While on Facebook a couple of days ago I came across the cutest picture ever in the status update of one of the many vintage pages I follow. It was a photo of 4 adorable African American babies in the 1940s. The caption read :
The Fultz Quadruplets, the first quads to ever survive in the south.
After researching I found information to dispute the fact that they were the first surviving southern quads, I did find that they are the first ever African American quads on record to survive until adulthood.
I was immediately interested.
Back in the 40s there were no fertility drugs and in the South, most blacks were poor and on the verge of being malnourished, so the fact that the first surviving quads were in the south is amazing! I began to look up their story. Googling it, I found that most information on them came from sites that give information of the importance of breast feeding and specifically the importance of breast feeding in the black community...
The story goes:
Annie Mae Fultz was 37 years old and pregnant. She was the wife of a poor tenant farmer in North Carolina. During her pregnancy she had grown bigger than what was presumed "normal" (her x-rays presumed triplets) and went into town 3 weeks early to have her baby. You see, Annie, her husband (Pete) and their other children lived on a farm outside of town, and with Annie also being deaf and mute, no chances wanted to be taken with her already high risk pregnancy.
The Fultz Quadruplets were born May 23, 1946 at 3 pounds each. The doctor who delivered the children, Fred Klenner, was a family doctor in a small southern town. He didn't have any of the supplies we have today that are needed when the birth of multiples are involved. There was no incubator so he had to wrap them in cotton gauze blankets and place them very close together. And... let's not forget that it was 1946, a time of extreme racial segregation in the South and when blacks had almost no say in even their own lives. So because of this, Klenner took it upon himself to NAME ANNIE'S BABIES!!!! (I know, right?!?!?!) He named them all Mary, followed by names from his own family: Mary Ann (for his wife), Mary Louise (his daughter), Mary Alice (his aunt) and Mary Catherine (his great aunt). The black nurse who helped deliver the babies recalled not thinking much of it. She is quoted as saying:
"At that time, you know, it was before integration, They did us how they wanted. And these were very poor people. He was a sharecropper, Pete was, and she couldn't read or write."
It took no time at all before news of the quads spread and soon everyone wanted a piece of the the babies. At a time when baby formula companies were gaining momentum in the white community, many formula companies were looking to strengthen their presence in the black community. Most, if not all blacks were breast feeding at the time because of the simple fact that many could not afford infant formula. What better way to reel in African American business than with 4 beautiful, black baby girls. Borden and Carnation threw their hat in the ring, but in the end it was Pet that Klenner chose to let represent the girls. Klenner was awarded a contract with Pet Milk and made the girls guinea pigs for his "Vitamin C Therapy". In exchange for using the girls for promotional purposes, the Fultz's were given a nurse and medical care, food and a farm by Pet.
Fultz and one of the babies
Dr. Fred Klenner stated that visitors would be welcome at the home between the hours of 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. each afternoon, and that the quads could be viewed through a glass screen.
Yes, you read right. The girls were to be on display in there own home in their nursery behind a glass wall...
Throughout the years Pet Milk continued to promote their milk with the girls. They were on the covers of almost all of the black magazines at the time and almost every Pet Milk ad had them drinking Pet Milk, baking with Pet Milk and anything else that was thought to get people to buy the milk.
Mary Catherine looking at photos of her childhood still on display at the hospital
There has been a lot of talk about whether or not being fed Pet Milk exclusively through infancy and through a entire childhood had anything to do with the girls poor health later in life. It is said that even today breast feeding is much healthier than formula if mommy can manage it. And in the 40s I'm sure Pet Milk was not full of the vitamins and minerals of today's infant formula. I can't really see it containing many more vitamins and things babies need than regular store bought milk. Then again cancers, especially breast, have a big genetic component. So maybe Pet Milk wasn't the cause, but I'm sure it didn't help. I'm almost positive the Pet Milk of the 40s and 50s contained little if no cancer fighting properties... I have also heard that there were a lot of tests run on them and many shots given to them so...
I'm not sure why I've never heard of the Fultz Quads before, but I'm glad I know of them now. Finding history of such stories is fascinating. Since starting my vintage journey I've found myself being more and more enthralled with history. Especially the little known history of individuals. I feel that it's my job to not only celebrate the fashion and hair of the past but the events that make our country and world, for that matter, the place that it is today.
Had you ever heard of the Fultz girls before today?
(P.S. Sorry about the weird change in font toward the end...my computer just stopped with the normal font I was using...working on fixing it!!!! )