Popular Science Monthly/Volume 58/March 1901/The Height and Weight of the Cuban Teachers

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WHEN the Cuban teachers were in Cambridge last summer, it was commonly observed that they seemed to be smaller in size and stature than our own American teachers and students. This impression was undoubtedly favored by the peculiar manner in which some of the Cubans wore their clothing. Many of the men had their coats cut in at the waist, and wore them tightly buttoned about the waist and chest, while the trousers were large and full, especially at the knee. This gave the bodies of the men a lean and slender appearance. Most of the women went without their hats when going to and from the recitation halls, and, although many wore high-heeled shoes, the diminutive stature was very apparent.

In order to determine the facts as to the physical status of the Cuban teachers, about a thousand (973) of them were measured and weighed at the Hemenway Gymnasium at Harvard University during the first week in August, 1900. As this work was undertaken in connection with the regular work of the Harvard Summer School of Physical Training, the time that could be given to the measurements was necessarily limited, and the height and weight were the only physical observations taken and recorded. In order to facilitate the work, each teacher was given a card to fill out, upon which were blank spaces for his number, date of measurement, name, date of birth, and his own and his parents' nationality. The cards distributed to the women were pink in color; those given to the men were green. These cards were brought to the gymnasium by the persons who desired to be measured, and the height and weight, taken in inches and pounds, were entered upon the cards, which were then left to be tabulated. Contrary to the usual custom with American students, the height and weight of the Cubans were taken with the clothing and shoes on. Three-quarters of an inch were allowed for the height of the heel of the shoe, and six per cent, of the total weight of each woman and seven per cent, of the total weight of each man was allowed for the weight of the clothing. The subtraction of the height of the heel of the shoe and the weight of the clothing from the original height and weight as taken, make these factors in the measurement of the Cubans comparable with the students and teachers of several of the colleges for men and women in the United States. This comparison seems to me altogether desirable, not only that we may learn something of the physical characteristics of the Cubans, in order to help them in their efforts to attain a national independence, but in order that we may learn something of our own strength and weakness, and be able to govern ourselves accordingly.

The ages of the American students measured, which we present for comparison, ranged from 16 to 30, while the ages of the Cuban teachers ranged from 16 to 60. As the growth in stature is usually completed about the twenty-second year, the number beyond this age who were measured would have little influence in raising the average height. The weight, however, may increase up to the fiftieth or sixtieth year, and if any considerable number of persons beyond the age of 30 or 40 are included in this observation, the average weight would be considerably increased. In the factor of weight, therefore, the Americans and Cubans were hardly comparable, because there were so many of the Cubans who were older than the Americans, and consequently might be expected to weigh more. The effect of this increased weight due to age shows itself in a peculiar way, as will be observed by reference to Chart 2.

After the cards were collected from the Cubans they were tabulated according to the percentile grade method advocated by Francis Galton. By this method the medium weight and height which 50 per cent, surpassed and 50 per cent, failed to reach, were determined, also the values which smaller and larger per cents, exceeded or fell short of.

In referring to Table No. 1 it will be observed that there were 973 Cuban teachers measured. Four hundred and seventy-nine of these were men and 494 women. The youngest man was 16 years of age, and the oldest 64, while the youngest woman was 13, and the oldest 59. The medium age, i. e., the age which 50 per cent, surpassed and 50 per cent, fell short of, was 27 years for the men and 24 years for the women. Ten per cent, of the men were more than 44 years of age, and 10 per cent, of the women were 38 years and over. The table of American college students with whom the Cuban teachers were compared was made up from the measurements of about 3,000 men and 2,000 women, taken more than fifteen years ago. It is only fair to state that the average height and weight in several of these institutions for both sexes has increased somewhat since then. Of this number comprising the American table, the youngest man was 16, and the oldest 45, while the youngest woman was 15, and the oldest 40. The medium age of the male student was 20 years, and the medium age of the female student was 18.8 years. Ninety-five per cent, of the American male students were under 26 years of age, which was the age surpassed by
PSM V58 D490 Physical size differences between americans and cubans.png

over 50 per cent, of the Cuban male teachers. Although the Cuban female teachers were younger than the Cuban male teachers, 60 per cent, of the former had attained an age which was only surpassed by 5 per cent, of the American female students. Almost all the extra attainments in stature and in weight that may be attributable to age are, therefore, in possession of the Cubans.

In comparing the distribution of height and weight among the two nationalities (see Table No. 1 and Charts Nos. 1 and 2), some interesting and suggestive facts are brought to our attention. Among the American male students measured, the shortest was 54.7 inches and the tallest was 75.6 inches. Among the Cuban male teachers the shortest was 55.9 inches and the tallest was 75.6. Although there is but little difference in the extremes represented by the two nationalities, the difference in the stature attained by the greatest number in the two groups is very striking. The medium height of the American male student is 67.7 inches, while only 10 per cent, of the Cuban male teachers attain this stature. The medium height of the Cuban male teachers was found to be 64.3 inches, but this height is surpassed by over 90 per cent, of the American male students.

Upon referring to the figures giving the height of the women, it will be observed that the American female students have a greater range of extremes, as would naturally follow from their larger numbers, the tallest American being 71.3 inches and the shortest 53.2, while the tallest Cuban female teacher was 68.9 inches and the shortest 54.7 inches. The medium height of the American female student is 62.6 inches, and the medium height of the Cuban female teacher is 60.3 inches. Over 80 per cent, of the American female students surpass the stature attained by 50 per cent, of the Cuban female teachers, or only 20 per cent, of the latter attain a stature of 62.2 inches, which is surpassed by 50 per cent, of the former.

The distribution of weights (see Table No. 1) in the two groups is equally striking and suggestive. The heaviest American male student in the group weighed 229.3 pounds, and the lightest weighed 72.8 pounds. The heaviest Cuban male teacher weighed 202 pounds, and the lightest 85 pounds. The medium weight of the American male student was 134.5 pounds, and the medium weight of the Cuban male teacher was 114 pounds. More than 90 per cent, of the American male students surpass in weight the 114 pounds attained by only 50 per cent, of the Cuban males, and only 5 per cent, of the latter exceeded 150 pounds.

The heaviest American female student in the group weighed 218 pounds, and the lightest 77.2 pounds. The heaviest Cuban female teacher weighed 220 pounds and the lightest 74 pounds, which surpasses the American females in the two extremes. The medium weight of the American female student was 114.6 pounds, and the medium weight of the Cuban female teacher was 102 pounds. Eighty per cent, of the American female students surpass the medium weight of the Cuban female teachers, but on the other hand, 10 per cent, of the Cuban women surpass 128 pounds in weight, which is exceeded by only 20 per cent, of the American women students.

Many other interesting comparisons may readily be made. Upon referring to Table 2, some of the differences in the several percentile grades of the two sexes and nationalities readily become apparent.

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Chart 1.

The medium Cuban man is 12 pounds heavier than the medium Cuban woman, but the smaller Cuban men are 13 or 14 pounds heavier than the smaller Cuban women, while the larger Cuban men are only 2 and 6 pounds heavier than the larger Cuban women. This would seem to indicate that the Cuban women tend to take on flesh as they grow older much more readily than the Cuban men, or that through some selective agency the larger and stronger type of Cuban man is not well represented among the teaching force. In all probability, the stronger and heavier men would have entered the army or engaged in some more vigorous occupation than teaching school.

Among the many things that interested the Cubans in our people was the freedom of our women and the opportunities they enjoyed for growth and development, both mentally and physically. But what shall we say to the fact that the medium American woman is 19.9 pounds lighter than the medium American man, and that the difference increases in the mans favor all through the different percentile grades.

PSM V58 D493 Physical size differences between americans and cubans.png
Chart 2.
If our American women have better opportunities for growth and development than the Cuban women, why do they not compare more favorably with the American men, in weight and height, than the Cuban women do with the Cuban men? Is it due to the inferiority of the American woman, or the superiority of the American man? Has the heavier and more buxom type of woman been selected, and left her leaner and lighter sister to wed the arts and sciences? Have the admirable opportunities for physical training and athletics,
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afforded our male students, begun to show the expected results by a general increase of weight and stature, that has not yet been attained by our college women? Can it be true that our American women are beginning to show the material cost of attempting to build a highly organized brain and maintain their special physiological function at the same time? Although in primitive races the two sexes are almost always more nearly alike physically, perhaps the little contrast between the Cuban male and female teachers as compared with the contrast between the American male and female students, may be due to the superiority of the physique of the Cuban women in comparison with the physique of the Cuban men. This supposition is greatly strengthened by again comparing the difference in the medium weight of the Cuban male teacher with that of the American student. The latter is 20.5 pounds heavier than the former, which is even in excess of the amount which the American male exceeds the American female in weight. On the other hand, we find that the medium American female student exceeds the medium Cuban female teacher by 12.6 pounds, which is more than the average Cuban man exceeds the average Cuban woman. The weight of the Cuban man and the American woman is very nearly the same in all of the percentile grades, as will be observed in noticing the close proximity and correspondence of the curves in Chart No. 1.

The differences in height follow the same general trend as those in weight. (See Table No. 2.) There is a difference of 4 inches in the medium height of the Cuban man and the Cuban woman, while the difference between the American man and the American woman is 5.1 inches. In both nationalities there is less comparative difference between the small men and the small women and the large men and the large women, in point of height, in the various percentile grades, than there is difference in weight. The difference between the medium height of the American man and the Cuban man is 3.4 inches, while the difference between the medium height of the Cuban women and the American women is 2.3 inches. Here, again, in all the grades, the comparative differences in height were much less than the comparative differences in weight. In this respect it is interesting to note that most of the Cubans gained steadily in weight all the time they were in Cambridge, and many returned to Cuba in a better condition of health than when they came to the United States.

If we would inquire into the real cause of the diminutive stature and weight of the Cuban teachers of both sexes when compared with our student type, we must begin with the question of race. The agencies, conditions and environment that have been working for generations upon a people stamp their almost indelible effects upon them, and give them the physical characteristics which we readily recognize in the different national types. Upon looking up the nationality of the Cuban teachers as recorded on their cards, we find that of the men 74 per cent, had Cuban fathers and mothers, 17 per cent, had Spanish fathers and Cuban mothers, while 2 per cent, descended from parentage of mixed Cuban, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Negro and American origin.

Among the women, 71 per cent, had Cuban fathers and Cuban mothers, 22 per cent. Spanish fathers and Cuban mothers, 3 per cent. Spanish fathers and Spanish mothers, while 4 per cent, had mixed descent of Cuban, American, French and Mexican origin. In both the men and women the descent is so largely Cuban and Spanish that the influence of the other nationalities would hardly be appreciable. We must look, then, to Spanish and Cuban ancestry and to the conditions under which they have lived to account in a large measure for the poor physique of their descendants as we see them to-day.

Looking up the physical status of the Spaniards, as shown by their height and weight, we find the height of the average Spaniard to be 65.64 inches, according to the report of the Anthropometric Committee of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and Baxter's report of the soldiers entering the U. S. Army during the Civil War. In the latter report, the men from Italy, Spain and Portugal, in the order given, are shown to have had the lowest average stature of all the recruits that entered the service. Assuming that the Spanish soldiers were built on the same lines as the Cuban teachers, that is, weighing about 1.77 pounds to every inch in stature, it would make them average about 116.18 pounds. This is a very low standard of physical attainment, and ranks the Spanish immigrants who come to this country with the Portuguese, Hungarians, Hindoos, Bavarians, Chinese and North American Esquimaux.

Concerning the causes that have led to Spain's physical, mental and moral deterioration, it is hardly necessary to speak. When we consider that during the dark days of the Inquisition, from 1481 to 1808, more than 340,000 persons were punished for their religious convictions, and 32,000 of these were burnt alive, and that thousands who represented the nation's best blood fled from the country—what other result could have been expected? Let us turn now to the island of Cuba. Columbus described the native Cubans as 'loving, tractable and peaceable; though entirely naked, their manners were decorous and praiseworthy.' Another authority says 'the early Cubans seem to have been men of medium height, broad shoulders, brown skinned, fiat-featured and straight-haired.' Into this native element has been poured an infusion of Spaniards, Creoles, Negroes, Chinese and other foreign blood, with its inevitable tendency to mix races.

Prom a physical point of view, the Cubans of to-day are inferior to their Spanish forefathers. This fact is attributed principally to the enervating effect of the climate, hut there are other causes. The Cubans being naturally a domestic and affectionate people seek to form marital relations at a very early age. Many a young man is a father before he is eighteen years of age, by a wife a couple of years younger. Girls are considered women at the age of thirteen or fourteen, and many of them are mothers of a considerable family before they are twenty. When we consider that the human organism is not fully developed until the age of twenty-one or twenty-two, even in a tropical climate, a large number of these premature marriages and all that they imply might easily account for the physical inferiority of the race. Another custom which I understand is practised more or less extensively among the best of Cuban families, can not but have a damaging effect upon the life and health of the child, and consequently upon the adult physique. This is the pernicious habit of bandaging infants in swaddling clothes. (See 'Cuba, Past and Present,' by Richard Davey.)

The object, in all probability, is to give the child what is termed by some persons a fine figure; but, inasmuch as every attempt of this kind tends to cramp the vital organs and eventually to stunt growth and development, it would seem to be one of the customs which the Cuban ladies might well afford to abandon if they hope to rear a vigorous people. Another custom, which, however, is not confined to Cuba, is the excessive use of tobacco. But in that country, I am informed, almost every man, woman and child appears to be addicted to the habit of smoking. (See 'Cuba, Past and Present.') Tobacco may be a solace to the aged, a force regulator for many, and even a food to some persons, through the property it possesses of lowering organic activity. But this is the very reason why it should not be used by aspiring youth who wish to attain a vigorous manhood. Excessive smoking produces disturbances in the blood, mucous membranes, stomach, heart, lungs. the sense organs and in the brain and nervous system. When indulged in freely by the young, the habit of smoking causes impairment of growth, premature development and physical prostration. This custom alone, if universally practised by one or two generations, would certainly tend to dwarf the people who become enslaved by it.

A tropical climate does not invite one to active exercise, and the Cubans as a people may well be excused for not indulging in the violent athletic games now so popular with the Northern races. But it has always seemed to me strange that they do not avail themselves of the opportunities present for swimming and bathing. I understand that there are ample bathing places, but the people of either sex seem to have a prejudice against their free use. When one recalls that the South Sea Islanders of the Pacific are among the tallest and best-formed people in the world, averaging 5 feet 9.33 inches in height, it is natural to associate their fine physiques with their passionate fondness for swimming, which is one of the best of known exercises for giving one an all-round development.

The Cubans, as a class, have been reported by different American authors to be uncleanly, and some of the Cambridge people feared that this personal neglect might prove troublesome during the Northern sojourn of their visitors. Passing over the right of the Americans to make this criticism, who were themselves criticized by Dickens and other English travelers, not so many years ago, for this same defect, and who are not even now a water-loving people—I wish to say that bathing for cleanliness, with free use of perfumed soap, etc., is of little value from a hygienic point of view, compared to the bathing that follows a profuse perspiration produced by physical exercise. If, in connection with the use of water in the summer season, the skin is frequently exposed to the direct rays of the sun, and immediate contact with the air, it will be greatly improved in its functional power. In my personal contact with young men in the examining room, I am more and more impressed with the importance of keeping the skin in good condition, not only as a means of maintaining health and preventing disease, but of adding to one's nervous and muscular power. Since custom has decreed that the body shall be altogether covered, even in the tropics, the skin has lost much of its beauty, as well as its health-preserving qualities.

A dark complexion is the result of living for a long time in a tropical climate, and is not indicative of racial inferiority, as is too frequently assumed where the white and black races come together. The habit which many Cuban women have of plastering their faces with rice powder until they look almost ghastly, seems to us very singular, in view of the fact that so many of our own well-bred youth of both sexes spend their summer vacations at the seashore or in the mountains, earnestly endeavoring to acquire a tanned skin and a bronzed or olive-brown complexion.

Another custom which prevailed among many of the Cuban women who were in Cambridge was that of wearing narrow-toed, high-heeled shoes. The Cubans have naturally small hands and feet, and perhaps it is pardonable for a people to affect to exaggerate a little the thing upon which they pride themselves. Here, again, we see something of Spanish blood and the traditions of slavery. Those who toil for a living have large hands and feet: slaves toil for a living; therefore, slaves have large hands and feet. Those who do not have to work for a living have small hands and feet: ladies do not have to work for a living; therefore, ladies have small hands and feet. It is only necessary to carry this line of reasoning a step farther to see why the Chinese aristocrat bandages the feet of his daughter until they become so small and crippled that she cannot walk, or the prospective Spanish aristocrat crowds her feet into pointed-toed shoes, with heel in the middle of the foot, with the same result. This inability to walk with ease and com- fort was made very apparent among the Cuban teachers in their his- torical and geological excursions about Cambridge. Upon investiga- tion, it was found that the Cuban women were wearing narrow, pointed- toed shoes, with high heels, numbering in sizes from two to four, and that the Cuban men were wearing the same style shoe, numbering in size from three to six. These are the sizes usually worn by our Amer- ican boys and girls ranging in age from ten to fourteen. Our women wear shoes ranging in size from No. 21/2 to 8, and our men shoes ranging in size from No. 6 to 10.

Of course, a smaller stature on the part of both Cuban men and women implies smaller feet, but in order that the feet, though small, should be of service, the toes and joints must be allowed freedom of movement. This they cannot obtain if the feet are crowded into small, tight-fitting, stiff-soled, high-heeled shoes.

Our American men and women, after enduring years of pedal in- firmities, have at last learned the value of common-sense shoes. The interest in tennis, golf, cross-country walking and other forms of phys- ical exercise has done much to bring about a needed reform in America in caring for the feet. It is a recognized fact that conquering armies often depend as much upon their ability to march as they do upon their ability to fight. So, in more senses than one, it is necessary for a people to get a footing in the world before they think of com- peting with rivals or maintaining their independence as a nation.

While we all rejoice in the efforts of the Cubans to improve the condition of their schools, and admire their interest and enthusiasm for intellectual attainments—let it be remembered that every nation that has risen to eminence in this respect has always had a strong physical foundation to build upon. My observations among the Cubans have led me to believe that they are not so far behind the Americans in point of mental ability and acumen as they are in lack of physical vigor, and some moral aim or purpose to strive for. This condition is partly due to the effects of a tropical climate, and the corrupting in- fluence of an effete civilization like that maintained in the Island of Cuba so many years by the Spanish Government. But I have already pointed out some of the physical defects of the Cuban people that are the outcome largely of faulty habits of living—short stature, light weight, flat chests, slender waists, small hands, little, narrow feet and emaciated limbs. These are fundamental defects, and are usually as- sociated with a relatively feeble digestion, weak heart and incapacious lungs.

The remedies I would suggest are equally fundamental. Restraint from conjugal relations and the breeding of children until both sexes have completed their growth and development. Eating more food and drinking less coffee. Abstinence from the use of tobacco during the period of adolescence. Proper clothing for infants and children, and freedom from the restrictive and cramping influence of coverings for the trunk, limbs and feet at all times. The establishment of systematic habits of exercising and bathing from early youth to adult life, in view of attaining greater physical beauty and perfection. Arouse an ambition in young men to be strong, active and courageous, and incite them to the practise of such sports and games as tend to cultivate these qualities. Kindle among the young women an admiration for large, vigorous and manly men, in preference to little men, with effeminate airs and graces. A few years of strenuous living with these simple ideals in view will not only make the future Cubans larger and stronger than the present generation, but will go a long way towards enabling even the present Cubans to realize some of their higher ideals and nobler aspirations.