Have you ever heard of the Fultz quadruplets? For those who haven’t, they’re a rare part of United States history you don’t hear much about.
In May of 1946, Pete and Annie Mae Fultz welcomed four beautiful baby girls – identical quadruplets. The girls’ sharecropper father and deaf mother, had quite a time caring for them as multiple births were a rarity back then. But caring for four babies wasn’t their only challenge. They were also raising their six other children on their farm.
A Rare Birth:
Back in 2002, journalist and educator Lorraine Ahearn released a detailed report about the truth behind the rare quadruplets’ lives. On May 3, 1946, Mary Louise, Mary Ann, Mary Alice, and Mary Catherine were delivered by a white doctor named Fred Klenner at Annie Penn Hospital in Reidsville, N.C. Since they were born during segregation, they were delivered in an area of the hospital known as “The Basement,” which was considered the “blacks-only” wing of most hospitals. From the time the beautiful babies were born, they were featured on the covers of magazines but one of the most notable advertisements they were featured on was the P.E.T. Milk advertisements. In fact, Dr. Klenner reportedly kept them in a glass-enclosed nursery as if they were on display. The quadruplets were used as a drawing card to market the milk to African American consumers.
Their parents’ contract deal with Dr. Klenner and the company ensured they’d be taken care of as long as they abided by the contract guidelines. Back then, such an agreement may have seemed like a decent exchange since their parents had so many children to care for. According to Black America Web, the family was given a farm, a nurse, food, and medical care. But of course, this was nothing more than a drop in the bucket considering what the company and Dr. Klenner profitted off them. They were still cut short when it came to the real profit behind the deal.
“[Mr. Fultz] had never made more than $500 a year in his whole life. So when Pet came around with that offer, Mr. Fultz and the others thought they’d had a blessing from heaven. You’ve got to remember that all that was more than 20 years ago in the rural South, and anything that white people did for you in those days was kind of unusual. And to think that after all those years, the Fultz family would have a 150-acre farm and their own house just given to them by a big company way off in St. Louis. Why, everyone down there thought that was just marvelous.”- EBONY, “The Fultz Quads” by Charles L. Sanders, Nov. 1968
Although P.E.T. had given a farm, it definitely wasn’t an equal exchange for the profits the company most likely made off the girls. It has also been reported that Dr. Klenner was the one who actually gained the real financial profit from the babies’ advertisements. He is said to have credited his “Vitamin C therapy” and the P.E.T. evaporated milk for the girls’ health since it was uncommon for children born during multiple births to survive until adulthood.
“The doctor took it upon himself to name the girls — all of them Mary, followed by the names of the women in the Klenner family. There was Ann, for the doctor’s wife; Louise, his daughter; Alice, his aunt; and Catherine, his great-aunt.
To the delivery nurse, who is black, it didn’t seem strange.
“At that time, you know, it was before integration,” Margaret Ware, 79, recalled recently. “They did us how they wanted. And these were very poor people. He was a sharecropper, Pete [Mr. Fultz] was, and she [Mrs. Fultz] couldn’t read or write. — News & Record, “And then there was one” by Lorraine Ahearn, Aug. 2002″
The Fultz Quadruplets were born May 23rd 1946 they are the world's first recorded set of identical black Quadruplets. pic.twitter.com/tZ4K2xX4JX
— Raymond Niles (@forres2) February 8, 2018
Taken Advantage Of:
Since the Fultz couple could not read or write, Dr. Klenner named all four of the girls after his own family members. Edna Saylor, a black nurse who worked at the hospital, eventually became the girls’ legal guardian. She’s also the person who shared details about the girls’ history, admitting that P.E.T. “took advantage of the Fultz family because they were considered backwoods type of people.” But despite the disheartening treatment their parents received, the girls were afforded the opportunity to attend college.
The Fultz sisters were all accepted into Bethune Cookman College on four-year scholarships. Initially, it seemed the girls were on the path to academic excellence, but unfortunately, after two years they decided to withdraw. Unable to adjust to the drastic life changes associated with college, the girls moved back home with their guardian Edna Saylor and her husband. The girls struggled throughout adulthood and sadly the farm their family had received was situated on a difficult piece of property. Earning only $350.00 a month from P.E.T., they faced financial difficulties and were left virtually broke.
They had always been [poor]. For no matter what the public thought, the highly publicized Pet Milk advertising contracts had brought in just enough money – $350 a month – to keep the Fultz Quads off North Carolina’s welfare rolls …
[Saylor then shares] “… Out of that $350 came my salary …
Somebody ought to just take a trip down to North Carolina and inspect that great farm that was played up so much in the newspaper stories. It’s in the middle of nowhere, and the land’s so poor that you can’t even get timber to grow on it anymore. Then the place has always been so hilly that you couldn’t raise good crops on it …
There was also a lot of publicity about the family’s ‘very own house’ on the farm. Let’s set the record straight: it was an old four-room place in which 13 to 14 people, including myself as the babies’ nurse, had to live. Pet Milk put in a faucet and electricity and a gas hot plate for cooking, and they closed in the front porch so that I’d have a place to sleep. That was, I guess you’d call it, the ‘nurse’s quarters’ — my room, out there on the porch …
I’m not saying that Pet didn’t do everything it promised to do; I’m saying that they could have done more.” — EBONY
A Disheartening End:
Although the girls became the third set of American-born quadruplets to survive until adulthood, sadly, three of them died of breast cancer before they reached the age of 55. Now, Catherine Fultz Griffin is reportedly the last surviving Fultz quadruplet.