On June 28, 2021, a photograph supposedly showing Josephine Myrtle Corbin, a woman who was born in the 1860s as a Dipygus — a severe congenital deformity that results in having two pelvises and four legs — was circulated on social media:
Josephine Myrtle Corbin was an American sideshow performer born as a dipygus. This referred to the fact that she had two separate pelvises side by side from the waist down, as a result of her body axis splitting as it developed. Each of her smaller inner legs was paired with one of her outer legs.
While Corbin was a real person who truly had four legs, this 1860s circus performer is not featured in the above-displayed picture. This image has been altered and was originally created for a hoax in the tabloid Weekly World News (WWN). If you’re not familiar, WWN was an infamous supermarket tabloid that frequently published far-fetched fictional tales involving time-travelers, the half-bat, half-human “Bat Boy,” Adolf Hitler’s escape from Berlin via UFO, Hillary Clinton’s alien baby, and the above-displayed four-legged woman, whom WWN named Ashley Braistle.
Braistle’s fictional saga started circa 1994 when WWN published an article claiming that a four-legged woman, then named Ashley B., was looking for love. Ashley says in this piece: “I want people to love me for who I am, not how many legs I have.”
The Ashley saga continued in the pages of WWN until 1996 when the tabloid killed her off in a skiing accident. It’s this 1996 issue that featured the viral photograph that would later be miscaptioned as depicting Josephine Myrtle Corbin.
It appears that WWN ultimately came to regret the decision to kill off this four-legged woman, because in 2001 they published a “where are they now” story explaining Ashley never actually died and that her husband is still a leg man.
The story of Ashley Braistle is a work of fiction and these images don’t actually show a four-legged woman. There was, however, a real woman who was born with four legs in the 1860s.
Josephine Myrtle Corbin was born in Tennessee in 1868 with four legs. In 1888, Dr. Joseph Jones described Corbin (misspelled below as “Corban”) in a report entitled “Contribution to Teratology,” writing:
The word teratology, which we owe to Geoffroy St. Hilaire, literally means the science of monsters; and in the present article we shall apply the term to the doctrine of congenital deformities. Teratology in a scientific sense constitutes a part of pathological anatomy, which comprises all anomalies of the organization; those which occur during intra-uterine life are called congenital, and those which arise during extra-uterine life, acquired. What are commonly called monsters, are most generally referable to the former: that is, to the imperfections of the primitive formation.
Nashville, Tenn., June 16, 1868 – 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.
Corbin’s four legs drew the attention of the medical community, and eventually the public at large. By the 1880s she was touring as a circus performer. Here are two newspaper advertisements promoting the “four-legged girl” that were published in 1885 in Minnesota’s St. Paul Globe (left) and the Boston Globe (right):
Wikipedia has a few photographs of Corbin that appear to be genuine but have indeterminate sources. The one genuine photograph that we could find comes from the University of Texas and shows Corbin at the approximate age of 19 in 1877: