"Old Americans" of the South

Old Americans of the south. Anthropometry of college women of southern birth and ancestry
American Journal of Physical Anthropology, VOL. XXI, NO. 1

The anthropology of the ‘Old Americans’ is a subject which has captured the interest of laymen as well as scientists since the publication of Doctor Hrdlicka’s classic work under that title in 1925. More subsequent studies might and should have been made to record the characteristics of this people, before it loses its newly acquired identity. Whatever the characteristics of the Americans of the future, their actual genetic connection with the settlers of the United States probably will be very tenuous. [. . .]

Several years ago Doctor Hrdlicka suggested to the writer the desirability of an anthropometric study of people whose ancestry was not only ‘Old American’ but ‘Old Southern.’ The subjects readily available were women of Newcomb College of Tulane University, New Orleans, and mostly of rather local origin. Casual inquiry disclosed that about one in three of them had all southern-born ancestry to the grandparents, at least. During 3 years, 200 such ‘Old Southern’ women were measured and those measurements constitute the basis of this paper. [. . .]

The results of the study have been such as to strengthen one’s confidence in the conservatism of those body characters commonly regarded as non-adaptive. Southern ‘ Old American’ women do not seem to diverge, anthropometrically, from other women of similar pioneer stock, except in those few characters which may be interpreted as individual adaptations. [. . .]

It was possible to assemble a group of seventy-one whose ancestors practically all appeared to have come from the British Isles. As will be shown, these people have a physique of significantly larger average than the rest. The amount of French ancestry in the 200 subjects was less than would have been expected in Louisiana, and undoubtedly less than if the sample had been drawn from the convents or from the colleges in the interior of the state. Only three out of the 200 appeared to be of practically pure French origin.

A group of forty-six young women who had, collectively, about 41 per cent of French ancestry was isolated and will be discussed, although it may be said here that the effect of French admixture, other than a lowering of stature, is not clearly demonstrated. [. . .]

The British subgroup averages larger in almost all measurements
than the entire 200 of whom they are a part. The
French-mixed group, on the contrary, averages smaller in
almost all dimensions.
[. . .]

It was a surprise not to find more differences in the pigmentation of hair and eyes in these two samples, particularly since many of the old Louisiana French immigrants appear to have been of the southern or Gascon type. There was a somewhat smaller percentage of light eyes among the French mixtures (17.4 per cent as contrasted with 25.4 per cent in the British), but the proportion of brown eyes was almost the same (36.6 per cent and 37 per cent, respectively, in the British and part French). There were more ‘mixed’ eyes in the French mixtures (45.6 per cent) than in the British (38 per cent). The hair color ran a little darker in the French mixtures, and there was more spread of distribution through light brown, medium brown and dark brown, while in the British there was more concentration in the medium brown class. There was only one decided blonde among the French mixtures but she, although a mixture of French and Spanish with only one north European great-grandparent (Irish), had extremely light yellow hair, eyebrows and eyelashes, and light gray eyes with only a mere trace of brown; combined with rather full lips and a large, convex, Spanish nose.

To summarize, the characteristics of these two groups, the ‘British’ and the partly French, are just about what one would expect, except, perhaps, as regards pigmentation. The British are the tallest and largest skeletally, but are not relatively heavier. [. . .]


The outstanding result of this regional study of ‘Old American’ women is the evidence of close correspondence, in average physical measurements and morphological characters, with similar groups from other parts of the United States. There is very little suggestion of a development, through geographical isolation, of a ‘ southern type ’ of American woman. It is significant that the closest approximation of the different means is found where the location of points for measurement is most easily determined; while some of the wider divergences are in those dimensions wherein there might reasonably be expected more individual differences in the anthropometric technique of various observers; or in those which might be affected by environmental influences such as climate and physical activity. The group measured appears to have a more slender build, a slightly more dolicocephalic cranium, smaller lower face, flatter chest, and more slender hand, than the average ‘Old American’ woman of college age. There may possibly be a higher percentage of dark-eyed women among Old Americans of the Gulf Coast region than in other localities, judging from our sample, but there is no good evidence of any particular difference in hair color.

Stature in Old Virginians
American Journal of Physical Anthropology, VOL. XV. NO. 3

This study was undertaken to assist in establishing standards for future comparison, at all ages and in both sexes, of a stock that has been in one environment for at least three generations. It is to supplement Hrdlicka’s studies on the Old Americans. Physical examinations and measurements have been made during the past twelve years on more than 3000 Old Virginians of both sexes between the ages of six and sixty years, whose families have been residents of Virginia for two generations or more, many since the earliest settlements. [. . .]

4. Conclusions

General. The Old Virginians and other Old Americans are the tallest great group of peoples in the world.

The Old Virginians of the mountain section of the state, the western part, including the Valley of Virginia and the Piedmont section, are taller than those from the Tidewater section on the east. This may be partly the result of environment, but is also partly the pioneer British, and especially the Scots, who make up the larger part of the population in the western portion of the state.

The planters of Albemarle county and other suburban residents are taller than the urban population. The Old Virginian students at the University of Virginia are taller than the drafted men or volunteers of the army in the World War, also Old Virginians. [. . .]

Throughout the world the peoples of the temperate zone are generally taller than those of the arctic or tropic zones and those of the interior are taller than those of the sea coast. [. . .]

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