You may have heard of the McCaughey septuplets.
They finally graduated from high school recently and are actually the very first surviving septuplets! They drew national attention throughout their lives.
Way before the McCaugheys, however, there was the first quintuplet family. Five sisters, born in Canada who had a much darker, less glamorous experience. That family, the Dionne sisters, have done a lot to share their story so other families like the McCaughey’s do not suffer the same fate.
On May 28 of 1934, two French-Canadian parents in northern Ontario had the first set of identical quintuplets.
They were named Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Émilie, and Marie were the first surviving group of quintuplets ever recorded in history. A miracle of modern science.
Incredibly the parents Oliva and Elzire Dionne already had five children prior to the quintuplets and even had three more children after the quintuplets’ birth. Talk about a busy home!
As you can imagine, the Dionne girls were regarded as a medical miracle.
Not only were they the first successful quintuplet birth, but fertility medicine was just beginning to be investigated, so multiple births in general were very rare.
The Dionnes conceived the babies naturally and although it was a premature delivery, there were no serious complications and all babies were born perfectly happy and healthy. The media and medical communities were incredibly surprised by this amazing birth as they attracted attention all across Canada.
This fame would follow the family from birth. After their uncle placed the birth announcement, many media outlets wanted to report on the incredible family.
The Dionne parents were easily impressed by the money being offered by a variety of companies and organizations to display their babies.
The parents were told by these organizations and companies that they were all medical, however most of them actually turned out to be part of a string of freak shows that were still able to find success in the 1930s.
But before any of these institutions and organizations could do anything, the Dionne quintuplets were taken away from the parents.
The quintuplets were made wards of the Royal province at the young age of just 4 months.
It turned out, however, that the government was going to be just as bad if not worse than any freak show would’ve been. Tragically these girls were treated worse than any child ever should be.
Initially, the girls were raised by the medical staff who helped deliver them.
They were being raised in a special hospital nursery were they constantly being studied and tested. Even worse, curious people could watch the quintuplet sisters during one of three visiting times a day.
The Dionne sisters quickly became an incredibly popular tourist attraction, bringing in thousands of tourists a day who would come and witness a medical miracle of five identical sisters. Tragically the little girls weren’t saved from the life of a freakshow, just now it was the government doing it.
As the girls grew older, they were forced to travel. Visiting celebrities and dignitaries would often be shown the quintuplets so they, too, could marvel at them.
The girls were even able to meet Queen Elizabeth II of England. Something the little girls would have appreciated if it didn’t cost them their freedom.
The Dionne sisters also appeared in a series of films loosely based on Dr. Dafoe. Dr. Dafoe was the doctor who helped deliver the sisters and then eventually took custody of them.
At the age of 9, Oliva and Elzire Dionne were able win custody of the quintuplets back from the Canadian government.
Unfortunately, Olvia and Elzire weren’t much better at treating the girls, as the parents used them as an easy way to make more income to sustain their family and live lavishly.
So for the duration of their teen years, they were forced to appear at many events and their parents didn’t treat them very well at home. A loving reunion this was not for the Dionne sisters and their parents.
Finally in 1952, the girls were 18 and finally able to escape their home. All of them cut ties with their parents and Dr. Dafoe.
Now with the ability to live quietly, all of them escaped media attention and lived normal, quiet lives.
Unsurprisingly, none of them ever wished to attraction media attention again. Three of the sisters had families, raising their own children. One decided to enter a convent and the last one became a librarian. All quiet lives away from the spotlight.
Tragically, Emile Dionne died at the age of 20 in 1954 just 2 years after escaping her terrible childhood. She was becoming a nun before she suffered a seizure.
Marie Dionne passed away 16 years after suffering a blood clot.
The last three sisters decided to group up and live together in the 1990s. They continued to live quiet and peaceful lives, away from media attention.
In 1997, the three sisters decided to break their silence when the news of the McCaughey septuplets spread. They published a letter advising the McCaughey parents of the hardships and missed opportunities the Dionne sisters faced due to being in the media spotlight.
The letter ended with an important statement
If this letter changes the course of events for these newborns, then perhaps our lives will have served a higher purpose.
In 1998, the three remaining sisters were finally granted some small form of justice when they were awarded a settlement for their treatment by Dr. Dafoe and the Ontario government.
Unfortunately just a few short years later, Yvonne passed away. Annette and Cécile are both still alive to this day, preparing to celebrate their 83rd birthday in May of this year.
Both Annette and Cécile live quiet, private lives away from the spotlight as they so rightly deserve.