What did happen to Elsie Scheel, the Long Life Perfect woman mentioned inan article in Wednesday’s New York Times that described how people considered overweight had a slightly lower risk of dying than those of normal weight?
“Women’s Long Life Perfect”. A century ago, at age 24, Miss Scheel was the subject of a spate of news media coverage after the “medical examiner of the 400 ‘co-eds’ ” at her college, Cornell University, described her as the epitome of “perfect health,” according to a 1912 New York Times article. That article and others also gave her dimensions: 5 foot 7 and 171 pounds, which would have corresponded to a body mass index of 27, putting Miss Scheel in the overweight category. Miss Scheel, it turns out, lived a long life, dying in 1979 in St. Cloud, Fla., three days shy of her 91st birthday.
“Women’s Long Life Perfect”. A death notice said Miss Scheel, who was Mrs. Hirsh when she died, had been a “practical nurse,” although Ms. Meredith said the family believed she did not work after she had children. In 1918 she married Frederick Rudolph Hirsh, an architect who supervised the building of the New York Public Library and who was a widower with two children, Frederick Jr. and Mary. He died in 1933 at 68, leaving his wife to raise a son, John, and a daughter, Elise. Miss Scheel’s mother, Sophie Bade Scheel, a physician educated at New York Medical College, maintained an active medical practice at a time when relatively few women did. And Miss Scheel may have benefited from good genes: her three siblings were 79, 88 and 93 when they died.
“I play a guard, where my weight helps,” she told a newspaper. Some of the news media coverage was catty, even brutal. 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.”