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The life and times of Josephine Myrtle Corbin, the Four-legged woman who lived a fulfilled life

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Born on 12 May 1868, Josephine Myrtle Corbin was an American sideshow performer born with 4 legs. Corbin is scientifically referred to as a dipygus, a person with a birth deformity that causes extra limbs. She had two separate pelvises side by side from the waist down as a result of her body axis splitting as it developed. She had a second set of legs growing out between her legs, leading to another full functioning female reproductive system. Each of her smaller inner legs was paired with one of her outer legs.

Corbin was said to be able to move her inner legs, but they were too weak for walking. She later went on to marry a doctor and gave birth to five children, three from one body and two from another. She is considered to be the only dipygus twin case that has done this. Corbin was born to a 25-year-old father, William H. Corbin, and a 34-year-old mother, Nancy.

Both parents were described by physicians who examined the infant shortly after her birth as being very similar in appearance, “both having auburn hair, blue eyes, and very fair complexion”; in fact, they looked so similar that the physicians felt compelled to point out that they were not “blood kin”.

The birth of Josephine Myrtle Corbin with four legs and two genitals was a phenomenon that took the world by surprise, and rightly so. It was something never before seen at the time. While many people deemed it yet another sign of the end times forewarned by the scriptures, many believed it was merely a myth. Keep reading to learn more about the life and times of Myrtle and other exciting details in-between. First, here are some facts about her.

10 interesting Josephine Myrtle Corbin facts

  1. Despite having four legs, Myrtle was declared strong and healthy by doctors who examined her after birth. They added that she was growing at a reasonable rate. In all, she was a perfectly healthy, active, and thriving baby girl.
  2. She was a sideshow performer. Due to her unique looks, her father reckoned he could charge curious residents a token to look at his four-legged daughter. So, at the age of thirteen, the girl began to travel to different towns for sideshow performances, and she earned a lot of money.
  3. Despite her unusual looks, Corbin got married at 19 to a doctor named Clinton Bicknell. She also had five children (a boy and four girls).
  4. Since she had two pelvises with a fully formed set of genital organs, both were duplicated. With that, she was able to carry three pregnancies on the right side and the other two on the left.
  5. It is believed that she preferred to have sexual intercourse on the right side. This conclusion was inferred by her comments to the news of her pregnancy, saying: “If it had been in my right side, I would come nearer believing you are correct.”
  6. Corbin became so popular in the circus industry that other showpeople even falsified their performances by exhibiting four-legged gaffs. When she stopped performing, other pretentious four-legged women emerged and continued attracting large audiences.
  7. Myrtle Corbin died on 6 May 1928 in Cleburne, Texas, when she was 59 years old. Her death was caused by a streptococcal skin infection which would have been easily treated with antibiotics in the modern world.
  8. Her casket was buried underground and covered with concrete to prevent grave robbers who could have stolen her corpse, and various physicians had offered to pay her family in exchange for it.
  9. Only one pair of those legs belonged to her, the other set belonged to her dipygus twin sister, and they weren’t strong enough to walk with.
  10. Despite being malformed, her twin’s tiny body developed fully only from the waist down, and she only had three toes on each foot.

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Dipygus

Dipygus is a severe birth defect where the body axis forks left and right partway along the torso with the posterior end (pelvis and legs) duplicated. Various factors including teratogenic, environmental and genetic are thought to be responsible for this condition. It starts early while the baby is in the womb and affects notochord derivatives and embryonic cloaca. This leads to degenerate splitting of the germinal disc at the pelvic end. Myrtle Corbin’s is one of the few such cases that have been reported in medical history.

Dipygus manifests as duplicated lower limbs and could include additional organs or bodily structures.

4 legged woman

With each pelvis, Myrtle had two sets of legs, one normal-sized and one small. The two small legs were side by side, flanked on either side by two normal legs, though one had a clubbed foot.

According to medical journals written by the physicians who studied Myrtle Corbin throughout her life, she could move her smaller inner legs, though they weren’t strong enough for her to be able to walk on. This, of course, hardly mattered as the legs were not long enough to touch the ground in the first place.

Baby born with 4 legs

Myrtle Corbin sideshow career – Four-legged girl from Texas

When Myrtle was 13 years old, she joined the sideshow circus with the stage name ‘The Four-legged Girl From Texas’. After showing her to curious neighbours and charging them a dime each, Myrtle’s father realized her potential for publicity and cash. He had promotional pamphlets made up and began placing ads in newspapers for people to come to see her.

Promotional flyers were made, and they described her as a girl with “as gentle of disposition as the summer sunshine and as happy as the day is long.” It would turn out that that wasn’t just hype, as it was indeed her nature. Myrtle enjoyed success as a performer, and she soon began to travel to small villages and cities for shows. She earned as much a $450 weekly just by doing this.

The renowned showman P.T Barnum eventually caught wind of her reputation and hired her for a show. Corbin continued to work for Barnum for four years and even inspired several other showpeople to create fake four-legged humans for their own shows when they couldn’t get her.

Myrtle eventually quit the sideshow business when she was 18 years old. By then, she had met and had started dating Clinton Bicknell.

Also read: Lexa Doig biography – more about the actress who played Andromeda.

Personal life

A somewhat surprising thing for people was that not only could Corbin find love, she also got married and led a normal family life. After about a year of courtship, Myrtle married James Clinton Bicknell, with whom she had four daughters and a son.

In the spring of 1887, approximately a year after marrying Bicknell, Corbin became pregnant for the first time: her condition was discovered by Dr Lewis Whaley. Examining Corbin, Whaley found that it was in her left uterus that she was pregnant. However, it made her seriously ill that it was determined that abortion would be best. She was reportedly between three and four months pregnant at the time the abortion was performed.

Corbin made a full recovery and was eventually able to have four successful pregnancies and children later on. She maintained a quiet existence in her Texas home with her husband and children. Although Myrtle Corbin’s life was pretty normal after settling into family life, her case continued to pop up in medical journals around the country.

Life and times of Josephine Myrtle Corbin, the 4 legged woman from Texas
Corbin, her husband, and daughter

Death

In 1928, Corbin died at 59 as a result of a streptococcal skin infection. Though antibiotics make the condition easily treatable today, in the 1920s there was no such treatment available.

Her casket was buried underground and covered with concrete to prevent grave robbers who could have stolen her corpse. This action might have been motivated by various offers from physicians who wanted to pay her family in exchange for the corpse. The family declined the offer and some of the members kept vigil on her grave until the concrete was completely dry.

Conclusion

Teratologists in medical journals and encyclopedias in the 19th century classified her anomaly using several different but complex terms. Some referred to her as a ‘dipygus dibrachius tetrapus’; others named her condition ‘posterior dichotomy, subvariety schizorachis’. Doctor Brooks H. Wells described her as “female, belonging to the monocephalic, ileadelphic class of monsters by fusion.”

Strange things happen all the time, and medical anomalies make up some of the most popular of them. The case of Myrtle Corbin was the first of her kind in the time and remained arguably the most famous. However, it is interesting that despite her strange features, she was able to lead a fulfilled and normal life till her passing.

One article even noted that “The lady, Mrs. B…. the Myrtle Corbin of days gone by, [is] attractive in face, physically well, and able to attend to all her household duties”. In another writing, she was described as being “very intelligent” and “a refined woman, of some musical taste.”

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It, therefore, goes without saying that Corbin was as much a complete and fully functional human entity whose physical anomaly did nothing to limit how full a life she could and was able to live. Isn’t it inspiring?

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