Chrissie Millie McKoy (1851-1912)
Chrissie Millie McKoy were African-American conjoined twins born in North Carolina. They were enslaved from their birth. As conjoined twins they were referred to as one person rather than two separate people, and often spoke of themselves this way as well. In the 1800s conjoined twins were seen as medical ‘freaks’ and were frequently part of travelling shows.
Chrissie Millie McKoy were sold three times between the ages of 6 months and 6 years. By 1856 they were owned by North Carolina merchant Joseph Pearson Smith, who purchased their family from the McKoys. Smith’s wife taught Chrissie Millie to read, write, speak five different languages, sing and play the piano to a high standard. They toured Europe and America, and were frequently billed as ‘The Two-Headed Nightingale’. In 1869 the twins issued their autobiography, History and Medical Description of the Two-Headed Girl.
After the Emancipation Act in 1863, which abolished slavery in the United States, the twins chose to remain with the Smiths. At the end of a successful 30-year career, they retired to North Carolina, where a fire in 1909 left them in financial ruin. They died of tuberculosis in 1912.
Chrissie Millie McKoy were unusual not only because of their bodies. Despite being exploited, they achieved a standard of education and a degree of financial security that was rare for African-American women in the late 1800s.
Related Themes and Topics
BibliographyJ Martell, Millie-Christine: Fearfully and Wonderfully Made (Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2000)
M-C McKoy, History and Medical Description of the Two-Headed Girl (Buffalo: Warren, Johnson, 1869)
R G Thompson (ed.), Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body (New York and London: New York University Press,1996)
J Van Dijk, The Transparent Body: A Cultural Analysis of Medical Imaging (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2005)
Identical twins physically joined together at birth, formerly known as ‘Siamese’ twins. The location of the join can vary. Where possible, conjoined twins are often now separated through surgery.
An infectious disease that is caused by a bacterium first identified by Robert Koch in 1882. The disease usually affects the lungs first, and is accompanied by a chronic cough.