Quintuplets raised in the spotlight and abused behind the scenes
Twins are exciting, triplets seem like a miracle, and natural quadruplets are hard to imagine. It's no surprise that multiples are still considered higher-risk pregnancies today. But there aren't many stories similar to the Dionne family.
On May 28th, 1934, sisters Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Émilie, and Marie were born in a modest farmhouse without water or electricity in Corbeil, Canada. Dr. Allan Roy Dafoe and two midwives attended the birth. No one expected five babies; they assumed the mother was just pregnant with twins. There were no known cases of five babies surviving birth at that point. Each of the five identical sisters weighed just over 2 lb.
Parents Elizire Legros and Oliva Dionne were poor farmers, but the birth of their daughters made them famous. Since the Dionne's family found themselves short on money, they decided to present their daughters as a miracle of nature at the Chicago World Fair. When the government heard of their plans, they took away all their custody and visitation rights.
The five girls were raised in a hospital by the doctor that attended their birth along with three other caretakers. They were subject to many scientific studies without their family's consent. They also allowed the girls to be used in advertisements for corn syrup and Quaker oats. The doctor became famous and wealthy through his association with the quintuplets.
The babies were taken away from their parents because they had intended to put their children on display, but their situation was hardly any better where they ended up. When the amusement park Quintland reopened, the Dionne sisters were placed behind a one-way mirror and viewed by 6,000 visitors every day. This lined the pockets of many involved, including the government.
At the time, the amusement park was Ontario's biggest attraction. The girls put on different shows and there were even dolls and calendars made as souvenirs for tourists.
Finally, in 1943, a lawyer helped the Dionne sisters return to their parents, but things weren't any better there. Both parents treated them harshly. There was more abuse: it couldn't get much worse. So when they were 19 years old, Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Émilie, and Marie left their family home and ended all contact.
As a result of their unusual childhood, the sisters spent their lives dealing with various psychological and personal problems: alcoholism, bipolar disorder, and several broken marriages. Émilie died at just 20 on August 6th, 1954 after an epileptic seizure and Marie died on February 27th, 1970 from a brain clot.
In 1997, the three remaining sisters sued the Ontario government for damages and came away with a sum in the millions. Good for them. At the age of 60 they were interviewed about their story and the feature film made about them and, there, you see three women who went through hell but managed through amazing persistence to reclaim their lives.
At least they have each other!
Annette and Cécile are still alive, showing the world what it means to wrest back control over your life after so many people used and abused it, to survive and to thrive. Here's a video someone put together of their story:
It's hard to imagine how their lives might have been different if they were born today. How could so many people mistreat these innocent quintuplets? It makes you think twice about all the children whose guardians put them in the spotlight...
But it's heartening to know that even after enduring the hardest childhood people can turn out as gentle and graceful as they did.