Mary Catherine Fultz Griffin, the last of the famed “Reidsville Quads,” died Tuesday at age 72.
Griffin and her three sisters — all born May 23, 1946 — were the first, identical African-American quadruplets born in the United States.
The family announced Griffin’s death on the “Fultz Quads My Family and Our Stories” Facebook page.
The quadruplets — Mary Ann, Mary Louise, Mary Alice and Mary Catherine — shared the media spotlight since birth as reporters and photographers from all over the nation filled the Annie Penn Hospital in Reidsville for glimpses of the babies.
Born to a sharecropper and a deaf-mute, the names of the girls were chosen by the doctor who delivered them.
“At that time, you know, it was before integration,” recalled delivery nurse Margaret Ware in 2002. “They did us how they wanted.”
The night Annie Mae Fultz went into labor, Ware was the only nurse on duty in a wing that housed the emergency room, the cafeteria and the rooms for black patients.
The sisters, who were called by their middle names, were so small when they were born they remained in the hospital for five months. By the time they went home to their parents and six siblings, they were Pet Milk babies — advertising milk in exchange for trips, clothes and an education.
From 1947 to 1968, the four girls traveled the country, promoting Pet, modeling for magazines and appearing in parades. They met presidents Truman and Kennedy, tennis player Althea Gibson and boxer Floyd Patterson. Their fifth birthday party was even broadcast on TV.
The irresistible attraction of the Fultz quadruplets prompted a slight relaxation of the taboo that kept white and black people publicly apart.
Yet nothing really came easy to the Fultz Quads, wrote former News & Record columnist Lorraine Ahearn in a 2002 five-part series about the sisters (“And then there was one”) when Mary Catherine was the lone survivor.
Griffin’s three sisters all died of breast cancer — Louise at 45, Ann at 50 and Alice at 55. Griffin also battled breast cancer, though her cause of death was unknown Friday.
In 1952, the quadruplets were legally adopted by Alma and Charles Saylor of Caswell County. According to Linda Moore, Griffin’s niece, caring for quadruplets and six other children was too much for their parents. So they decided to let the Saylors, who had lost a child to polio, adopt the four girls.
Alma Saylor had been their nurse since 1947 and was responsible for their care under the contract with Pet Milk. Up until they were 18, Pet continued to pay for the girls’ food and medical care as well as provide a salary for Saylor.
The girls dressed alike through high school, even wearing identical prom dresses. They would order the same meals in restaurants. All four sang and played the piano.
After graduating from Caswell County High School in 1965, the four attended Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Fla., to study music — still dressing alike occasionally.
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