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On Oct. 31, 1926, Charles Vance Millar, a well-known and wealthy Canadian lawyer, died at age 73. Halloween was a fitting day for him to go; Millar loved practical jokes and spent far too much time doing silly things like dropping dollar bills on the sidewalk and then hiding to see who would pick them up. But that was just a warm-up. In death, Millar unleashed his biggest prank ever — a last will and testament that was basically a giant social experiment.
Millar started off by giving shares in a jockey club to gambling opponents and shares in a brewery to teetotalling religious leaders. Then he left his house in Jamaica to three men who hated one another, on the condition that they own it together. But those were just a prelude to the big finish. The remainder of his fortune — about $9 million — would be bequeathed a decade later to “the mother who has since my death given birth in Toronto to the greatest number of children as shown by the registrations under the Vital Statistics Act.” If there were a tie, he wanted his fortune to be divided equally among the winners.
Millar probably thought he was being clever; after all, childless people aren’t often responsible for baby booms...But he probably wasn’t thinking about what would happen to the losers and all the new mouths they would have to feed, and he certainly wasn’t thinking about the Great Depression, which would soon envelop Canada and the rest of the world. That historical coincidence drove an ever-larger and ever-more-desperate group of women to try to win Millar’s fortune.
It’s unknown how many families decided to try to win Millar’s fortune. While there were a few mentions in the press early on, news coverage of the Derby didn’t really pick up until 1932, when the Ontario government tried to have the will nullified and the money given to the University of Toronto. After a huge public outcry —the government’s claim was withdrawn. At that point, several other women seem to have realized that their family size put them in contention and started to compete as well. By the deadline in 1936, more than two dozen Toronto families had welcomed at least eight babies during the previous decade.
Ten years after Millar’s death, 32 lawyers showed up to an initial hearing to claim a share of the fortune for the families they represented. After some quick record scanning, though, the presiding judge, William Middleton, cleared out everyone who didn’t have at least nine kids younger than 10. That left six families.
But some mothers who had more than nine kids still weren’t allowed a shot at the prize. Pauline Clarke was one of them; she had 10 children within the timeline — the first five with her former husband and the second five with a different man, one she lived with after her separation from her husband. Middleton was not impressed. “‘Children,’ when used in any testamentary document, always means legitimate children,” he wrote in his judgment
As for the Kenny family, it eventually settled for the same amount that Clarke did. Although Lillian Kenny gave birth to 11 children, her claim was dismissed on the grounds that three of the babies were stillborn.3 “A child born dead is not in truth a child,” Middleton wrote. “It was that which might have been a child.
Four other families with nine young children — the Timlecks, the Nagles, the Smiths and the MacLeans — were each awarded the equivalent of about $2 million.
The Stork Derby eventually became a huge news story, perhaps since it provided an outlet from the miseries of the Depression. Those miseries were manifold.
Very few articles, though, focused on the toll that the contest would have on the desperately poor families trying to win. Newsweek, for example, first referred to participant Lillian Kenny as a contender for the Derby before noting that one of her babies had recently died from rat bites while living in ghastly poverty.
Then he left his house in Jamaica to three men who hated one another, on the condition that they own it together.
originally posted by: CriticalStinker
a reply to: dug88
This reminds me of circumcision being so popular in America because of Kellogg.
We cut up babies because of a guy who made cereal... . Smh
originally posted by: Phage
a reply to: Bigburgh
Early 20th century was awesome.
originally posted by: SeaWorthy
a reply to: Lumenari
That Great-Aunt was married 3 times and all her husbands died in tragic accidents... making her quite well off.