Who were the Dionne quintuplets?
When Elzire Dionne discovered that she was pregnant in 1933, she already had five children. By May the following year, she had doubled the size of her family. And she was only twenty five
She and her husband Oliva lived in a farming neighbourhood in a French-speaking area of Canada. During the early part of her pregnancy, Elzire thought she might have had a miscarriage (I won’t go into details) but her pregnancy progressed.
She believed that it might be twins.
But on May 28th, 1934, Oliva summoned the doctor and two midwives to their home because his wife was in labour — two months too early. To the amazement of the medical team, five baby girls were born. They were identical.
In those days, and this was before fertility drugs, someone giving birth to five babies was unheard of. Elzire said “What will people think of us? They will think we are pigs”. The doctor and the midwives fully expected the babies to die but they survived — and at time of writing, two are still alive.
Remembering that this young couple already had five children, it’s hardly surprising that Oliva and Elzire were approached by exhibitors of ‘freak shows’ wanting to capitalise on the five girls and that the couple seriously considered their proposals.
In fact, Oliva signed a contract but stated that the babies should not be moved without their doctor’s express permission. When the doctor said that it would be months – or even years – before the babies could be moved to another location, the contract was torn up.
The Canadian government
When the girls were four months old, the government decided that the parents were not fit to bring them up and the babies became ‘wards of the state’. They were put into the care of Allan Roy Dafoe, the doctor who had delivered them.
The doctor and the government created an entire industry around the girls. They were kept in a government built home with one-way glass (near to the girls’ birthplace) and millions of tourists flocked to see them as they grew up. Souvenirs were sold and restaurants, hotels and concession stands burgeoned in the area. It was estimated that the government made $4 million is gasoline taxes alone due to Dionne quintuplet tourism. The area became known as ‘Quintland’.
Oliva Dionne constantly petitioned to have the children returned to the care of himself and his wife and in 1941, public opinion was beginning to sway in his direction. Two years later, the girls were returned to their family. But this doesn’t mean that the attention stopped. Later in life the girls said that they had been virtually prisoners in their own home.
They were never truly integrated into the rest of the family. Their parents had had a further three children (all boys) after the girls were born. When they were eighteen years old, the five quintuplets left home and the family was never close. Indeed, in later years they complained hugely about the sometimes abusive treatment they had received from their parents.
What happened to the Dionne quintuplets?
Starting with the eldest first:
- Yvonne Édouilda Marie Dionne never married. She died in 2001
- Annette Lillianne Marie Allard married and had children. At time of writing she is divorced and still living.
- Cécile Marie Émilda Langlois too married, had children and divorced. Still living at time of writing, she lives with her sister Annette
- Émilie Marie Jeanne Dionne entered a convent. She died aged only twenty when she suffered a seizure in 1954
- Marie Reine Alma Houle was also married, had children and was divorced. In 1970 she was living alone and was found dead of either a blood clot in the brain or heart failure (accounts differ)
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