On May 28, 1934, on a farm in the village of Corbeil, Ontario, near the Quebec border, a French-Canadian mother, Elzire Dionne, gave birth to five identical girls — Annette, Emilie, Yvonne, Cecile, and Marie. Born at least two months prematurely, each baby was small enough to be held in one hand; together they weighed only 14 pounds. Few expected they would survive — even their father did not think they would. But they did survive. Women from nearby villages brought breast milk, the Canadian Red Cross sent nurses and an incubator, and they became the first quintuplets known to have survived infancy.
News spread far and fast.
On May 27, 1935, the provincial government of Ontario had taken the five sisters away from their parents, after their father, Oliva, signed a contract with promoters to exhibit the girls at the World’s Fair in Chicago. Although Oliva cancelled the contract a day after he signed it, the authorities stepped in anyway to protect the babies, they said, from germs, potential kidnappers, and exploitation.
Being both cute and (in their abundance) freakish, the Quints generated unimaginable levels of attention from around the world. Over nine years, they remained a self- contained community in the midst of this extraordinary attention, living away from other children and utterly ignorant of the world. They saw their doctor, Allan Dafoe, and their nurses, and the shadowy visitors behind the gauze.
By 1937, about 3,000 visitors were passing daily through the “Quintland” hospital compound where the sisters were being cared for. . . . Hollywood exploited their fame, and four movies were made about them in the 1930s — all with happy endings.
During the girls’ infancy, nurses would take them to a nursery balcony and show them one at a time to a crowd below, their names written on a card. In the media, the girls’ upbringing was characterized as privileged, with round-the-clock nursing and a swimming pool and playground all their own. But in reality their playground was surrounded with glass that allowed visitors to view them three times a day.
At the age of nine, following a bitter battle between their father and Dr Dafoe, the five sisters returned to live with their parents and six siblings: moving from a near-royal culture of disinfectant and press photography, into the rural, Catholic culture they had left at birth.
They were not happy; they were hopelessly out of place. They lived at home until they were 18, after which they broke off almost all contact with their parents. Two quintuplets, Emilie and Marie Dionne, died in 1954 and 1970 respectively. Both parents have also died.
This story and parts of this story have been told many times, in different ways.
As a result of the exploitation, the sisters suffered from psychological and personal issues (alcoholism, bipolar disorder, broken marriages) into their adulthood.
In 1997, the last three surviving sisters sued the government of Ontario for restitution for the havoc in their lives. They were awarded millions.
Annette and Cécil are the only two sisters still alive today. These miracle babies lived sad lives, which is why the truth behind their story must be told.
They came from a single egg and they were unique; uniquely abused, too - both by the world, which turned the Dionne Quints into a freak show; and, they now claim, by their father.
Even though today may not sound so peculiar to have a set of identical quintuplets is still rare! Imagine how strange might that be so many years ago! The saddest part though is that these girls were considered as “miracle babies” but they didn't have the opportunity to live a normal life and they didn't even have been asked about it!
Share their unique story with others!