Dionne Quintuplets (1934—)

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Dionne Quintuplets (1934—)

Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Émilie, and Marie Dionne are the first monozygotic—all from one fertilized ovum—quintuplets known to have survived to adulthood. They were nearly sextuplets, but the sixth fetus miscarried in the third month of pregnancy. Born to Oliva and Elzire Dionne, French-Canadian peasants, in their seven-room farmhouse near Callander, Ontario, the premature babies weighed a total of 13 pounds, 6 ounces. They owe their survival to the quick and intelligent care of the local general practitioner, Dr. Allan Roy Dafoe, who collected virtually every incubator in the province and kept the tiny girls alive through his excellent scientific care. Nevertheless, the significance of the Dionne Quintuplets rests not in their place in medical history, but as examples of exploitation and publicity. Their birth and survival created a worldwide sensation, and their father collected a fortune by serving as their "manager," selling the right to photograph them, to have them appear in motion pictures, and to secure their "endorsement" of various products. They were made wards of the Canadian government in 1935, and for their first ten years were raised in a special nursery built for them out of public funds. After a protracted lawsuit, their parents recovered custody in 1944.

The birth of multiple children in the United States never garnered as much interest as that of the Dionne quintuplets. However, the subsequent birth of the Thompson sextuplets and the McCaughey septuplets in 1997 brought to light racial tensions in the United States. Unlike the worldwide attention given to the Dionne family, the birth of the first African-American sextuplets on May 8, 1997 came with little fanfare. Living in a two-bedroom apartment, the Thompson family struggled to make ends meet with the money Linden Thompson could make from his two jobs. Only after the much-publicized birth of the white McCaughey septuplets, seven months later that year, did corporations extend the same free products and aid to the Thompson sextuplets as well. Although not the riches given to the Dionne family, the lifetime of free diapers, college scholarships, and use of a mini-van relieved some of the stresses on the newly enlarged families.

—Gerald Carpenter

Further Reading:

Barker, Lillian. The Dionne Legend: Quintuplets in Captivity. Garden City, New York, Doubleday, 1951.

Berton, Pierre. The Dionne Years: A Thirties Melodrama. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1977.

Blatz, W. E., et al. Collected Studies on the Dionne Quintuplets. Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1937.

Braudy, Leo. The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and Its History. New York, Random House, 1986.

Nihmey, John, and Stuart Foxman. Time of Their Lives: The Dionne Tragedy, a True-Life Fairy Tale. Ottawa, Canada, NIVA, 1986.

Roberts, Penni. "Thompson Sextuplets Offered Four-Year Scholarships." Philadelphia Tribune, December 26, 1997.

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Dionne Quintuplets (1934—)

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