For centuries, people have been fascinated by multiple births. Although advancement in fertility treatments have increased the likelihood of a mother carrying multiple babies during a single pregnancy in recent decades, it hasn’t always been so common.
Back in 1934, a Canadian family was surprised by not just one, not just two, but five babies. The identical Dionne Quintuplets quickly became famous, particularly because they were never expected to survived infancy but beat the odds regardless.
Although their survival should have been a happy occasion, their lives were doomed to exploitation and sadness.
The five sisters were born two months prematurely, and shocked their mother who had expected, at most, twins.
Their parents, Oliva-Edouard and Elizire, already had five children before the quintuplets arrived, and found their resources stretched. They would go on to have another three sons in the years after the quintuplets.
Soon after the girls were born, just a few months in fact, word of their miraculous birth and survival against the odds had spread and garnered them some notoriety. At first, the family received some donations and supplies to celebrate the girls’ birth.
The Dionnes were extended an invitation to “showcase” the girls at the “Century of Progress” exhibition in Chicago.
Although the Dionnes initially agreed, the government chose to intervene on the basis of exploitation concerns, as well as the family’s financial instability due to having 10 children.
Government officials in Ontario removed the quintuplets from the custody of their parents and placed them with Dr. Allan Roy Dafoe, the man who delivered them.
They were taken to the Dafoe Hospital and Nursery, a place devoted exclusively to their care, and a place that was specifically set up with areas for public observation.
The place essentially turned into a tourist attracted, dedicated to the girls’ childhood so they could be studied and examined at any whim.
They had very regimented schedules, rarely left the compound, and had little contact with the outside world. They would occasionally see their parents and other siblings.
The very first time the girls met their family was through a glass observation window in their surrogate home’s nursery.
It wasn’t until 1943, when the girls were nine years old, that they were returned to the custody of their family. But still, they lived anything but a normal life.
They were frequently sent out to travel to various events and make appearances. In later years, the sisters recalled that they were frequently reminded how much “trouble” their births caused the family.
Once they turned 18, the girls moved out of the house and allegedly had little contact with their parents from that point onward.
Three of the girls, Marie, Annette, and Cecile, went on to marry and have children. Emilie became a nun, but died from a seizure at the age of 20. Yvonne went on to nursing school, took up sculpting, and became a librarian.
Marie died from a supposed blood clot in 1970, and Yvonne, Annette and Cecile would live together later in life.
Yvonne passed away in 2001, but Annette and Cecile were both living as of December, 2014.