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

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