More Than Eight Decades Later, A Look Back On The Dionne Quints


This past week, the world looked on in awe as the McCaughey septuplets finally graduated from high school.

The world’s first surviving septuplets, it’s not too surprising that they draw media attention from time to time.

But before the McCaugheys, there were five sisters in Canada who had their own experience in the limelight, and now do everything they can to provide a cautionary tale to families ofkids like the McCaugheys and other multiples.

The Dionne sisters were the world’s first surviving quintuplets. Identical sisters, they were born in Ontario in the 1930s.

As a bonafide medical miracle of the era, they were celebrities from birth. People throughout Canada and abroad were enthralled by the idea of five virtually identical little girls growing up together.

Now, more than eight decades after the Dionnes were born, let’s take a look back on their challenging, fascinating lives, and the lessons that they can impart about the price of childhood fame.


The Dionne quintuplets were born on May 28, 1934, to French-Canadian parents in northern Ontario.
The sisters — Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Émilie, and Marie — were the world’s first known surviving quintuplets.

They were born to parents Oliva and Elzire Dionne, who already had five children, and would go on to have three more after the quintuplets were born.


From birth, the Dionne girls were regarded as a medical miracle.
In the 1930s, fertility medicine was barely on the map, so multiple births, especially on this scale, were virtually unheard of.

The Dionnes, conceived naturally, and delivered prematurely, but without serious complications, astonished the medical community and the media alike.


That simple accident of birth had far-reaching consequences that launched the Dionnes on a path of fame and spectacle the moment a well-meaning uncle placed the birth announcement.
The impoverished Dionne parents were immediately approached by various institutions to display their unusual babies.

While many of these institutions claimed to be medical in nature, most of them were part of the culture of freak shows that persisted even into the 1930s.


The Dionne girls did not go to one of these institutions.
Instead, they were taken away from their parents and made wards of the Royal province at just 4 months.

Ultimately, however, the government was nearly as exploitative of the girls as any freak show would have been.


In their early years, they were raised by the medical staff who delivered them, in a special hospital nursery.
There, they were constantly studied and tested, and visitors could pay to observe them three times a day.

They quickly became a popular tourist attraction, and thousands of visitors a day would come to marvel at the spectacle of the five identical sisters.10372227_10152455056471600_5183923750807238271_n2

As the girls got older, they were brought on the road more and more, trotted out to be shown off to visiting dignitaries and celebrities.
At one point, they were even introduced to Queen Elizabeth II of England.

They also appeared in a series of loosely fictionalized films about Dr. Dafoe, the man who delivered and then took custody of them.13310604_1745686302367024_5449419222241015745_n

At the age of 9, the Dionne parents won back custody of the girls from the state.
Unfortunately, in their large, once-impoverished family, the girls were treated as an easy payday.

Throughout their teen years, they appeared repeatedly at events, and were mistreated at home.


In 1952 at age 18, as soon as legally possible, all five girls left home, and cut most ties with their parents and Dr. Dafoe.
From there, they slipped out of the spotlight, away from all media and fame.

They lived very quietly, with three raising children, one entering a convent, and the fifth becoming a librarian.13315798_10153939694391997_4318936186495779104_n

Émile Dionne, who became a nun, passed away in 1954 at age 20 after having a seizure.
Marie Dionne passed away 16 years later after suffering a blood clot.

The remaining three sisters moved in together in the 1990s, where they continued to live a quiet life.13325715_10154017336750622_6642216513377265100_n

Yvonne, Annette, and Cécile broke their silence rarely in those years.
In 1997, upon the birth of the McCaughey septuplets, they emerged to publish a letter advising the McCaughey parents against raising their children in the spotlight, concluding the letter with the statement:

“If this letter changes the course of events for these newborns, then perhaps our lives will have served a higher purpose.”Dionnequints2-600x449

In 1998, the three sisters were awarded a settlement for what they had gone through at the hands of the Ontario government.
Yvonne passed away a few years later, and Annette and Cécile recently celebrated their 82nd birthday.

Naturally, they did so quietly, privately, and without fanfare


If you’re fascinated by the tragic tale and hard-earned wisdom of the Dionne sisters, SHARE their incredible story on Facebook!