The Secret Lives Of The Dionne Quintuplets

There's something inherently fascinating about multiple births. Granted, today's medical knowledge has led to widespread availability of fertility treatments, making multiple births much more common than they used to be. Today in the United States, about 36% of twin births and 78% of births of three or more babies result from fertility treatments. Still, even with recent innovations in medicine, triplets, quadruplets, and other high-order multiple births are pretty rare.

So, imagine it's the 1930s; the birth of quintuplets (quints) would certainly cause quite the stir! Not just quints either - identical quints, who all survived infancy. From birth, the Canadian Dionne Quintuplets were famous, attracting attention for the whole country, as well as the world.

Born on May 28, 1934 in northern Ontario, the sisters were premature by two whole months!


While their mom thought it was possible that she was pregnant with twins, she never expected quintuplets.

Wikimedia Commons

Oliva-Edouard and Elzire, their father and mother (respectively), were already parents to five children. They named the identical girls Cécile Marie Émilda, Émilie Marie Jeanne, Marie Reine Alma, Yvonne Édouilda Marie, and Annette Lillian Marie.

From Our House

Dr. Allan Roy Dafoe, who delivered the quintuplets, was sure that they would all pass away shortly after birth. At this time, quintuplets were practically unheard of. When they all survived and news began to spread of the incredible quintuplets, it sparked interest from all corners of North America.


People sent donations, supplies, and letters filled with well-wishes and advice. The people in charge of the upcoming "Century of Progress" exhibition in Chicago even reached out to the Dionnes, trying to get them to allow the girls to be put on display. The parents initially agreed, which brought up issues of exploitation.

Hansel Mieth


Because of the exploitation concern, as well as the Dionne's inability to financially care for their 10 children, the Ontario government removed the children from their parents' custody ... but only the quintuplets.

Sirkka Karlen

The government made them wards of the Crown, and left their day-to-day care to Dr. Dafoe, who delivered them. They were housed in the specially-built Dafoe Hospital and Nursery, which had several areas designated for public observation.

The government, Dr. Dafoe, and his staff set up an entire tourist attraction solely around the girls. They were constantly studied and examined. They were presented for public exhibition two to three times a day. Their likenesses were used in advertisements and to sell products, like these identical Dionne sister dolls.

Shannon Sands Torn

In general, they lived a highly regimented life, with a strict timetable for every minute of the day. Despite the approximately 6,000 visitors that came to gawk at the girls, they had little to no contact with anyone from the outside world - including their parents and siblings.

Yahoo UK & Ireland

Finally, in 1943, Oliva and Elzire Dionne won back custody of the girls, who were nine at the time. Using the girls' trust fund, the parents moved the whole family into a large mansion near Quintland, the name that their girls' compound had acquired over the years.

Roger L Vaillancourt

Sadly, their return to their biological family didn't end the exploitation of the quintuplets. While their parents claimed that their goal was to reintegrate the girls into the family, they were frequently sent on tour to make money for the family.

Three Rooms Press


The sisters also described their lives as filled with unfair treatment at the hands of their parents. They were responsible for the bulk of the housework, disciplined more strictly, and denied the privileges their siblings received.


The girls didn't know, until much later, that the big house, the nice cars, the abundant food, and every other amenity their parents and siblings enjoyed over the years were funded by the exploitation they endured.

National Film Board of Canada

It comes as no surprise, then, to learn that the girls left home as soon as they turned 18, cutting all ties with their parents and Dr. Dafoe. Three of the sisters later married and had children, one became a nun, and the last went to nursing school before becoming a sculptor and, finally, a librarian.

Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau

After the unwanted and unhappy fame of their early years, the sisters have lived quiet lives since becoming adults. Annette, Cécile, and Marie, the three surviving sisters - share a home in the Montreal suburbs.

The Way We Were Photos

They've only entered the spotlight once by choice: after the birth of the McCaughey septuplets. The surviving sisters wrote an open letter to their parents, cautioning them to keep their children out of the spotlight. They said, "Our lives have been ruined by the exploitation we suffered at the hands of the government of Ontario ... We sincerely hope a lesson will be learned from examining how our lives were forever altered by our childhood experience. If this letter changes the course of events for these newborns, then perhaps our lives will have served a higher purpose."


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H/T: LittleThings

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