There has been a marketing push for formula in the Black community since the late 20th century. The Fultz quadruplets, Ann, Alice, Louise, Catherine, were a part of the early marketing tactic that targeted the Black community. Today, this strategy has continued with companies sending out free samples and cans of formula to expectant parents. 

Iris Jones ia a lactation consultant and the owner/founder of Perinatal Support Center, LLC. She explains that there is a long history of formula companies targeting the Black community. 

“They make formula so easily accessible, and they promote it before Black parents even give birth,” she said. 

Today, there are numerous baby formula options that offer healthy options for families. While every mother’s decision to breastfeed or use formula is unique and personal, it’s important to know the history of formula.

Formula Promotion in the Black Community

Formula promotion is apparent in almost every aspect of an expectant parent’s journey, even through the postpartum period. In the prenatal period, expectant parents often receive “free” gifts in the mail from formula companies that may include bottles, onesies, and discount coupons. Formula companies even send out free samples (cans of formula) to expectant parents. In addition, OB clinics tend to carry samples of formula as well. 

“We, as a society, wonder why women are so quick to consider formula,” she said. “In some ways, it is seemingly more accessible than the resources that truly support breastfeeding because of items given during the prenatal period.” 

In addition to formula promotion, many Black women in older generations did not breastfeed due to the lack of support from families and the Black community, misinformation regarding breastfeeding, and systemic barriers in healthcare. 

The Fultz Sisters as a Marketing Strategy

Board Certified Lactation Consultant Cierra Murphy-Higgs highlights the importance of the Fultz sisters’ story when discussing the history of formula in the Black community.

“Due to the push of formula marketing on Black families in the late 20th century, many of the women in the generation before us did not breastfeed,” Murphy-Higgs said. “[The Fultz sisters’ story] is an example of the intentional marketing of formula to black women. 

The Timeline of the Fultz Sisters

Born on May 23, 1946 at Annie Penn Hospital in North Carolina, the Fultz sisters became better known as the Fultz quadruplets. They made history as the first-recorded identical Black quadruplets in the world. They were also the first quads to survive in the South.

Their white doctor, Dr. Fred Klenner, delivered and named the sisters after women in his family. The Fultz sisters share the first name Mary: Mary Louise, Mary Alice, Mary Ann, and Mary Catherine. The Fultz sisters were born to a poor family. Their dad, James Fultz, was a sharecropper. Their mom, Annie Mae Fultz, was both deaf and mute.

In exchange for using the Fultz sisters for promotional purposes, Dr. Klenner negotiated a deal with Pet Milk Company that paid all medical expenses, food, land, a house, and a live-in nurse to care for the girls. It was here that their story as “formula babies” began. 

One PET Milk ad read: “The world’s only identical quadruplets. Four years old, growing sturdy and strong on Pet Milk.”

Pet Milk sales soared in the 1950s as The Fultz sisters’ faces appeared on milk ads throughout the country – a national sensation due to their rarity. The sisters appeared on the cover of Ebony Magazine four times. As teenagers, they visited the Rose Garden and met presidents Harry S. Truman and John F. Kennedy.

The Fultz sisters were fed PET Milk exclusively through infancy and throughout their entire childhoods. As they got older, the nurse assigned to the quadruplets by PET Milk eventually adopted them.

The sisters never received the contractual promises from PET Milk. The farm they were promised turned out to be in the middle of nowhere and on land that couldn’t grow anything. They also never received money from the PET Milk publicity.

Many people wonder whether the Fultz sisters drinking PET Milk exclusively through infancy and their entire childhood affected their health later in life. All four sisters died of breast cancer. First, Louise died at age 45. Then, Ann at the age 50. Alice died at 55. Finally in 2018, Catherine died at 72.

Today, formula is a viable option for moms and babies and can provide necessary nutrients. In the 1940s, PET Milk likely was not.

To learn more about the Fultz quads, checkout the Facebook page administered by the family of the Fultz Sisters: The Fultz Quads My Family and Our stories.