Monday, February 07, 2005

Everyone loses in a Stork Derby

I watched "The Stork Derby" on Saturday and it's a little disturbing. Have you ever heard the urban legend about a man who left $1 million to the woman who had the most babies in ten years? Well, it turns out that the story is true.

A wealthy Toronto lawyer, named Charles Millar, bequeathed his estate to whichever woman gave birth to the most babies in the ten-year period following his death. He died in 1926 and the cruelly named "stork derby" began. Most of the women competing were from lower income families who already had several children. The money was just an incentive for them to have more. But the problem is that they were betting on chance; if they didn't win the money then they would be stuck with perhaps more than ten children and no way to take care of them all. Some people who know the story claim that those women would have had that many children regardless of whether there was a contest or not.

The media kept track of the baby count and in 1933, the five front runners had 56 children between them but only 32 were eligible to be counted. Some had been stillborn, some hadn't been registered and some had been born out of the Toronto area.

But before the money could be handed out some legal questions needed to be answered. Did stillborn children count and if they did, should they count? What about illegitimate children? One of the women in the running, Pauline Mae Clark had ten children, all were twins but didn't all have the same father. She supposedly should have won but because of the the different fathers, her case was dismissed.

Lillian Kenney also had a claim to the money, having twelve children in ten years (approximately equal to being pregnant for 3650 days straight). But some of her children had died and she didn't have birth certificates to prove that they hadn't been stillborn. (It was determined that stillborn children didn't count).

The whole matter was resolved in the Supreme Court but neither Pauline nor Lillian won the money. They were given a small consolation prize of $12,500 each but that hardly makes up for the amount of "blood, sweat and tears" endured by both these women.

The four women ended up sharing the prize, having nine children each in the time allowed. In the movie they look like snooty rich prudes who would never even dream of getting pregnant. I'm sure it was just sensationalized to make a more exaggerated comparison between them and poorer women like Pauline Clark and Lillian Kenney.

Why, you may ask, did Charles Millar do this? Well, the "stork derby" wasn't the only problem that he created with his death. He left his one share in the O'Keefe Brewery Company (a catholic firm) to every Protestant minister in Toronto; he gave shares in a ractrack to a judge and preacher; he bequeathed a house in Jamaica to three men who hated each others guts.

While I was doing research on the guy I increasingly got the feeling that this man was a wanker. I mean, what was his problem? He was wifeless, childless and even in death, took pleasure in other people's unhappiness. As for the whole pregnant for ten years deal, the women who participated apparently didn't mind. For me it sure seems like a sick thing to offer money for. Women are not cows or broodmares and I perfectly resent Mr. Millar for putting women in such a position. They got their hopes up only to find out that they've raised their own miniature army with absolutely no payback. And why did he make that a clause in his will? Was he worried about another war and wanted Canadian women to have as many children as possible to fill up the ranks of the military? Was it to populate the country and save us from *le gasp* immigrants? My suspicion is that he got some perverse sort of pleasure out of his will.

Quote: Babies: A loud noise at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other
~ Ronald Knox


kirp said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
kirp said...

I have just recently discovered that my Grandmother was Pauline Mae Clarke and I can tell you that her story was a tragidy. After receiving her award of $12,500.00 she took the money and abandonded her husband and children. Their lives were devastated and they still suffer today.

The duck thief said...

I'm sorry to hear that your grandmother suffered so much because of this derby.

May I ask how you found this post? I never expected a response to this post and I can't imagine how you found it.

Anonymous said...

Pauline Clark was my late husbands grandmother. She left the family in a mess. But through endless searching one of the twins, my uncle John Madill found a couple of his twin sisters. And I only found out about this fiasco after my husband died!