recess radio program

5/28/04
The Dionne Quintuplets
    by John Cech

 

Brief sound clip

Those are the eight-year-old Dionne Quintuplets, singing for a Canadian war bond drive in 1942. The Dionne Quintuplets were born on May 28th in 1934, into an already large Canadian farm family -- they were the first quintuplets ever to survive. They were the miracle babies, delivered by a country doctor, Allen DaFoe, and almost immediately separated from their parents -- in part out of fear that their mother and father, Elziere and Oliva, might bring dangerous germs to the tiny infants -- or so the official explanation went.

Whatever the real reason, the result was that the little girls -- Annette, Yvonne, Cecile, Marie, and Emily -- were taken under the protection of the state and given over to Dr. DaFoe and a team of nurses for their care. Soon a compound was built opposite the Dionne family farmhouse on the outskirts of Callendar, Ontario, and soon, despite the Depression, tens of thousands of tourists were making the pilgrimage to "Quintland" where the children were placed on display twice a day for the benefit of the throngs that daily crowded the observation area, near where the tour busses parked. Photographs of these radiant children appeared in newspapers and magazines all over the world, and on everything from bars of soap, cereal boxes and cans of corn syrup to the calendars passed out by funeral parlors. By the age of two, they were commanding over $200,000 a year in endorsment fees alone -- money they and their parents never saw, but that the state absorbed instead. The girls were raised by Dr. DaFoe and his staff until they were about 8, and then brought back to their family, with whom they had had very little contact over the years. But the hoped-for reunion never really took hold.

One of the sisters later died of epilepsy and another of alcoholic despair; three of the sisters are still alive and were once again living together when they were interviewd in 1996. Speaking for the group, Annette said that what they had missed most in their celebrated childhoods was something quite simple and indispensible: "love, happiness and a family that wants us."

Copyright 2004 John Cech

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"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."