Photo Of The Day

Credit: Robert Knudsen. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, 2 August 1962.

Credit: Robert Knudsen. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, 2 August 1962.

The Fultz Quadruplets

President John F. Kennedy visits with Mary Alice Fultz, Mary Louise Fultz, Mary Anne Fultz, and Mary Catherine Fultz, a set of quadruplets from Milton, North Carolina, 2 August 1962.

The Fultz Quads, quadruplet girls were born to a tenant farmer named Pete and his deaf, mute wife Annie Mae on May 23, 1946.

You can imagine the chances of a couple conceiving quadruplets in the 40s, decades before the availability of fertility treatments, and the fact that the family was poor and black made this a sensational story that garnered nation-wide media attention. The Fultz’s already had six children at home when Annie Mae headed to the hospital to give birth to her babies.

The white doctor, who delivered the quads, Fred Klenner, became world renown for attending the birth of the first recorded set of black quadruplets. Dr. Klenner decided to name the girls himself, calling them Mary Ann, Mary Louise, Mary Alice and Mary Catherine. All of the names were for women in his family. The black delivery nurse was quoted in a?newspaper article?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.”

As much of a media circus as the girls’ birth was, it seems no one wanted in on the action more than the infant formula companies, whose business was exploding due to the post-war baby boom. In addition to making the girls guinea pigs for his “Vitamin C therapy,” Dr. Klenner also negotiated a deal with the PET milk company, which agreed to provide the girls with formula, food, medical care, a private nurse and a farm when they reached adulthood, in exchange for using their image in ?promotional materials.?

When the girls had gained enough weight to be deemed healthy, they were set to be discharged from the hospital. The local newspaper announced their discharge with a huge photo of the girls with a caption that read:

?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 it right. The girls were to be on display in their own home in their nursery behind a glass wall…

?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.

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.

This was the beginning of the aggressive marketing of infant formula to African-Americans. Formula would not have been an affordable or viable option for most people. So although white women were turning to formula in droves, the formula companies were missing a huge portion of the market because black women were still breastfeeding. So how do you change their minds? The image of four beautiful black baby girls “growing up strong” on formula was probably pretty convincing.

The images of the girls as they grew up could be found in ads in black interest publications like Ebony. They even made the cover when they turned one. They got to meet Presidents Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Althea Gibson, appeared on television shows, and in hundreds of ads for PET milk.

You probably won’t be surprised to find out that things didn’t work out so well for the?Fultz Quads.?They were eventually adopted by the baby nurse provided to the family by PET. The farm they were promised turned out to be in the middle of nowhere on land that couldn’t grow weeds.

They grew up embittered over the way PET profited from their image while they remained poor. The public eventually forgot about them and they lived quiet lives.

The three eldest of the Fultz quads have all died of breast cancer before they reached age 55. The one surviving sister, the youngest, Mary Catherine also has breast cancer. I have researched her but could not find any information stating whether she survived her cancer battle.