History January 07, 2020 at 04:00 pm

Remembering the Fultz sisters, the first African-American identical quadruplets

Mohammed Awal January 07, 2020 at 04:00 pm

January 07, 2020 at 04:00 pm | History

Image credit: Lenny Letter

The story of the Fultz Quadruplets is charmingly fascinating. It is also tragically heartrending.

Yeah! Fascinating! Their birth in May 1946 was the first of its kind on record in the United States for African-Americans.

Born at Annie Penn Hospital in Reidsville, N.C. – Mary Louise, Mary Ann, Mary Alice, and Mary Catherine – became immediate celebrities. 

They were the first identical African-American quadruplets on record to be born in the United States. Their mother, Annie Mae Fultz was said to be deaf and mute. She was in her 30s when she gave birth to the beautiful quads babies.

Annie and her sharecropper husband, Pete were dead poor with six children when they gave birth to America’s first African American identical quadruplets in the segregated wing of the Annie Penn Hospital in Reidsville, N.C.

The quadruplets shared the media spotlight since birth as reporters and photographers from all over the nation thronged the Annie Penn Hospital for glimpses of them.

The cameras and endorsements almost simultaneously as in cue came knocking because of the paucity of births of quadruplets.

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Image credit: JFK Library

A company named—Pet Evaporated Milk—would offer to pay for all medical bills associated with the birth of the Fultz quadruplets. It was also reported that the company hired an in-home nurse to take care of the girls, and give the family their farming land and house. 

The girls, reports Blackamericaweb, were delivered in what was known as “the Basement,” citing a 2002 report by journalist and educator Lorraine Ahearn. 

One Dr. Klenner and Black nurse Margaret Ware helped Annie Mae deliver the quadruplets. 

“At that time, you know, it was before integration,” recalled Ware in 2002. “They did us how they wanted.” 

The Fultz family was said to be stark illiterates. Dr. Klenner would then take advantage of the family’s deficiency and named the girls after his family members.

The Greensboro Daily News reported that from 1947 to 1968, the four girls traveled throughout the United States, promoting Pet, modeling for magazines and appearing in parades. During their travels, they met presidents Truman and Kennedy, tennis player Althea Gibson and boxer Floyd Patterson. Their fifth birthday party was even broadcast on TV.

The paper is a 2018 article headlined: Catherine Fultz Griffin — among first African-American quadruplets born in U.S. — dies, notes, “The irresistible attraction of the Fultz quadruplets prompted a slight relaxation of the taboo that kept white and black people publicly apart.”

Yet nothing came easy to the Fultz Quads, wrote former News & Record columnist Lorraine Ahearn in a 2002 five-part series about the sisters.

The nurse hired by Pet Evaporated Milk, Elma Saylor to cater to the girls, shared light on what the offer meant to the family already wallowing in poverty and had added responsibility of taking care of four new kids in addition to the six they already had.

“[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,” she told EBONY in an article by Charles L. Sanders titled ‘The Fultz Quads’ in November 1968.

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Image credit: GreensBoro Daily News

“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,” Saylor added.

The quads were so popular that one ad offered an autographed picture of the sisters, and the year they turned 16, they met President John F. Kennedy at the capital, The Inquisitor reported.

Twelve years prior, they also met President Harry S. Truman.

Tragically all the sisters died of breast cancer. Louise was the first to die at age 45, then Ann at age 50, Alice at age 55 and Catherine in 2018 at the age of 72.

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