once again, this man was a lot younger than she was, but she still ended up marrying Alonzo Swain. And she wasn't the only sister who had a thing for younger guys. At age 50, Victoria wed a 19-year-old man. The rest of the family disapproved of this and kicked her out of the mansion. And after 3 years, she sadly passed away.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

More Bad News

The long-haired sisters were heartbroken, but they needed to continue on with their careers. Now that they had lost one member of their act, they needed to replace Victoria. In her place, they hired Anna Haney, a woman whose hair reached down nearly 6 feet.

hair tonic seven sistershair tonic seven sisters
texasrigger via Imgur

In fact, this wasn't the first time they brought in an outside member to perform with them at the circus. After Naomi tragically passed away in 1893, the sisters had hired Anna Louise Roberts to take over for the 7th sister. She had 9 feet of hair, so she fit right in immediately.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Hiding Away

But things were no longer the same. After losing two of their beloved sisters, Mary started to become mentally unstable. Her welfare was declining, and soon enough, she threatened the other Sutherland girls telling them she knew witch spells she could use on them.

Sutherland sister wive's taleSutherland sister wive's tale
Universal History Archive / Contributor via Getty Images

Eventually, they couldn't handle Mary anymore and decided it would be best if she stayed locked away inside one of the mansion's many rooms. Tragedy continued to hurt the family when the leader of the pack, Sarah, passed away in 1919. But the worst loss of all happened shortly after.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Competition on the Horizon

As the 1920s rolled around, the infamous style of the Flapper girl was on the rise. The look consisted of pinned-up hair and shorter styles. This meant the obsession with long luscious hair was on the decline. Sadly this affected the Sutherlands business as their products were aimed at growing hair.

flapper era sutherland sistersflapper era sutherland sisters
H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock / Contributor via Getty Images

As more and more women cut their hairs into short bobs, less and less bought the hair tonic that was once an immensely popular item. At this point in time, the only sisters left were Mary, Grace, and Dora, who tried everything to keep their wealth intact.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

To Hollywood, They Go

In an attempt to stay relevant, the three sisters made a decision to head on out to the other side of the country. In Los Angeles, they could try and pursue a career in Hollywood movies and possibly singing. But sadly, during their drive, they had an accident that took Dora's life.

old hollywood Sutherland sistersold hollywood Sutherland sisters
Underwood Archives / Contributor via Getty Images

Mary and Grace were unsuccessful in trying to make it big in the City of Angels, so they headed back to New York. Although their clientele had significantly dropped, they were still able to afford to live in their mansion. That was until 1931, when they had no more money left, forcing them to say goodbye to their home.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Burned to Flames

Their reputation was completely destroyed. At one point, they were even deemed the "dream girls of a dim decade" by Jazz Age cartoonist John Held, Jr. The Sutherland sisters went from being iconic for their long locks to losing their business for good in 1936.

Sutherland sisters house fireSutherland sisters house fire
MOHD RASFAN / Contributor via Getty Images

It seemed like these girls just couldn't catch a break. In 1938, their former mansion was burned to flames, leaving nothing behind - including the tonic recipe, patent documents, and all their prized possessions. The home was sadly gone for good, just like their reputation and business.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Gone, but Not Forgotten

Shortly after the final tragedy, Mary was placed in an asylum for her mental health, while her only remaining sister Grace spent her days with no money or family until she passed away in 1946. From rags to riches and back to rags, the Sutherland sisters sure did live one fascinating life.

circus sisters freak haircircus sisters freak hair
Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons

Today the seven sisters are seen as a strange quirk in history. But that doesn't mean that many fans and historians don't remember their long hair that made jaws drop. If only the truth about their mother's recipe was revealed. But perhaps that's something we'll never know...

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below