'The Two Headed Nightingale' portrait photograph of Chrissie and Millie McCoy

Made:
1872 in Stonehouse and Plymouth
photographer:
John E Palmer

Buy this image as a print 

License this image for commercial use at Science and Society Picture Library

Buy this image as a print 

License this image for commercial use at Science and Society Picture Library

Buy this image as a print 

License this image for commercial use at Science and Society Picture Library

Photograph of music cover with medical theme (1984-56/5), together with carte de visite photograph (1984-56/6). Top
Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Copy photograph of carte de visite.
Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Carte de visite photograph. The Two Headed Nightingale. [black, female conjoined 'siamese' twins known as Chrissie
Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Carte de visite photograph of 'The Two Headed Nightingale' photographed and published by John E Palmer, 58 Union Street, Stonehouse, Plymouth. Copyright 1872. The portrait shows Chrissie and Millie McKoy, conjoined African American twins, posing in fringed dresses and button boots, with flowers in their hair. They hold flower arrangements with furniture to either side. A printed signature on the back says 'Compliments of Chrissie Millie'.

Conjoined twins Chrissie and Millie McCoy (who sometimes referred to themselves as one person) were remarkable women by any standards. Not just successful women they overcame prejudice and exploitation on a number of levels. They eventually became so successful that they were able to buy the plantation where they were born. They gained money and fame through their singing career, as this carte de visite with its signature testifies. Queen Victoria was supposed to be among their fans.

Enslaved from birth, the McCoys were bought and sold numerous times (even stolen on one occasion). They had little or no choice about the way in which they performed or were displayed. Even when they became famous singers, medical men were still able to examine them as ‘medical curiosities’. The signature 'Chrissie Millie' shows how they were regarded as one person rather than two.

After the emancipation of slaves in the 1860s, the sisters were free women, yet chose to remain with the Smith family, their previous owners. They wrote an autobiography describing their lives, which was used to promote their singing, and thus presents interesting questions about how honest they chose to be.

Related people

Details

Category:
Art
Object Number:
1984-56/6
type:
portrait
taxonomy:
  • visual and verbal communication
  • visual and verbal communication

Cite this page

Rights

We encourage the use and reuse of our collection data.


Data in the title, made, maker and details fields are released under Creative Commons Zero


Descriptions and all other text content are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 licence

Using our data

Download

Download catalogue entry as json

View manifest in IIIF viewer

Add to Animal Crossing Art Generator

Download manifest IIIF

Our records are constantly being enhanced and improved, but please note that we cannot guarantee the accuracy of any information shown on this website.