Brow Beat

Which Little Women Has the Littlest Women?

We break it down.

Stills from the 1933, 1949, 1994, and 2019 film versions of Little Women, showing various incarnations of the March sisters.
Not actual size. RKO/Sony/Sony/MGM.

Greta Gerwig’s Little Women marks the seventh time Louisa May Alcott’s little novel has made the big screen, and with a $30 million five-day opening, the newest version is on track to become the biggest Little Women in the history of Little Women. Critics agree that Gerwig gracefully walks the tightrope between fidelity to Alcott’s novel and making a movie of her own, but how faithful is the new Little Women to Alcott’s title? Exactly how little are the little women in Little Women, and which Little Women out of all the Little Women has the littlest little women?

Calculating the littlest little women in Little Women turned out to be no small task, so to shrink it down to a manageable size, we hired more than 150 leading experts in the fields of metrology, filmography, meteorology, and averageology, and teamed them up with consultants from the Marion Steam Shovel Company and Professional Law Corporation to handle the exhumations and ensuing lawsuits. To do the actual measurements, we rented a Michelson-Fabry-Pérot laser interferometric stadiometer from CERN, a device capable of measuring the littleness of each little woman in each Little Women to subatomic accuracy. After the expense report was approved and the money had been safely transferred to our Panamanian shell corporation, we fired all the scientists and cancelled the equipment rentals, googled “Firstname Lastname Height” for each cast member, and wrote down the first result we found.

Although the study was a big financial win for the Corporación Extremadamente Legítima Para Analizar Datos Biométricos, S.A., our methodology did have its limitations: It provided very little data regarding the littleness of the little women in the 1917 or 1918 versions of Little Women, both of which are lost films. But after extensively ignoring biographical information and actuarial tables, then not even bothering to download country-specific average height data for the last 100 years, we estimated that silent-era actresses Dorothy Bernard, Daisy Burrell, Lillian Hall, Florence Flinn, Isabel Lamon, Mary Lincoln, Ruby Miller, and Muriel Myers were each exactly eight feet tall. Unfortunately, the gargantuan and wholly imaginary height of their casts disqualified the silent-era Little Women films from seriously contending in our little littlest little women in Little Women contest, so that is the last you will hear about them in this article. That leaves five Little Women movies—1933, 1949, 1994, 2018, and 2019—each containing four little women, for a total of twenty Little Women little women, of various degrees of littleness. Here’s how Little Women’s portrayal of little women has changed over the years:

A graph tracing the heights of the actresses who have played the primary characters in five adaptations of Little Women.
C.E.L.P.A.D.B. / Microsoft Excel

The long-term implications of this data for future film adaptations of Little Women—and indeed, the future of cinema in general—are too obvious to spell out here. The trend becomes even less striking when we calculate the total heights of all the little women in Little Women, as though they were standing atop each other’s heads while trying to sneak onto a roller coaster at Six Flags New England:

A graph showing the total height of the actresses in each Little Women adaptation over time.
C.E.L.P.A.D.B. / Microsoft Excel

As the graph shows, poor nutrition on the home front during World War II (plus the fact that Katherine Hepburn was skewing the averages in 1933) led to a precipitous increase in Little Women’s little women’s littleness; it took decades for Little Women’s little women to return to their historical littleness norm. So congratulations to director Mervyn LeRoy, whose 1949 adaptation of Little Women cast the littlest women as the little women of Little Women, and to June Allyson, who, at 5’1”, was the littlest Little Women’s littlest woman. But what accounts for the steep decline in littleness in little women between 2018 and 2019? The little women in director Clare Niederpruem’s modern retelling of Little Women averaged 5’ 4”; just one year later, Gerwig’s little women were, on average, ¾” taller. If that trend continues, Little Women’s little women will be 50 feet tall by the year 2696—raising the troubling question of whether or not a fifty-foot tall little woman can be considered “little” at all. And that’s before we even think about the possibility that the actresses who have played one of Little Women’s little women on screen might figure out how to defy time, space, and death itself in order to combine into one gigantic little woman, like Voltron. Here’s the terrifying data:

A graph showing one data point: All the actresses from Little Women would be more than 107 feet tall if they stood atop each others heads.
C.E.L.P.A.D.B. / Microsoft Excel

Little Women scientists refer to that image as the “Hockey Puck Graph” because it is the same shape as a hockey puck and just as informative. But you don’t have to become an expert in misusing badly-sourced height data for actresses who have appeared in film adaptations of Louisa May Alcott novels to understand the implications here: It’s vitally important that we immediately invest much more money, as a society, into statistical analysis of Little Women movies. As it happens, I know a company in Panama that specializes in exactly this kind of work.