100 Years Ago: Tiniest Woman in New England Contest

The WWI Armistice had been declared, and though soldier deaths were still being reported, the citizens of New England urgently needed to shift their focus to something light and entertaining.  In November of 1918 the Boston Post newspapers announced they were looking for the “Tiniest Woman” in New England.” Readers were invited to write in, and so they did.  Some provided photographs while others sent wrote letters claiming the honor.  The following women are a few of those who were contestants. I’ve added biographical information on each woman.

CLARENCE R. WILLEY AND HIS DIMINUTIVE WIFE. From East Rochester, N.H. comes a new claimant for the “tiniest lady in New England” contest. Mrs. Willey if four feet seven inches tall, and is seen in the picture standing behind her husband. Boston Post newspaper.


The Boston Post headlines of 23 November 1918 read: East Rochester, New Hampshire Claims Tiniest Lady.  The story continued: “Haverhill is not to lay claim to the tiniest lady in New England, according to the latest dispatch from East Rochester, N.H. Clarence Willey of that town announced with pride that there reigns over his household a little woman who is only four feet seven inches in height and weighs just 80 pounds. “My wife is in the very best of health,” says Mr. Willey, “and she does all the housework for the two of us. The tiniest normal woman in the place, she is one of the most active. I would challenge any woman twice her size to a doughnut making or house cleaning contest and stake all I owned on the outcome.” Ruth Adella Cobbett was born 7 October 1894 in Wilton NH, daughter of William E. & Delia E. (Connors) Cobbett. She grew up in Wilton and Peterborough NH, following her father’s work painting carriages.  She completed 8th grade which was an accomplishment in her day.  Adella married 4 April 1917 in East Rochester NH to Clarence Roscoe Willey, son of Eben D. & Mattie A. (Stevens) Willey.  He was born 12 Feb 1890 in Lebanon, York, Maine.  Clarence and Ruth had 3 children together, Abbie who died in 1919, Bertha A, and Marion Louise (who married Robert E. Capen). They must have moved out West, for when Adella (Cobbett) Willey died in 1969 she was buried in Evergreen Cemetery, Colorado Springs, Colorado.  Her husband who died in 1980 lies beside her.

The REV G.W. Collins AND TINY WIFE. Four feet and nine inches tall, Mrs. Collins, who lives in West Charleston, Vt, asks: “Am I the tiniest normal woman in New England?”

The Boston Post newspaper of 25 November 1918 stated: VERMONT TINY WOMAN WEIGHS BUT 83 POUNDS. “I am married to a poor country clergyman, weigh 83 pounds and measure four feet nine inches in height, and attend to all my household duties, besides having much parish work to do also.” This is the claim that is sent in by Mrs. G.W. Collins of West Charleston, Vt., who thereby enrolls in the “tiniest normal woman in New England contest,” in which women readers of the Post are expressing interest daily. “Although my station in life necessitates much hard work, I have never been sick in my life,” adds Mrs. Collins. “I have two perfect children and, if I do say it, I have never seen a big woman who could do the same amount of work and bear the same responsibility without being ill in bed or breaking down entirely.”  Mrs. G.W. Collins was Maude (Eaton) Collins who had been born abt 1882 in Nova Scotia Canada, and immigrated with her Baptist minister husband in 1914 to the United States.  In 1918 when she submitted her “tiniest woman” information she was living in Charleston, Vermont but only two years later she would be living in Northwood, Rockingham Co. NH with her husband and mother, Mrs. Ida Eaton.

Mrs. Blanche Saucy, Salem MA contestant for “Tiniest Woman” in New England. She is 4 feet 10 inches tall and weight 91 pounds.

The Boston Post newspaper of 29 November 1918 declares: TINY AND “SAUCY” IS SALEM WOMAN’S CLAIM. “Mrs. Saucy”; it’s an odd little name for a tiny woman, isn’t it? But little Mrs. Blanche Saucy of Salem, who is four feet 10 inches in height, announced in enrolling herself in the Tiniest Woman in New England contest that she is the staid and faithful little wife of a business man. “I enjoy outdoor life, and often tramps over 10 miles a day,” she writes. “I have perfect health , and to this hobby in particular I attribute it. My age is 32 and I am quite capable of holding up my end with any woman twice my size.”  Marie Blanche Alma Raby described here was the daughter of Eustache & Georgianna (Morin) Raby. She was born 6 June 1894 in Salem MA and married 23 Nov 1919 in Salem MA to Andrew Soucy, son of Alsime & Adeline (Thompson) Soucy.    In 1920 Blanche was living on Jefferson Street in Salem Massachusetts, working as a stitcher in a shoe shop.

MISS LYDA DUNN. She if 4 feet 8 inches tall and weighs 75 pounds.

The Boston Post newspaper of 29 Nov 1918 posted this headline: “MISS DUNN BELIEVES SHE IS TINIEST WOMAN. Another little woman has sent in claim as the tiniest normal woman in New England. She is Miss Lyda Dunn of 312 Durfee Street, Fall River, who announced that she is four feet, eight inches tall. She weighs exactly 75 pounds, this tiny little woman from Fall River, and there is no work within the scope of a much larger girl that Miss Dunn cannot do.”

Lyda Anice Dunn was born 30 Dec 1894 in Concord, Merrimack Co. NH, daughter of George E. & Frances L S (Hartley) Dunn.  A few years after the above story was printed, she married (in 1922) in Fall River MA to Alfred J. Millette.  She is buried in  Oak Grove Cemetery, Fall River MA.

And now, I suppose you are wondering who won this contest.  I have no idea!

[Editor’s Note: this story is part of an on-going series about heroic New Hampshire men and women of World War I.  Look here for the entire listing].


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5 Responses to 100 Years Ago: Tiniest Woman in New England Contest

  1. Amy says:

    Wow, those ARE tiny women! I have to wonder whether they were malnourished or something. It doesn’t seem they were midgets or dwarfs, but being under 4’10” seems rather extreme. But maybe not 100 years ago.

    • Janice Brown says:

      My own grandmother was barely 5 feet tall and my mom short too. As a young teen I towered over her, and she said that God gave her tall children to reach the high cupboards for her (lol). Both men and women in the United States have grown taller. During World War I, 5 ft 6 was considered tall. Now the average height in the U.S. is 5 ft 9 inches.

      • Amy says:

        True—my grandmother and my aunt were barely 5′, and my mother, at 5’2 was considered a giant! I am all of 5’4″ and am the tallest of my female first cousins. My older daughter is barely 5’2. But 4’7 seemed REALLY tiny!

  2. Melinda J. says:

    As a 4 ft, 11 in woman myself, I found this post quite fun! I was born in NH and grew up there. I was 95 lbs when I got married at age 20. Anyway, fun stuff! Thanks!

    • Janice Brown says:

      Melinda, glad you enjoyed the story, I came across the newspaper series by accident, and though of normal height, both my mother and grandmother were very short, my grandmother especially. I have a photograph of her in a group and she looks child sized 😀 Great things come in small packages it seems.

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