1919 Ideal Weight Table for Women

Weight and height table, female
Source – Household Engineering: Scientific Management in the Home by Mrs. Christine Frederick (1919)

Some things haven’t changed much over the past hundred years. Similarly to now, people worried about their weight back then.  A 1919 home economics textbook even contained a table that showed the “ideal weight” by height for a 30-year-old woman.

The book also offered advice for women about the importance of improving their eating habits:

Many women say, “Oh, I know I’m fat, but I feel all right anyway.” Nevertheless such women should practice those habits which will keep weight down automatically, no matter how well they feel, because (1) excess fat is unattractive from the appearance standpoint; (2) overweight after 35 years (according to the best insurance statistics) is closely associated with a high death rate; (3) an excess weight particularly handicaps efficiency in work or recreation.

Every homemaker, then, should closely estimate her own dietary. If she has servants and merely makes the beds or does light dusting, etc., then she needs only approximately 1,800-2,400 calories daily; but if she does most of her housework, including the heavier work of room cleaning, laundry work, etc., then she will need more nearly 2,500-2,800 calories.

Source – Household Engineering: Scientific Management in the Home by Mrs. Christine Frederick (1919)

54 thoughts on “1919 Ideal Weight Table for Women

  1. For some reason, designating the age of maturity as 30 years caught my attention. I looked up the expected life span for a woman in 1919 in an actuarial table, and it was 56!

    1. Life spans are really deceptive however. In actuality, the upper age for human life has changed hardly at all over any point in the past. What has changed is that infant mortality and death during child birth has much decreased. I don’t know anyone who has died in child birth personally, but if we lived in 1919, we all would. Likewise, infant and youthful death was quite common.

      1. Carrying on just a bit (as my first effort was wiped out for some reason by the net), concepts of maturity are also surprising. It took the First World War to cause English speaking nations to generally allow men 18 through 20 years of age to be able to enlist in the military. There were exceptions, but they were just that. During the war that changed. Prior to that, men weren’t regarded as really being adults until they were 21 years of age.

        1. I’m surprised that men weren’t really considered adults until they were 21 prior to WWI. Back then many people only had an eighth grade education and went into the workforce very young – so I might have guessed that they would have been considered adults as early as their late teams.

      2. Interesting . . . I’ve also heard that much of the increase in life expectancy over the last hundred years is based on reduced childbirth deaths and lower infant mortality.

    2. I also was surprised that 30 was designated as the age of maturity in the table. I would have guessed that it would have been younger. A hundred-years-ago, often women married, had children, or entered the workforce at a relatively young age – thus I would have thought that people would be considered mature by their early 20s. (As I write this, I’m thinking that maybe maturity had a slightly different meaning back then–and that it referred to a somewhat older woman.)

        1. Having said that, here too things are surprising. We tend to think of marriages being contracted much later now than in the past, but if we take the long view of those sorts of statistics and figure in social convention, marriage ages have remained surprisingly stable since the Middle Ages.

  2. I guess I need to do heavier housework and get off the computer! Here I thought making my bed was manual labor! I actually am surprised that the weights are as high as they are on the table. I would’ve thought they were lower than that.

    1. I think that there have been some changes across these years in what is considered the “ideal weight.” My general sense is that at some heights the desired weight back then was very close to what it is now, and that at other heights it may be 10 or more pounds different.

    1. “Hmmmm….we are now terribly overweight but we live alot longer. Ah the mysteries of progress.”

      We actually don’t live a lot longer though.

      We just don’t die as young. Life spans are determined by an average. When we consider that huge numbers of people died from age 0 to 5 in former years, and that lots of women died giving birth, that weights the number down.

      In my own family, my grandmother lost one child at birth and nearly had another die as a child due to scarlet fever. That’d be unusual now.

      Added to that, infectious disease killed more in prior years. We live in the antibiotic era, and so that’s become rare, but with the rise of antibiotic bacteria, this may change in the next couple of decades. An aunt of my mothers died from the 1918 flu, and while lots of people still die from the flu, nothing like that has happened since 1919. Added to that, some diseases such as heart disease and high blood pressure, while still very dangerous, aren’t as deadly as they once were.

      With all of this being the case, what we really have is that the huge number who died very young no longer do, and the real risk to life that just being a woman once entailed is no longer the case, combined with the fact that infectious disease isn’t the killer it once was and certain conditions are much more treatable than they once were. And what all that means is that if a woman survived infancy, and her child bearing years, she was just about as likely to live to the same age she would today in 1919, or for that matter, 1819.

      1. This also makes me think about how more people worked in relatively dangerous occupations (farming, factory work, mining, etc.) a hundred years ago, which probably led to higher death rates.

  3. If she has servants and merely makes the beds or does light dusting…

    I love that line. What an assumption, eh? As for me being the weight suggested on this chart– not even close and I eat way fewer calories than suggested..

    1. That line made me wonder who the audience was for this book. I’m guessing that it was written as a textbook for female college students studying home economics. I wonder what percentage of their families would have had servants. As educated women, they probably typically from families in the middle or upper parts of the socio-economic strata, but it still seems like most won’t be from families wealthy enough to have servants.

  4. I have an 1880 Collier’s Cyclopaedia that has the measurements for the “ideal” female figure. They were impossible to achieve for most women! They are as follows:
    height 63.5″
    breadth of neck 3.8″
    girth of neck 12.1″
    breadth of shoulders 14.7″
    breadth of waist 8.6″
    girth of waist 24.6″
    breadth of hips 13.1″
    girth of hips 35.4″
    girth of upper arm 10.1″
    girth of thigh 21.4″
    girth of forearm 9.2″
    As for weights they were more relaxed 5′ = 120, 5’2″= 130, 5’5″=145, 5’8″=160, 5’10″=170…

    1. This is fascinating. It makes me want to get out a tape measure. I have no clue what the girth of my upper arm is (or for that matter, the girth of my thigh).

  5. What I’ve learned from the table is that I’m too short (laughing now) and that the total calories recommended is extremely generous. So generous that I wonder how any woman that might follow these dietary guidelines and recommendations could achieve or maintain the ‘ideal’ weight! 🙂 So discouraging when I rarely eat more than 1200 calories in a day and yet I am still…’too short’! 🙂 Well, what with holidays starting off this coming week, I will, most certainly, achieve a higher caloric intake. Hoping it won’t make me even shorter!! LOL!

    1. You can always hope for the opposite effect. Maybe it will make you grow taller. 🙂 I probably should just set aside my concerns about calories until January.

  6. Fascinating article. The statistics from 1919 definitely caught my attention. These were considered ideal weights of that time and I can see they are not drastically different from today’s. I wonder what the statistics looked like about actual average weights in those days and compare them to today. I am certain there is a drastic difference there.

  7. Very few things can make a person as unhappy as a bathroom scale. Our bodies are all so different that it makes the idea of “ideal” weight ridiculous. I don’t weigh myself – haven’t in years. The best barometer of health is “How do I feel? How can I move?”

    1. I really like your barometer of health. It makes a lot of sense to focus the way we feel and move, rather than on external criteria that may not be right for a given individual.

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