Meet Myrtle, the Woman Who Was Born With 4 Legs and Eventually Became a Mom
Josephine Myrtle Corbin was born with a rare birth defect called polymelia, meaning born with extra limbs, in her case, she had 4 legs, 2 normal ones and 2 smaller ones that grew from her hips. But there was more to it. She also had 2 sets of reproductive organs and 2 pelvises. Because of this rare occurrence, she’s probably one of the few people in history considered wonders. Let’s delve into Myrtle’s story and discover her exceptional life milestones.
Myrtle was considered a rare and remarkable case of human development.
Josephine Myrtle Corbin, an American sideshow performer, came into the world in 1868 as a remarkable medical rarity. Affected by a condition known as dipygus, she possessed two lower bodies from the waist down. This unusual phenomenon occurred due to her body axis splitting during development, resulting in two separate pelvises side by side. Remarkably, her smaller inner legs were paired with one of her outer legs. While Myrtle could move her inner legs, but they were too weak to walk on.
Born in Tennessee to her parents, William and Nancy, Myrtle’s arrival brought both wonder and concern. At 25, her father, William, and 34-year-old mother, Nancy, welcomed the unique little Myrtle into their lives. Medical professionals noted that if Myrtle had been delivered breech, with her bottom first, it could have been potentially fatal for both her and her mother. Thankfully, Myrtle’s early days were promising, as she displayed signs of strength, weighing 10 lb (4.5kg) just 3 weeks after her birth.
Myrtle’s father was facing financial hardship and had to think of ways to support his growing family.
At the age of 5 weeks, people had the opportunity to visit William Corbin and marvel at his four-legged daughter for a small fee. As the years passed, Myrtle grew up accustomed to the constant stares and astonishment from those who encountered her rare condition. Her inner legs never fully developed, her right foot was clubbed, and both of the smaller legs had 3 toes on each foot.
Over the following decade, William took Myrtle on a journey across the country, where she participated in fairs, sideshows, and dime museums. By the time she turned 14, she had achieved success and managed to secure a lucrative contract paying her an unusually high salary of $250 per week.
The four-legged girl, Myrtle, had a younger sister named Ann, who fortunately did not suffer from any birth defects.
Myrtle married when she was 18 and later became a mother.
As Myrtle entered adulthood, she grew weary of the constant attention she received due to her condition. At 18, she decided to marry James Bicknell, a medical student, after which she retired from her performing career. Interestingly, her fame had inspired others to attempt to fake her unique deformity, but all of these impostors were eventually exposed as frauds.
A year into their marriage, Myrtle experienced troubling symptoms like fever, nausea, headaches, and side pains. Concerned, she sought medical attention, and to her disbelief, the doctor revealed that she was pregnant on her left side. Myrtle skeptically responded, saying, “If it had been on my right side, I would come nearer believing you are correct.” The pregnancy proved challenging for her health, and doctors even advised her to consider an abortion due to the severity of her illness. However, Myrtle managed to recover swiftly.
Over the following years, James and Myrtle welcomed seven more children into their family. Tragically, only 5 of them survived infancy, 4 daughters and a son.
The family lived a quiet life until their 5 children reached adulthood. Then Myrtle re-entered the show business. In 1909, when Myrtle was 41, she was a part of Huber’s Museum exhibit, appearing as The Four-Legged Girl from Cleburne, Texas. She often dressed her 4 legs in matching shoes and socks, to the audience’s delight. She was making $450 per week at the time.
In 1928, Myrtle developed a skin infection on her right leg, and the doctor diagnosed her with erysipelas or a strep infection. A week later, on May 6th, 1928, Myrtle passed away. Her casket was covered in concrete, and family members kept watch until it was fully cured to prevent grave robbers from stealing her remains.
Almost a century later, Josephine Myrtle Corbin Bicknell continues to inspire others by proving that even in the 19th century, a woman could forge a successful career and become a mother all at once.