The human body is truly amazing, and people should be celebrated for all their unique shapes and sizes. However, this (tragically) hasn’t always been the case throughout human history. In the nineteenth century, individuals who looked different were often put on display and toured around in different circuses, or “freak shows.” Here we take a look at the story of Myrtle Corbin – the four-legged woman who was able to have five children, but was called a “double monster” by the press.
Who was Myrtle Corbin?
Myrtle Corbin was born in Tennessee in 1868, and became a sideshow attraction when she was only 13 years old. Myrtle was born with two smaller legs that hung between her normal legs. As such, she was marketed as a “four-legged woman” being as “gentle of disposition as the summer sunshine and as happy as the day is long” in promotional literature from a sideshow.
Myrtle was such a successful attraction at her sideshow that other people began to fake four-legged women in their own shows. Myrtle was able to do everything that a person with two legs could do. Her extra legs did not hinder her in any way at all.
Myrtle was able to move her two extra legs in the middle of her body, but they were too weak to carry any sort of weight. She would, however, dress these extra legs up with a smaller pair of socks and boots for the feet.
When Myrtle was 19 years old, she married a man named James Clinton Bicknell. A year later, Myrtle got pregnant and subsequently became very sick – with constant fevers and vomiting.
When a doctor was called to examine Myrtle during this pregnancy, it was discovered that she had two sets of fully functioning external sexual organs. After running some tests, the physicians discovered that the unborn fetus was in her left uterus – a fact that surprised Myrtle as she revealed to doctors that she typically used the right side of her body for sexual intercourse.
Because her fetus was making her ill, physicians suggested she abort her child for her own safety. Luckily, Myrtle made a full recovery and went on to have a total of five children with her husband without any more complications.
For years, physicians couldn’t understand what caused Myrtle’s condition. Dubbed a “double monster” in medical journals, physicians analyzed her birth conditions to try and find why Myrtle had a set of extra legs and a fully functioning extra reproductive system. The only thing that was abnormal about Myrtle’s birth was that she was initially in a breech position. When Myrtle was born she already had four healthy brothers, which proved her abnormally wasn’t genetic.
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Eventually, physicians concluded that this extra set of legs came from a twin. This rare form of conjoined twinning is known as dipygus. The two extra legs were supposed to be the legs of her twin, who only fully developed from the waist down in utero.
This condition is what allowed Myrtle to have two different bodies at her core. Myrtle passed away on May 6, 1928, at age 59.