Anna Haining Bates

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Anna Haining Bates
Anna Swan with her parents.jpg
Anna Haining Bates with her parents
Born Anna Haining Swan
(1846-08-06)August 6, 1846
Mill Brook, New Annan, Canada
Died August 5, 1888(1888-08-05) (aged 41)
Seville, Ohio
Nationality Canadian
Spouse(s) Martin Van Buren Bates (m. 1871–88)

Anna Haining Bates, born Anna Haining Swan (August 6, 1846 – August 5, 1888), was a Canadian from Mill Brook, New Annan (near present-day Tatamagouche), Colchester County, Nova Scotia, famed for her great height, believed to be 2.43 m (7'11½") at the peak of her stature.[1][2] Her parents were of average height and were Scottish immigrants. Some have argued that Anna was 7'6" but it is known from pictures and both families, i.e. Swan and Bates, that she was a few inches taller than her husband Martin Van Buren Bates who was 7'9" or 7'11"; she did not wear heeled shoes in photos with Martin because he was not fond of the fact she was taller than him.

Her growth rates[edit]

At birth Anna weighed approximately eighteen pounds (8.2 kg). Anna was the third of 13 children, all of the others being around average height. From birth she grew very quickly. On her fourth birthday she was 4 feet 6 inches (137 centimetres) tall. On her 6th birthday she was measured again, and she stood 5 feet 2 inches (157.48 centimetres) tall, an inch or two (2.5–5 cm) shorter than her mother. On her 11th birthday she stood in her bare feet 6 feet 2 inches (188 cm) tall and weighed 212 pounds (96 kg).[3] By her 15th birthday Anna Swan was at just over 7 feet (210 cm) tall. She would reach her full height two years later. Anna's feet measured 13 12 inches (34 cm) long.[4] Anna's body was in proportion throughout her childhood.[3]

Touring and marriage[edit]

The marriage of Martin van Buren to Anna Swan, 1871

Anna excelled at literature and music and was considered to be very intelligent. She also excelled at her studies of acting, piano and voice. She played Lady Macbeth in one play.

She had to be rescued from a fire at Barnum's museum in July 1865. The stairs were in flames and she was too large to escape through a window. In her fear she bowled over the men sent to help her. Employees of the museum found a derrick nearby, smashed the wall around a window on the third floor, and lowered Anna by block and tackle with 18 men holding the end of the rope. At the time Anna weighed 394 pounds (179 kg). Usually however, her weight was around 350 pounds (159 kg). Her highest recorded weight was 413 pounds (187 kg).

As part of her shows, Anna had a tape measure put around her waist and then had a lady from the audience put it around her own waist. The tape would go around the average woman's waist three times. In 1869, whilst on a tour of Britain, one newspaper reporter said Anna "Towers above all men when stood up, and most women when sat down. She has an oval face, and is softly spoken, with a gentle voice". She was also presented at court.[5]

When visiting a circus in Halifax with which Martin Van Buren Bates — another enormously tall person — was travelling, Anna was spotted by the promoter and hired on the spot. The giant couple became a touring sensation and eventually fell in love and, on 17 June 1871 in St Martin-in-the-Fields in London, they married. Rev. Rupert Cochrane, a friend of Anna's family who happened to be preaching in London at the time, agreed to conduct the ceremony. Despite his 6-foot-3-inch (1.91 m) stature, the Reverend looked small when standing next to the giant bride and groom.

In 1872, Anna and her husband purchased 130 acres (0.53 km2) of land and had furniture made to their specifications. Martin supervised the construction of the house. The main part of the house had 14-foot (4.3 m) high ceilings, while the doors were extra wide and were 8 and a 1/2 feet tall. The back part of the house was built an average size for servants and guests.


Anna conceived two children with Martin. One child was stillborn and the other lived less than a day. The first was a girl born on May 20, 1872; she was the same size her mother had been at her own birth. The Bates family moved to Seville, Ohio, in June 1874 on their return from the United Kingdom. While touring in the summer of 1878, Anna was pregnant for the second time. She went into labour on January 15, 1879. Anna continued in the first stages of labour for 36 hours. Their physician, Dr. Beach, realized that the birth was not going in a normal direction and tried using forceps, but the baby's head was too large. He called another doctor who also tried using forceps. They put a strong bandage around the baby's neck to assist with the delivery. The baby was born on January 19, and survived only 11 hours. He was the largest newborn ever recorded, at 23 pounds 12 ounces and nearly 30 inches tall and each of his feet were six inches (152 mm) long.[6] For this she was awarded a Guinness World Record.[7]

Final years[edit]

To help take their minds off their babies' deaths, the Bates' resumed touring with the W.W. Cole Circus in the summer of 1879, and again in the spring of 1880, but that was to be their final tour, after which they retired.

Anna spent her remaining years quietly on the farm that she and her husband owned, mostly away from the limelight. She had joined the local Baptist Church in 1877 and attended services with her husband on a Sunday. The pew in which they sat had to be enlarged and modified so they could sit comfortably. Anna sometimes taught Sunday school there.

Death and funeral[edit]

Anna Bates died unexpectedly in her sleep at her home on August 5, 1888, just one day before her 42nd birthday. She succumbed to heart failure after struggling with a thyroid goitre for some time previously.[8]

After his wife's death, Captain Bates wired Cleveland, Ohio, for a coffin. A standard size coffin was sent as they believed that the wire was a mistake. Furious about this, he contacted them again to say that his first wire was correct. The funeral had to be delayed as it took the coffin three further days to arrive.[9]

Anna, Martin and their children are buried in Mound Hill Cemetery in Seville, Ohio. Nearby is Anna's sister Maggie, who died from tuberculosis in the spring of 1875, aged 22.

In popular culture[edit]

The Biggest Modern Woman in the World, based on the life of Anna Swan, is a 1983 novel by Susan Swan, and a finalist for the Governor General's Award.[10]

The Thunder of Giants, a 2015 novel by Joel Fishbane, tells both the story of Anna Swan and that of a fictional actress hired to play Anna in a biopic in 1930s Hollywood.[11]


  1. ^ "Anna Swan: The Giantess of Nova Scotia". The Human Marvels. Retrieved 2015-09-27.
  2. ^ "Anna Swan: Nova Scotia's Remarkable Giantess". Retrieved 2015-09-27.
  3. ^ a b A biographical Sketch - Anna H Swan - 1871
  4. ^ The Belfast News - 18 December 1863
  5. ^ The People's Almanac Presents The Book of Lists. Book of Lists. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell. 1978. p. 309. ISBN 0-553-11150-7. 
  6. ^ "Woman gives birth to 'giant baby'". BBC news. January 21, 2005. 
  7. ^ Heaviest birth. Guinness World Records. "Anna Bates... gave birth to a boy weighing 9.98 kg (22 lb) and measuring 71.12 cm (28 in) at her home in Seville, Ohio, USA, on 19 January 1879."
  8. ^ Anna Swan: Nova Scotia's Remarkable Giantess - Final Years. Retrieved 2015-09-27.
  9. ^ They Live In The House The Giants Built The Cincinnati Post. April 17, 1948. Reprinted First National Bank Chronicle, Vol. 7, No. 2 – Winter 1996. Accessed 2008-7-8.
  10. ^ "The Biggest Modern Woman in the World". 
  11. ^ "The Thunder of Giants: a Novel". 

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