As a twin, I could not help but be attracted to this story, and as I studied their life in preparation for writing this article, it wouldn’t take long for me to see the red flags. From the media perspective, you’d think the quads and their families were wealthy, with a house on 150-acres of land and the live-in nurse.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Mary Louise, Mary Ann, Mary Alice, and Mary Catherine were born on May 23, 1946, at Annie Penn Hospital in North Carolina. Known as “The Fultz Quadruplets,” they were the first recorded identical black quadruplets globally and the first set of quads to survive in the South.
If the fact they are all named marry isn’t weird enough for you, their white doctor, Dr. Fred Klenner, delivered and named the girls after women in his family. His wife, Mary Ann, his aunt Mary Alice, his daughter Mary Louise and his great aunt Mary Catherine.
The girls were born at the segregated hospital wing, which was really just the basement. Mr. Fultz (whose name was James, not Pete as he was called) was a Sharecropper, and Mrs. Fultz being both deaf and mute, couldn’t read and write according to “And Then There was One” by Lorraine Ahearn, (August 2002). Besides this, the Fultz’s had six other children without a car, electricity, phone, and running water.
Thus, they didn’t debate when Klenner negotiated a deal with a Pet Milk Company that paid all medical expenses, food, land, a house, and a live-in nurse to care for the girls. All of this was in exchange for using the girls for promotional purposes. Klenner even created a schedule where people could come and visit the quads, who were put on display behind a glass screen.
“And so it was that the Fultz Quadruplets left Annie Penn Hospital: under contract, named after their white doctor’s relatives, headed home to a glass-enclosed nursery and driven there in a pair of McLaurin Funeral Home ambulances.”
– Lorraine Ahearn
Blogger Ladyrayne on Talking Stuff, who wrote a post on the Quads after listening to The Tom Joyner Morning Show last year wrote, “According to Edna Saylor, the nurse who worked at the Annie Penn Hospital and who would eventually become the quads legal guardian, the farm that was given to the Fultz family really didn’t amount to much and PET could have done a better job when it came to helping the Fultz family. Ms. Saylor stated that PET took advantage of the Fultz family because they were considered backwoods type of people.”
The Quads were adopted by Charles and Elma Saylor, who moved them to Yanceyville, and their travels became more frequent. They flew to Chicago at the invitation of Ebony publisher Johnnie Johnson. He featured them on his cover four times, appeared in Chicago’s star-studded Bud Billiken Parade, went on TV with Roy Rogers and Texas Pete, and would go on to appear in many more ads and make TV appearances. At thirteen (1959), the sisters performed as a string quartet in the annual Orange Blossom Festival in Miami, Florida, and at sixteen (‘ 62), they were featured in a Pet Milk ad for an autographed picture. Many remember them most from their visit to meet Presidents Harry S. Truman and John F. Kennedy.
Pet Milk became the first to offer nonfat dry milk, an advance over the powdered milk developed in the 1920s. Sales soared when Pet Milk took advantage of the post-war baby boom and promoted The Fultz Sisters, a national sensation due to their rarity, making 1950 the all-time-high sales year for Pet Evaporated Milk.
“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.” (Chares L. Sanders, Ebony Magazine, November 1968)
Sadly, all the Fultz sisters developed breast cancer later in life, with only one sister who survived it (Mary Catherine).
EBONY, “The Fultz Quads” by Charles L. Sanders, Nov. 1968.
Ebony’s Spread on the Sisters can be found on Google Books HERE (Page 212) (Its cool going through the Ads from 1968 too!)
News & Record
“And then there was one” by Staff Writer Lorraine Ahearn, Aug. 2002.
Talking Stuff Blog