What Ever Happened to Elsie Scheel, 1912's Perfect Woman Who 'Didn't Know Fear'?

Illustration for article titled What Ever Happened to Elsie Scheel, 1912's Perfect Woman Who 'Didn't Know Fear'?

Back in 1912, the New York Times declared Elsie Scheel the "perfect woman." Sure, she may have been a little bit of a dick about how perfect she was (a followup article in The Oregonian reported that "Miss Scheel feels that the average girl does too much of the wrong sort of thing - too many dances and not enough good bracing tramps. I just got back from a 25-mile tramp to Enfield Falls." Ookay, Elsie, judgmental much?), but she was also a fervent suffragette and claimed she didn't feel fear. We were impressed.


Now the Times has a followup: whatever happened to Elsie?

As one might expect, she lived to be nearly 91 years old. She also had a BMI of 27, putting her in the "overweight" category, which the Times hopes doesn't make you feel good about yourself:

But though it may be tempting to conclude that Miss Scheel's longevity exemplifies the benefits of a not-too-low B.M.I, her case is only one anecdote, of course. And, according to family members and to hints provided in early articles, she was a person who valued being active and athletic, had a strong and confident attitude, and, as a daughter of a doctor and a mother of a doctor, may have been steeped in healthy habits that were much more relevant to her survival than her weight.

Naturally, her granddaughter reported that Elsie never took aspirin or Tylenol and was an avid stamp collector and newspaper contributor.

More On Elsie: She was a "practical nurse" (at least before she had kids) and married an architect who supervised the building of the New York Public Library. She moved to Florida after he died in 1968.

It also seems like she was the Samantha Brick of the early 20th century:

A day after the Times article, The New York Herald ran a story about Miss Scheel above the fold on its front page: "Brooklyn Venus Much Too Large is Verdict of Physical Culturists." These "physical culturists" claimed that Miss Scheel's weight and height "cannot be reconciled with the accepted ideal of female beauty."

One expert, a gymnasium owner, pronounced that "her chest measurement is small for the weight she is credited with; she is too tall to be considered an ideal type and her weight itself is all out of proportion."

An article published in The Duluth News-Tribune said: "Miss Scheel looked as if she weighed 195 pounds. 'Only 171,' corrected she."


Some things, such as publicly critiquing women who never asked for their approval, never change.

A few months after all the publicity, The Springfield Daily News ran an article called "Perfect Woman Not Happy." By then, Elsie was working on her dad's farm (remember her plans to grow vegetables like the Brooklyn hipster she was?) and said perfection and fame were "not all it's cracked up to be." The article continued:

"All the neighbors have been asking about those famous physical measurements. The kids want to know the size of her feet when she walks downtown, the village mashers make bucolic and ponderous jests as she passes by, and the other girls, well, they just sniff and demand of each other 'where on earth anybody can see anything beautiful about a figure like that?'"


We hope Elsie consoled herself with lots of her favorite food, beefsteak.


Laura Ingalls Gone Wilder

Does anybody know how accurate the BMI calculator actually is? It doesn't take into account how weight it proportioned or fat versus muscle mass, but seems to have general authority as to whether or not someone is "overweight." It seems like a lot of people above a BMI of 25 could be at a healthy weight.