Picture a farm in the village of Corbeil, Ontario, not too far from the Quebec border. It’s May 28, 1934, and a very special day for Elzire Dionne and her husband because this is the day that she gave birth to quintuplets. The French-Canadian mother gave birth to five baby girls – identical baby girls.
The babies, Annette, Emilie, Yvonne, Cecile, and Marie, were born approximately two months premature. They were so small that, together, they weighed a grand total of 14 lbs. and each could be held in one hand. Many thought the worse – that they would never survive. Even the father, Oliva, had doubts. But with the help of women from villages close to them who brought breast milk and the Canadian Red Cross who provided nurses and an incubator, they became the first ever known quintuplets to have survived through their infancy.
Their birth became world news, and the Dionne quintuplets were dubbed “miracle babies.” This all happened during the Great Depression, so their survival was somewhat of a sign of hope to many.
Around 1937 when the girls were all of but three-years-old, they had become an attraction for tourists. Close to 3,000 visitors came to see these “miracle babies” at the “Quintland” hospital, where they were being taken care of. It is estimated that three million tourists over a period of nine years had visited the Hollywood-exploited phenomenon. In fact, there were four movies created around their story in the 1930’s.
In May of 1935, the quintuplets were taken away from their parents by the Ontario government. This, after their father signed a contract with promoters use the girls as an attraction at the World’s Fair in Chicago. Their dad canceled the contract one day after he signed after being told of the government’s anticipated response. the girls were taken anyway. The government citing that they needed protection from kidnappers, germs, and exploitation. This was just the beginning of what proved to be a long and colorful story of the lives of these “miracle babies” and their family.