The Unique Case of a Woman With 4 Legs

Andrei Tapalaga

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Josephine Myrtle Corbin as a young girl, in 1882Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Josephine Myrtle Corbin may have suffered from one of the rarest conditions in the history of humankind. Based on historical records she is the only human with four legs. Corbin was born in Tennessee on May 12, 1868, and ever since she had amazed the world. The girl did not only bear four legs but two whole torsos

She was the daughter of William and Nancy Corbin who before Josephine had another 7 children who were perfectly fine and healthy from every perspective. The doctor who delivered Josephine tried to find some sort of biological answer as to why she has been born with four legs. 

At first, he looked at the similarity of biological genes between the two parents who were more similar than common couples. Despite this, it would not explain why their previous children were not affected. Another point was the 10-year difference between the two parents, but yet again why was Josephine the only one affected by eight children.

It is imperative to point out that this incident occurred at the end of the 19th century when the modern had a basic understanding of how genetics work. An entry had been written by a medical expert Dr. Joseph Jones from Nashville, Tennessee on June 16, 1868, just a month after Josephine was born in which he defines this case:

“The undersigned, in response to the request of a number of physicians and the relatives and friends of the unfortunate subject of this investigation, give the following testimony: The infant, J. Myrtle Corban, has four legs and two distinct external female organs of generation, with two external openings of the urethra and two external openings of the double rectum. The external genitourinary organs are as distract as if they belonged to two separate human beings. The feces and urine are passed (most generally simultaneously, particularly the urine) from both external urinary and intestinal openings, situated respectively between the left and right pairs of legs.”
“The head and trunk are those of a living, well-developed, healthy, active infant of about five weeks, whilst the lower portion of the body is divided into the members of two distinct individuals, near the junction of the spinal column with the os sacrum. As far as our examination could be prosecuted in the living child, we are led to the belief that the lower portion of the spinal column is divided or cleft and that there are two pelvic arches supporting the four limbs, which are situated upon the same plane.” (Quote by Dr. Joseph Jones)

As with every person born with what society described as an abnormality, she was seen as something quite entertaining. People all over town would stare at her and be amazed at what they were seeing. Her father soon realized that they could make a lot of money by hosting shows for people, so he started placing ads in newspapers to attract people. 

Soon the circus got word and even P.T. Barnum got news of Josephine. Barnum was well known in the 19th century for hosting freak shows around America, presenting people with abnormalities such as Josephine. 

She spent 4 years on tours around America until she retired at the age of 18 when she fell in love with a doctor named Clinton Bicknell who was very attracted by her unique condition. Her condition complicated her first pregnancy and ended up having to do an abortion, but later in her life gave birth to four children. 

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Myrtle Corbin with her husband and one of her daughters.Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

What doctors even to this day find very interesting is that she had two separate torsos with two separate pairs of legs, yet the inner legs of the two torsos remained undeveloped. At the time the medics defined her condition as a dipygus, which means that she was born with two fully functioning pelvises. Although there have been other women since then born with the same condition, they didn’t have two torsos or two pairs of legs. 

Josephine sadly passed away in 1928 due to a nasty skin infection that was not treated in time. Without a sample of DNA, medics today are not able to further develop what exactly caused this condition. 

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