Feeding Black Girls in Post-War America

By: Heather Reel  

In 1946, the Pet Evaporated Milk Company agreed to pay all medical, food, and housing expenses for the first known surviving set of African American quadruplets, popularly known as “the Fultz Quads.” In exchange, the quads became unofficial “brand ambassadors” for Pet Milk, appearing in countless print advertisements from infancy through adolescence and helping to promote Pet Milk products to African American consumers. Ads often displayed the girls drinking Pet milk or eating food cooked with Pet products. These consumption practices, the ads suggested, were responsible for the once-tiny quads’ continued growth and vitality. The Fultz quads thus became icons of a thriving and healthy Black childhood in post-war America. In this paper, I will analyze Pet Evaporated Milk ads featuring the Fultz Quadruplets from 1946 to 1965. I will examine assumptions about children’s bodies, food consumption and health that are embedded in the textual and visual language of the ads. I will further seek to examine how Pet Milk engaged with medical knowledge regimes to promote and sell their milk products and “teach” parents how to produce ideal children through technologies of food. I will reflect on the discursive weight of such “foodwork” for African American parents during the American civil rights era. Finally, I will consider contemporary speculation about whether being fed Pet Milk exclusively through infancy, and a steady diet of evaporated milk based foods throughout childhood, could have been related to the girls poor health later in life.

Milk Childhood Marketing
Food, Nutrition, and Health
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Heather Reel

Heather Reel holds a Master's Degree in Developmental Psychology from Columbia University and a Bachelor's in African American Studies from Wesleyan University. Prior to beginning graduate education, she spent several years working in pediatric clinical research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the Kidney & Urology Foundation of America. Her research interests include history of medicine and health, childhood and the body, the maternal body, feminist research methods and Black girlhood studies.