Fultz Quads meeting JFK
The Fultz Quads meeting President John F. Kennedy on the White House lawn in 1962. (JFK Library)

The Fultz sisters were born on May 23, 1946 and became the first identical African-American quadruplets on record.  They were instant celebrities upon entering the world and endured the highs and lows of publicity.

Born into the public eye

Fultz on Ebony
The survival of quadruplets into their first birthday was a rarity and created a national sensation. (EBONY)

Mr. and Mrs. Fultz were poor with six children when they gave birth to the identical quadruplets in the segregated wing of a North Carolina hospital.  Almost simultaneously, the cameras and endorsements came knocking because of the rarity of this high order multiple birth.  Of the interested companies, Pet Evaporated Milk offered to pay all medical bills associated with the birth, hire an in-home nurse to care for the girls, and give the family their own farming land and house.  The hired nurse, Elma Saylor, shares what the offer meant to the struggling family.

“[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

Doctor Fred Klenner, who delivered the Fultz Quads, actually negogiated the deal with Pet turning down two other milk companies, Borden and Carnation.  He seemed to take charge of the girls lives in the beginning, having experimentally put Mrs. Fultz on high dosages of vitamin C in the latter part of her pregnancy and then naming the quadruplets upon birth.  (The girls became Klenner’s “vitamin C babies”.)

“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″

Fultz baby
Dr. Fred Klenner holding one of the Fultz quadruplets.   (EBONY)

In addition to naming the sisters, Klenner set up visitations at the Fultz home for curious strangers who wanted to see the quadruplets.  The girls were put on display in a glass-enclosed nursery.

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. – News & Record

And so it began …

World Famous Fultz
One of their many Pet Milk advertisements.

Publicity and disappointment

The end of the Second World War had brought intense economic growth.  The Fultz Quads subsequently became “national icons of the post-war baby craze and of the birth of the black urban consumer,” appearing in countless Pet Milk advertisements into their teenage years.  (Pet Milk sold more cans in 1950 — four years into the sisters’ lives — than it had sold in its 65-year history.  The company attributes that feat to “the post-war prosperity and baby boom”, but one has to wonder what portion of that success is actually due to the Fultz Quads and five other quadruplets appearing as the faces for Pet Milk.)

Fultz Pet 3

As the Fultz Quads grew into young women, they continued to appear in the public eye. In November 1959, at age thirteen, they performed as a string quartet in the annual Orange Blossom Festival in Miami, Florida. For their 16th birthday, they were featured in a Pet Milk ad for an autographed picture of the girls.  That same year, they met President John F. Kennedy at the capital where twelve years before they had also met President Harry S. Truman during his walk. These are just some of the many appearances the Fultz Quads made.

Fultz on TV
From the Fultz Quads memory book.
Fultz 1962
Autographed picture appears in Pet Milk advertisement for their 16th birthday.

Many African Americans saw the Fultz Quads as the black version of the Dionne Quintuplets, reaping the monetary benefits of fame. However, behind closed doors, the sisters were not as compensated and financially secure as many thought. Unlike the white Dionne Quintuplets, who received $1 million in a trust fund at age seven, the girls were paid scraps. (The Dionne Quintuplets also have a sad story worth reading.) Elma Saylor, the nurse who was hired to care for them in their home, and her husband, Charles Saylor, had adopted the quadruplets in 1956 and knew the truth of their lives.

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

Aside from this truth, there was the reality that the sisters had difficulty adjusting to normal lives. After two years of college, the Fultz Quads were forced to withdraw.  When EBONY Magazine interviewed them in 1968, the sisters were in Peekskill, New York living in a small two-bedroom apartment with their adopted parents and working at a factory making men’s raincoats for low wages.  Though the girls were not exactly suffering, they were certainly not doing much better than the average African American at that time.

Breast cancer and death

Mary Catherine Fultz-Griffin
Mary Catherine Fultz-Griffin looks at a picture of she and her sisters at Annie Penn Hospital, their birthplace. (News & Record)

Later in life, the Fultz Quads went back to school ultimately graduating from Barbizon in 1985.  At least one of the sisters went on to marry, and that is all we really know about their lives until 2002.  The last journalist update on them sadly informed readers that three of the sisters had developed breast cancer and died.

The last one born, the unexpected one, she [Catherine] was now the only survivor. First, Louise had died of breast cancer at age 45, then Ann, from the identical cause at age 50. Finally, Alice had lost the same battle, at 55, her body about to leave Annie Penn in a funeral-home ambulance — the same way the over-taxed hospital transported the four babies home to their parents’ tobacco farm in 1946. – News & Record

It has been said that Catherine also developed breast cancer but then went into remission.  No other news has been found about the Fultz Quads since then.

 

SOURCES:
EBONY, “The Fultz Quads” by Charles L. Sanders, Nov. 1968.
News & Record, “And then there was one” by Lorraine Ahearn, Aug. 2002.

Have you heard about the Fultz Quads?

Chinwe

Healthy hair care tips and more!
http://www.healthyhairbody.com

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177 Comments on "The Fultz Sisters: The Fascinating and Tragic Story of America’s First Identical Black Quadruplets"

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Pat68

That doctor disgusts me.

devans00

Yes. It’s obvious he was planning to exploit the girls and cheat the family before they were born. The arrogance of naming the children after his family like they were a litter of puppies.

Makes me so angry.

maralondon

They left out the first holocaust committed by Germans against the people of Namibia. This is where Germany built their first concentration camps and went on to slaughter approximately half of the African people native to that region. I remember there was some kind of apology by the German government but as far as seeking to repair the damage that had been done, nothing. They can move on from what ever ills were committed against them(but not forget) because they have been compensated allowing them to rebuild their communities. They won’t even give us an apology.

chigozie@yahoo.com

This was news to me, I just read about it, totally shocking 🙁

Ellima

This was wholehearted exploitation and abuse of these precious babies and their parents, all for the profit margin of the white man. It’s a little like they put nice clothes on the house slaves and fed them well, but they were still slaves.

Lori
Might not be tragic, but sad enough that these beautiful young women and their families were robbed and taken advantage of, all for the sake of advertising “Pet Milk” . They were exploited and I say this because 1 they are “African American Quads” (very rare in the 40’s) and 2 because they had parents not intelligent enough to know or understand that their children’s faces were making this company millions while they were settling for next to nothing and a broke down farm. Also in this day and age it would be considered inhumane for some one (especially if… Read more »
mibtp

I don’t go to zoos because I hate the way wild animals are put on display and taken from their native land. And how were African’s treated? Slaves taken from their native land, put on display and forced to work. Hummmm

Chel

The mistreatment of black people by European-Americans. What else is new? We know white people have an on-going history of screwing black people over. Disgusting.

Clotee
I don’t understand what the tragedy is from the story. The sisters didn’t get the money that they would have gotten if they were white-a tragedy of the times. But they did get a better life than they would have had if they lived on the income of their mother. The sad part is they died young, but did they live a tragic life or even die a tragic death; I say no, admittedly, they died too young. But it seems to me they lived life maybe not exciting and they lived in closed quarters-so what, but I don’t see… Read more »
Charlie Mu
We don’t really know what would have happened if their people hadn’t gone along in with the deal. BUt we do know this: NO amount of bounty or reward justifies the appropriation of these children and the way which they and their family was exploited. Based on the article its clear that hey didn’t even get the real promised compensations that they were lured in with for selling their children or themselves into being displayed like a freak show. Now please let me disclaim, I’m not saying that they were portrayed in any way that is unbecoming and all of… Read more »
ebaiden
maybe the fact that they were treated no better than lab animals has something to do with the tragedy of this story., Also their mum was not allowed to breast feed them, and were left to look like slaves at an auction, and made to look like some type of freak of nature when in fact where blessings. I don’t know, that to me sounds inhumane, and no disrespect, but you sound like one of them old timers that have disappointed our generation, and wants us to be grateful for the little crumbs we get even though our ancestors where… Read more »
Clotee
Ebaiden, We have choices; the parents could have easily walked away. And yes I was raised during a difficult time, but never made excuses and, certainly, I will not blame anyone for my lot in life. My trust and faith in God has brought me long way. This generation is a disappointment unto itself. Look at history more than “african americans” have suffered, actually practically all races at one time or another, But Arican Americans must learn to stop mourning and grumbling over the past and move on. All this does is nurture hate and bittereness! Those sisters were in… Read more »
Clotee
Clotee I don’t understand what the tragedy is from the story. The sisters didn’t get the money that they would have gotten if they were white-a tragedy of the times. But they did get a better life than they would have had if they lived on the income of their mother. The sad part is they died young, but did they live a tragic life or even die a tragic death; I say no, admittedly, they died too young. But it seems to me they lived life maybe not exciting and they lived in closed quarters-so what, but I don’t… Read more »
susansusansusan

They got almost the same treatment as the white Dionne quints. Everybody grabbed all they could. The Quint Business got everything, the quints got nothing, the doctor made his career and the family was pushed aside.

Guest

they got nowhere near the same treatment especially not the million dollar trust fund that the other white quadruplets received.

Guest

Hence why, BGLH stated that their story TOO was tragic.

Linda Barker

Exactly, , Brittney. I was thinking the same exact thing. And anther thing these beautiful brown babies all suffered and died at a young age. Now we know PET commercialized them, just me thinking. You think drinking PET had something to do with the fact they all either died or experience cancer?? Do you think Mrs. Fultz breast fed the babies, or simply ‘under Pet” instructions to only give the babies it’s milk? Sometimes that voice inside you says ( if its too good to be true…..) Something went wrong , but Are we surprised. Bitter-Sweet Article and legacy.

KIMBERLY

That’s what I was thinking! This to me is not a coincidence that they all had Breast Cancer. I was thinking the Vitamin C shots, as well while they were in the womb.

Likewaterforchoc

People would like to place the blame solely on genetics when as recent as a few years ago, there were reports of illness caused by actual baby formula. I wonder if SusanSusanSusan works for PET.

susansusansusan

They probably all had the same disease because they had the same genetics.

Terrance J

Or … “Miss Susan” The probably have the same disease because they were expose to the same chemical.

Likewaterforchoc

Thank you for your white woman logic and giving us “the education”. You can take your trolling somewhere else now.

Melinda

A lot of people do not understand that certain cancers DO run in families. Angelina Jolie-Pitt is an example of it happening.

Britney

I wonder if the Doctor, Fred Klenner is the father of the “Fultz” quads. Just my thoughts, but he took full control of those girls including naming them after HIS family members. He negotiated contracts with companies, I would think he got his share of money too from this. The parents were poor and vulnerable, the prime candidates for an experiment. Ijs…something to think about.

KIMBERLY

I wouldn’t be surprised! That Doctor was an opportunist! I want to know what the parents’ look like because you have a good point!

Future

Here are more links if you want to learn more about them.

https://goo.gl/j9wlPV

or

https://goo.gl/iJWa9l

Future

In case you were wondering what their father looked like. Here’s an album I found on flickr about them and there’s a picture of their dad in it. Here’s the link.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ncccha/albums/72157594499501870

Charlie Mu

Good share!

ebaiden

wow! i never thought of it that way, the possibility of him being a father. :mindblow:
Its straight up disgusting what he did.
I’m actually freaking out that he had allowed visitors, strangers at that, with their stupid curiosity to come and see the girls, as if they were in some kind of petting zoo, or heck, a slave auction display. Ugh!!! That pissed me off the most.

mibtp

PETITION to have PET MILK Compensate this family. Please SHARE, POST, TWEET and SIGN.

https://www.change.org/p/j-m-smucker-compan-pet-milk-pet-milk-compensate-the-fultz-quads-families

mibtp

Did you know that PET did not allow the mother to breastfeed and they were forced PET milk instead? All 4 contracted breast cancer and all but 1 is dead.

mibtp

So true. They were probably forced to give them up for adoption as well. I bet the Doctor made millions off of them.

mibtp

I vaguely remember the story. But why the heck were they adopted??? They had parents.

susansusansusan

Maybe that is why they were “treated horrifically”. They were basically thrown away by their parents.

Guest

Lol! You white trolls are hilarious. It’s amazing the lengths you’ll go through to deny the truth. Simply hilarious!!!!!

TeaJae

Oh that hurt to read this. I’ve never heard of them before this article. Why were they adopted? Did the birth parents die or something? What an awful doctor I mean really name them after your relatives and the visit hours…ugh. Tragic story

FineNaturalHairandFaith

fascinating story yet sad.

Truthsayer

What I do not get is that people of color read these stories and still hate on each other. People of color must get more savvy. Ask for you want and demand it. That is why I do not get mad at these football players who make millions.

Chel

What are you talking about?

The Darling Kinkshamer
The Darling Kinkshamer

True, although they were only pictured as babies(baby hair) and straightened hair as they grew up, I think that they had kinky hair.

Byron Jackson

They were Trailblazers of theirs time.

GROSSSS

Trailblazers of what? To who? For what? Bye, troll.

rachel s

ugghh such a sad story!!

Gennaphyr

This breaks my heart. The article doesn’t say why they were adopted out or how old they were at the time.

It-Takes A-Village Jamaica
It-Takes A-Village Jamaica

They were born in 1946 and were adopted in 1956, so it stands to reason that they were 10.

TMW

so sad…

Shalove2

They were used and they graduated from beauty school in 1985 and 39 years old, that was not a difficult accomplishment. Being treated like animals at the zoo is not a terrific life. What is I take your children, put them in a glass cage and put them on view 2 hours a day. Meeting famous white people is no consolation.

twinn

What surprises me is the fact that we as black people act surprised as if we were going to be treated fairly,It has gotten better but black people have always been exploited .Yes we are getting high salaries for our exploits but some one else is making even much bigger salaries on our backs as usual..

Allison

Peekskill, NY

Mimi Miles

A non- black person just told me to get over slavery and the stuff that was done to African-Americans. It took everything in me not to give them a history lesson. You could do it and they’re still oblivious. Too much has been done. We can only begin to heal when we have a real conversation. Most won’t even accept that they were wrong.

susansusansusan
There were some people who were wrong, but they are all dead. You cannot have a conversation with them. But neither of us personally suffered from slavery, or the Holocaust or Stalin or Black Death or polio or D-Day or the Dustbowl or female circumcision or the Irish Famine. Any level of discomfort that we have from these things is because we volunteer for it. ——- Sometimes this sadness and discomfort sits on top of your head and crushes you. Sometimes you put it in a box in front of you, and you trip over it every few minutes. I… Read more »
Guest
“A non- black person just told me to get over slavery and the stuff that was done to African-Americans.”–You should have told them to get over the fact that you won’t. I’ve done this many times and shut the ignorance down. “You could do it and they’re still oblivious.”–There’s absolutely no need to do that. What we need to do, is stop wasting our time trying to be reasonable with the unreasonable. I wish more and more of us would finally wake up from this mental slavery. Stop caring about the fact that they do not care. To me, that… Read more »
maralondon

When Europeans agree to reparations for people of African descent only then might we be able get over slavery.

Ellima

We were taught about the jewish holocaust in history, but never the slave holocaust here in the United States. They did not want us to know the truth, so they could hide their bloody, murderous, depraved past, and we could go on thinking all white folks were “good”, and blacks were “bad”. That is why they want you to forget.

linda

Mini, the next time a non-black person tell you to get over slavery tell them you will when they get over the holocaust. It’s a part of our history that should and will not be forgotten. So, whomever the person is that you had this conversation with needs to except it.

mibtp

I was about to say the same thing. Would you tell a Jewish person to “get over” the Holocaust? And their suffering was for less than 10 years while ours was over a hundred.

sharongibson

You’re assuming that the “non-black” person is Jewish or some other who have suffered during the Holocaust, which really isn’t fair. But you might like to know there are others who not only tell people to “get over slavery,” they maintain that the Holocaust didn’t happen in the first place.

fbear0143
As an old white man, some of whose ancestors were slaveholders, I can certainly understand why an apology is needed. I had nothing to do with slavery and was, fortunately, born to parents whose thoughts were far more enlightened than those of all too many southerners. My life has been enriched by the diversity of friends I have with peope of all races, each one contributing something to my life that I can only hope to return to others. I now live outside the USA in a Latin country, where there are also many of African descent. Ever, they seem… Read more »
Linda Barker
You know we all have heard of the “lazy black man”, but I’m wondering who was really lazy. Majority of the south were backwards lazy incompetent white eople. They either didn’t know how to do things or didn’t want to. I’m just stating an opinion, of course northern Caucasians were lazy as well, but not to the point where they were willing to fight go death to keep their workforce or slaves. Much respect to you for bravely saying your family were slaveholders, but WE NOW MUST SET A NEW EXPECTATION BETWEEN PEOPLE REGARDLESS OF RACE, COLOUR RICH OR POOR.
Annabella G
Not all African Americans were slaves. By that same token, many people from various ethnic backgrounds were slaves. The apology should come in the form of educating people in our true history and not just telling people a one-sided view full of inaccuracies and self-righteousness. I am glad you appreciate people of all color, but this is most likely due to additional circumstances and influences that are may not be available to others. As long as people are kept in the dark about our history, and led to believe the crap being taught in schools without educating themselves further, race… Read more »
mud duck

but a more industrious family

Amy Peterson

Also, who the heck is Patti Label? If you mean Patti Labelle, according to Wikipedia, “In 1982, her eldest sister Vivian Rogers died of lung cancer at 42. In 1984, she lost her second-eldest sister, Barbara Purifoy, to colon cancer at 41. A year later, she lost her mother, Bertha, to diabetes.[25] In 1989, she lost her father Henry to emphysema brought on by complications of Alzheimer’s disease and her youngest sister, Jacqueline “Jackie” Padgett, to lung cancer. Jackie was only 43 when she died.”

Amy Peterson
Yes. They should have accepted the scraps and eaten bullshit nicely with a knife and fork. How much did other companies pay their spokespeople? The girls should have earned that much x 4 as there were 4 of them. Why couldn’t a food company like PET have hired a farm consultant to come help the parents make sense of the land they were given, whether they could grow some tobacco on parts of it or whether they could develop it, lease it, or whatever. When was it okay to put a family with 10 children and a hired nurse into… Read more »
Charlie Mu
Thats right on, sister! Exactly! This company’s agents surely knew what they were doing, and their “benefactor” Doctor Keensly or whatever his name was also knew that either he screwed up in negotiations or was also ripping them off in the process the article says HE turned down two other offers from the now prosperous companies that were supposedly not as good, that suggests he might have been a shrewed enough business man to recognize the deal was shady. Clearly he was in on it likely getting a better deal for himself in return allowing them to get the raw… Read more »
Claudette UK

The exploitation of these women and the treatment of them and their parents breaks my heart.

mibtp

PETITION to have PET MILK Compensate this family. Please SHARE, POST, TWEET and SIGN.

https://www.change.org/p/j-m-smucker-compan-pet-milk-pet-milk-compensate-the-fultz-quads-families

Dr. G- M.-S.

My grandparents were there. Dr. Richard V. Moore and Mrs. BJ Moore.

https://www.facebook.com/MooreInnerBeauty
comment image?oh=e0389582cbb63d0d34592bd9379b657a&oe=5661EA97

SUPNAT

COOL!!!!

clever_moniker
This was such an good article and reminds me of a post I read on Jezebel entitled “I Don’t Know What To Do With Good White People.” The doctor who managed a very high risk pregnancy and delivered the babies helped himself to naming them, erasing their own history and taking away parental autonomy. In exchange for a live-in nurse, he set visiting hours. A home of their own on a farm was a sardine can on dead land. There was nothing about the so-called charity paid to them that came without strings. There was no gesture that didn’t reveal… Read more »
Djphoenix
Imagine if they’d been dark skinned with kinky hair. They did not get rich and the company did not do what they were supposed to. Shame on PET milk company; it was business/PR for them. The girls did better than they would had done if they were not supported though, having been born to two illiterate Black sharecroppers. No shade. Many poor children died during that era because they did not have money for adequate health care — Black and White. How many had a private nurse and medical costs covered? How many people can say that they traveled to… Read more »
Dee

This story is truly sad. 🙁

Cicely

That’s an incredible story. I knew all about the Dionne quintuplets because of the TV movie they made about them, but I had never heard of the Fultz’s until now. Thank you so much for sharing that.

Sharee Staten

What so incredible about the story, when they were NOT taken care of in their earlier years? Other peple reaped the benifits of their popularity. It’s a sad story.

LBell

I consider myself decently educated when it comes to African-American history and yet this is the first time I’ve ever heard of these women. What a sad ending for them. I hope the surviving quadruplet is well.

tracena barnwell

This story is just sad

K_

what a fascinating story ive never heard of theem before

Mrs0507

America is really disgusting towards African-Americans.

StraightShooter

What a sad story. I feel terrible for them.

Elle P.

I read about this a while back and while the history was incredible, it beared tragic results. It kind of reminds of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a story of medical breakthroughs, racism, and opportunism…

mibtp

Yes, and their family haven’t received a PENNY for everything she gave and gives to science.

susansusansusan

You cannot sell body parts. And I don’t know why they should get anything. Not EVERYTHING boils down to “how much will you pay me.”

Charlie Mu

Thank you for your opinion. However clearly much human activity does yet revolve exclusively around the ideals cultivated by capitalism, and far be it for you to determine other peoples sense of financial priority. As for selling body parts(your own) that is a relatively recent decision that had to go all the way to a supreme court.

Kendall Renee

Just finished reading that book, incredible!

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