I’m just over six-foot tall. I’ve heard all the tall comments including “How’s the weather up there?” In elementary school I was taller than some of my teachers. Pants were typically what we call “flood length” meaning hems reached the top of my ankles. My legs are very long so I never sat down at clubs because I got tired of men asking me to dance then watching their eyes move upward as I stood up. Then I found the California Tip Toppers Club, the first tall club in the world.
The tall club movement began in 1938 as a wish of a 6’3” woman. Kae Sumner’s friends remember her lamenting the lack of leg room in the cafeteria, under her drafting table and even on buses. They recall her uttering “There ought to be a club for tall people.” Kae was painting dwarfs for the Disney Studio and on impulse she approached the L.A. Times with an idea for an article about the problems of being tall. The paper agreed and a two-page spread with Kae’s own illustrations appeared in the Times Sunday Magazine on March 20, 1938.
She wrote with a sense of humor but also to educate the public about the problems of being a tall woman. “And do you suppose I very often have the pleasure of dancing with a man check to check? Oh, no! It’s chin to cheek. My chin… his cheek. “ As an afterthought Kae invited taller than average folks to contact her and suggested they might get together to discuss the problems “facing their percentage of society.”
On May 1, 1938 they held their first meeting, a date still celebrated as the anniversary of the California Tip Toppers Club (CTTC) and TCI. While all other clubs have a height requirement of women 5’10” and men 6’2”, CTTC kept the original height requirement of 6’ for women and 6’4” for men.
I had the honor of sitting down and talking with this incredible woman several times. I don’t think she ever expected tall people who left the Los Angeles area to start clubs in whatever city they landed, but they did. Today TCI has more than 50 member clubs and approximately 2000 members spanning the United States and Canada. There is also a Tall Clubs European program.
In 1947 the first convention of tall clubs was hosted by the CTTC, in Hollywood, California. Besides providing time for tall people to socialize together and in some cases make lifelong friendships, the conferences also made an effort to educate manufacturers and the public as to the special needs of the tall person. Members wrote letters, telephoned, and visited businesses to encourage them to lower the cost of custom-made items such as longer beds and clothing that fit. Success greeted them occasionally, as in the ad which trumpeted, “Here it is Tip Toppers, you asked for it; the King Size Mattress!”
On June 29 tall people from around the world started to gather in Jacksonville, Florida for their annual week-long all Club convention. They will find new friends, have a TCI business meeting, vote for the next Miss TCI during a fun-filled pageant, and watch heads turn as they walk around town and visit tourist spots. They may even take some time to write the airlines to ask for more leg space and to understand that a 6’7″ man with broad shoulders shouldn’t need to buy two seats.