The Tragic Story of The Dionne Quintuplets

Andrei Tapalaga

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The Dionne sisters were born on May 28, 1934. Their mother, Elzire, was 25 at the time. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In 1934, at a time when twin pregnancies were rare in a small Canadian town, a woman gave birth to five daughters. Annette, Cécile, Yvonne, Marie, and Émilie Dionne immediately became famous: it was the first case of quintuplets in which all children survived childhood. But the attention born around them would have tragic consequences.

Did you know that the chances of having quintuplets are 1 in 55,000,000?!

Becoming the world’s interest overnight

At the age of four months, the Dionne girls also attracted the attention of the Canadian government, which made the controversial decision to separate them from their parents, claiming that it thus protects them from possible exploitation.

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Dr. Allan Roy Dafoe with the Dionne Quintuplets in 1934 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Although the five babies had no health problems, they were placed in a hospital specially designed for them, which turned out to be more of a place of entertainment for the public. Tourists were invited to come to the hospital to see the wonder of the quintuplets, and soon Quintland became the largest tourist attraction in Canada.

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Photo of the Quintuplets at their first birthday within a Canadian Newspaper (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The girls were exposed to the public until the age of nine. At the same time, they were closely supervised by an army of nurses and doctors and constantly subjected to medical tests. Between 1934 and 1943, about 3 million people went to see the Dionne girls.

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Photo used by a Canadian magazine from 1940 when the girls were only 5 years old (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The hospital periodically published information on the growth and development of children, and images of the five girls always appeared in the newspapers. The Canadian government and the business associated with the Dionne case are said to have earned about half a million dollars from the girls — money they never received.

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The girls being used as an advertising tool for making money (nicknamed the “Quints”) (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Forced to separate for a better life

After nine years and a long struggle for custody, the Dionne girls returned to their families. However, the meeting was not successful. They lived with their parents until they were 18, then immediately distanced themselves from them. Later, they wrote a book about their childhood experience, accusing their parents of verbal, sexual, and physical abuse.

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The Quintuplets at the age of 13 with their parents (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Even though the parents stated that they wanted to integrate the sisters into the family, they had to continue to participate in various public events. According to the testimony of one of the girls, the parents never treated them as different individuals, each with different needs, and often pointed out that they had brought many problems to the family by their mere existence. In addition, they were treated differently from other children in the family, being raised with much stricter discipline — and more punishments.

The Dionne sisters had tragic lives. They never fully recovered from the psychological trauma caused by their childhood years, when they were raised behind a glass wall and exposed to the whole world.

The girls’ mother, having a precarious financial situation, was contacted a few days after the birth by representatives of an exhibition, interested in exposing the quintuplets to the public. The parents were persuaded to accept and although the contract was revoked before it was implemented, it made it possible for the government to raise the issue of exploitation of girls. Thus, a few months after the birth of the five girls, the Ontario government intervened and took the children away from their parents. Their custody was revoked in 1935, and the girls were placed in the care of doctors.

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The sisters appeared in St Paul, Minnesota, when they were 17 to speak at their first formal American press conference. (Source: Bettmann Archive)

Officially, the reason for the government’s action was to ensure the well-being of the children, arguing that their parents would not be able to take care of them, but in fact, there was a massive interest in exploiting the curiosity of the public and the whole world.

In the hospital where they grew up (surrounded by a barbed-wire fence), the Dionne sisters underwent constant medical tests. In addition, they were required to have a fairly rigid lifestyle and were not allowed to contact foreigners. About 6,000 people came every day to see the girls, who were exposed to the public during playtime. There was also a souvenir shop, run by the girls’ mother, where photos, autographs, books, postcards, dolls, etc. were sold. — all printed with the image of twins.

In the first year, the Dionne sisters’ earnings exceeded $ 50 million. Quintland has become Ontario’s largest tourist attraction, surpassing the number of visitors in Niagara Falls. And many Hollywood stars have visited Quintland, such as Clark Gable, Bette Davis, or Mae West. These girls have been exploited for many years just like animals in order for unlawful people to make million in cash. The media was saying that the girls were receiving financial support, but they never saw a dime from all of their promotions.

Justice after years

The sisters left the family home when they turned 18 and no longer kept in touch with their parents. Three of them married and had children (Marie, Annette, and Cécile), while Émilie became a monk and Yvonne became a nurse and then dedicated herself to sculpture. Émilie died at the age of 20 from a stroke, and Marie died at the age of 36 from a stroke. Yvonne died in 2001 at the age of 67. The other two sisters, Annette and Cécile, are still alive.

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The sisters successfully sued the Ontario government in 1998 for compensation (Source: Bettmann Archive)

The Canadian government has officially apologized to the Dionne sisters for their role in the removal of their family, and in March 1998 announced that it would pay the three girls $ 4 million in compensation for their years in hospital.

If you want to find out more details here is the link to an old documentary done on their life.

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