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you are born with four legs, and what do you do? Do you join a circus or do you start a business? Whatever you do, it will always revolve around your four legs.  Many people are born with a great destiny, but few have their vocation inscribed in the shape of their bodies. And to this day, only one person is known to medical and cultural history who was born with four legs and yet lived a successful and happy life that showed there is no obstacle insurmountable to a strong mind and a loving heart. 

But that is how the story ends. Josephine’s beginnings were not so promising for her future and her character was built against the ignorance, cruelty, and prejudice of her parents, doctors, and show business.

At the age of one, Josephine was already posing for hours, first for the ladies from 3 pm to 7 pm and then, after a short nap, for the gentlemen from 9 pm. She wore a short dress that showed all four legs while sitting in a high chair held by her mother Nancy, who saw only the positive financial aspects of exhibiting her daughter suffering from the rarest form of Siamese twins, dipygus.

Josephine’s parents told the press that the money they earned from selling tickets for their daughter’s exhibit will be used for her education and savings.

A broadside featuring Myrtle Corbin, ca. 1871. Myrtle Corbin was born as a dipygus, which is one of the rarest forms of conjoined twinning (Source: Wiki Commons)

The Star of Barnum & Bailey Circus

The posters featuring the four-legged child were accompanied by a “medical certificate” from Joseph Jones, MD, and Paul F. Eve, MD: 

“The reality, in this case, exceeds all expectations, and we are of opinion that this interesting living monstrosity surpasses the famous “Siamese Twins” in its curious manifestation of the forces of nature in abnormal productions.”

Josephine joined the Barnum & Bailey Circus at the age of 13 under the name “Four-Legged Girl from Texas” and was described as “meek as the summer sun and merry as the day is long“. Her performance began with her coming on stage in a long dress in the fashion of the day and performing a musical number. The only thing unusual was her wide hips and curved right foot and when she lifted her dress, the audience was stunned and breathless, bringing her as much as $450 a week.

Her sideshow was so popular that she not only made enough money to retire early from show business but was copied by other showmen who picked up the trend of four-legged gaffers and even designed special chairs with a depression in the middle for the third leg of a second performer hiding behind the chair. 

Special chair (Source: Weirdhistorian)

There were also numerous fake four-legged performers who managed to fool even the media who were always eager to report on freak shows whose major role in entertainment modeled a public discourse on gender, race, sexual deviance, ethnicity, and disability. 

Today, freak shows are credited with contributing to how American culture views nonconforming bodies, which still have a place in theatre, dance, and performance art, and there are numerous foundations and government programs to support nonconforming bodies in the arts.

At 19, Josephine marries Dr. James Clinton Bicknell and leaves the circus

The following year Josephine was pregnant and consulted Dr. Lewis Whaley about pain in her left side accompanied by fever, headache, loss of appetite, vomiting, and amenorrhoea which lasted for two months.

On examining Corbin, Whaley found that the duplication of her external sex organs was mirrored by a similar duplication internally. Her old medical reports stated: 

“Between each pair of legs is a completely distinct set of genital organs, both external and internal, each supported by a pubic arch. Each set functions independently of the other, except during menstruation. There seem to be two sets of intestines and two sets of ani; both are completely independent, with diarrhea on one side and constipation on the other.

Doctor Whaley concluded that she was pregnant in the left uterus, to which Josephine replied that he was mistaken and that she thought it more likely if it had been on the right side. After further questioning, Whaley determined from the patient’s observations that her right genital was almost invariably used for coitus. However, due to Josephine’s poor health in the early months of pregnancy, Whaley opted for an abortion, from which she fully recovered and subsequently gave birth to five children, all of whom were completely healthy. Three were carried in one womb, two in the other.

Josephine’s condition resulted from the rarest form of twinning known as dipygus, which gave her two complete bodies from the waist down. She had two small pelvises side by side and each of her smaller inner legs was connected to one of her outer legs. She could move the smaller legs but could not use them to walk.

Josephine died in Texas in 1928. Several doctors and private collectors wanted to buy her body, but the family refused and covered her coffin with concrete to prevent grave robbers from stealing her body. Josephine remains in the hearts of circus lovers as the best and most hopeful freak show nature could create.

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