Cover image for The miracle & tragedy of the Dionne quintuplets
The miracle & tragedy of the Dionne quintuplets

1st ed.
Physical Description:
309 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm.
Quintuplets born to farm wife -- Canadian woman gives birth to five girls; all are doing well -- Country doctor struggles to save lives of Canadian mother and quintuplet girls -- Progress of quintuplets amazes medical world -- Star sends assistance to mother and five babes -- Quintuplets may go on exhibit at Chicago fair -- Quintuplets' father to get $100 a week while all live -- Home turned into hospital -- Parents of quintuplets dazed by sudden fame, offers, gifts -- Too many showmen after quintuplets -- Dionnes now have to guard quintuplets from tourist horde -- Quintuplet hospital started near home of parents -- Parents of babies plan for future -- Parents' wishes to be ignored -- Ontario adopts five world-famous little girls -- Mrs. Dionne, world's most famous mother, declares she is one of the unhappiest -- The private life of the Dionne quints -- Quints lose stage fright, 2500 gawkers a day -- Quintuplet frolics play to "standing room only" -- The threat to the quints' happiness -- Dionne endorsements, incorporated -- Dr. Dafoe himself -- Science designs a life for the Dionnes -- Home or science? The Dionnes' case debated -- Just one big unhappy family -- Guardians of Dionnes seek better relations with tots' parents -- "Felt right at home with king and queen" -- Dionne suing Dafoe for libel ; New York photo basis of action -- Dionne wins control over his five girls -- Quints will soon move to new home -- Dionne quints get schoolmates, nine specially selected girls -- Dionne quints 16 now, but no dates, says stern papa -- Famous Dionne quintuplets to be separated for first time this fall -- Four quints dry-eyed and close to shock -- Four Dionne sisters start life anew -- Boys? Million dollars? Dionnes shrug shoulders -- The Dionnes : a fight for happiness -- Quints' story causes new wound -- The babies of Quintland now : broke and bitter.
When they were born on May 28, 1934, quintuplets Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Émilie, and Marie captivated the world, defying medical history with every breath they took. In an effort to protect them from hucksters and showmen, the Ontario government took custody of the quints, sequestering them in a private, custom-built hospital across the road from their family. Here, Sarah Miller reconstructs their unprecedented upbringing with depth and subtlety, illustrating not only their resilience, but also the unique bond of their sisterhood. --


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In this riveting, beyond-belief true story from the author of The Borden Murders, meet the five children who captivated the entire world.

When the Dionne Quintuplets were born on May 28, 1934, weighing a grand total of just over 13 pounds, no one expected them to live so much as an hour. Overnight, Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Émilie, and Marie Dionne mesmerized the globe, defying medical history with every breath they took. In an effort to protect them from hucksters and showmen, the Ontario government took custody of the five identical babies, sequestering them in a private, custom-built hospital across the road from their family--and then, in a stunning act of hypocrisy, proceeded to exploit them for the next nine years. The Dionne Quintuplets became a more popular attraction than Niagara Falls, ogled through one-way screens by sightseers as they splashed in their wading pool at the center of a tourist hotspot known as Quintland. Here, Sarah Miller reconstructs their unprecedented upbringing with fresh depth and subtlety, bringing to new light their resilience and the indelible bond of their unique sisterhood.

Author Notes

Sarah Miller is the author of the historical fiction novels Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller , which was called "an accomplished debut" in a starred review from Booklist and was named an ALA-ALSC Notable Children's Book, and The Lost Crown , a novel hailed as "fascinating" in a starred review from Kirkus Reviews and named an ALA-YALSA Best Book for Young Adults.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Beginning two days after their premature birth in rural Ontario on May 28, 1934, "the lives of the Dionne quintuplets were inextricably bound with the press," asserts Miller (Caroline: Little House, Revisited), whose headline-style chapter titles reinforce that point in this compelling account. Together, the five babies weighed only 13 pounds, 6 ounces, and their desperate parents, Oliva and Elzire Dionne, traded privacy for critical necessities: breast milk and incubators. Those rushing to provide support simultaneously saved the quintuplets' lives and wreaked emotional havoc upon the family. Miller details the efforts of Dr. Dafoe, the local medical practitioner; the nurses he chose to keep the infants alive; Dr. Blatz, who attended to the sisters' emotional and mental development; and the government of Ontario, which tried to protect the family from being exploited by unscrupulous Americans seeking to profit from the story. The Dionne parents' rights to raise their children were continually overruled, and the physical separation of the quintuplets from the rest of their family until age nine produced lifelong emotional dysfunction. Miller presents multiple viewpoints with sensitivity, enmeshing the reader in the Dionnes' lives so successfully that it is impossible not to feel the tragedy of the quintuplets' lives. Black-and-white family photos and notes further expand this eye-opening, thoroughly researched title. Ages 12--up. (Aug.)

Horn Book Review

The miracle referred to in the title was of course the birth of the five identical Dionne sisters in Ontario in 1934, the first time quintuplets were known to survive. The tragedy is pretty much everything else about their story, with the baby girls taken from their parents to be raised in a custom-built hospital led by the dedicatedand controllingDr. Dafoe. The babies parents had to ring a bell at the gate and wait for the guard to let them inside. As much expos as biography, Millers book is a propulsive account of what life in that hospital was like for the girls, who lived there until they were nine years old, receiving necessary treatment for their initial fragility, certainly, but also serving as both a science experiment and as a tourist attraction, with thousands of visitors lining up daily for a chance to observe the quints at play. Their eventual repatriation to the family was a decidedly mixed affair, as the girls had become used to their own society and were not welcomed by their other siblings. They were also, as alleged by three of the sisters fifty years later, sexually abused by their father. To her credit, Miller avoids a sensationalizing tone, allowing the facts to speak for themselves. International media darlings during the Great Depression, the Dionne sisters are virtually unknown to todays young people, but Millers intense focus on what the girls were going through makes their story timeless. Readers may start this account for the horror but finish with sympathy. Substantial back matter includes a lengthy references section, thorough source notes, and an index. roger Sutton September/October 2019 p.115(c) Copyright 2019. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

In 1934, a set of quintuplets were born to Oliva and Elzire Dionne. Miraculously, the five tiny babies lived until that point, no other quintuplets had survived after birth. The Dionne Quintuplets were such a medical oddity that they soon became the center of a media frenzy and, unsurprisingly, deep controversy. Miller (The Borden Murders, 2016) offers another impeccably researched look into a cultural phenomenon, digging into the heart of a story surrounded by rumor and exaggeration. Relying on first-person accounts, journals, and transcripts, she uses direct quotes to great effect when describing the quintuplets, their parents' struggle to retain any sort of authority over their care, the country doctor who insisted on government oversight of their livelihood, the many child-rearing experts who shaped the five young girls' isolated environment, and, of course, the quintuplets themselves, who were raised apart from their family in the public eye. In many ways, this is a terribly sad story, but Miller resists sensationalizing, often emphasizing the necessity of sifting through exaggerated journal entries and reporting to find a kernel of the truth. Miller raises plenty of questions about child celebrity, government accountability, and journalistic integrity, and while some remain unanswered, there's still plenty to ponder in this thorough, fascinating deep dive into the lives of five girls who captured the attention of millions. Photographs and extensive source notes round out this stellar work of nonfiction.--Sarah Hunter Copyright 2019 Booklist

Kirkus Review

The true story of the Dionne quintupletsthe first quintuplets to survive infancy.On May 28, 1934, five identical girls were born to Elzire and Oliva Dionne in an Ontario farmhouse that lacked central heating, running water, or electricity. The combined weight of all five at birth was just 13 pounds, 6 ounces, and their struggle to survive (as copiously reported by the press, which rapidly descended on the farmhouse) captured people's hearts in the midst of the Great Depression. Overwhelmed by publicity and in legal trouble from an ill-considered contract to display the quintuplets at the Chicago World's Fair, Elzire and Oliva turned custody of the girls over to the Red Cross, which built a hospital/nursery for them. Instead of shielding the quintuplets from exploitation (one of the reasons put forward for custody), the Red Cross instead displayed them to the thousands of visitors a day who arrived, visitors who could also buy souvenirs at several shopstwo owned by Oliva. Miller (Caroline, 2017, etc.) tells the story chronologically with a succinct perceptiveness that is riveting in its detailing of well-meaning intentions turning to exploitation, and her inclusion of dialoguedrawn from contemporary materialsand photographs delivers a fresh feel. Notably, she individualizes the girls by always referring to them by name rather than lumping them together.An altogether fresh, perceptive, well-written chronicle of this cautionary tale. (afterword, note on dialogue, references, notes, index) (Nonfiction. 12-18) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.



    November 1943   In an empty nursery, behind two woven wire fences topped with barbed wire, five nine-year-old girls waited for their father. Five suitcases sat alongside them. Five smiling Shirley Temple dolls were clutched in their arms. Yvonne stared out the window at the yellow brick mansion up the hill. Annette quietly seethed, pretending not to be afraid. Cécile sat in a corner, rocking her doll. Émilie prayed that it was all just a bad dream. Marie tried to tell a silly story, but no one laughed. At the sound of their father's footsteps in the hall, all five sisters hugged their Shirley Temples closer to their chests. The moment they dreaded had come. For the first time in their lives, the Dionne Quintuplets were going home. Oliva Dionne did not speak as he and his five identical daughters walked through the hospital's guarded gate, down the road, and through another gate that led to the colossal Georgian house that was to be their new home. He did not lead them up the steps to the grand front door. Instead, he entered through a service door into the kitchen. Yvonne followed first, trying to be brave for her sisters' sake. Though Yvonne was no more than a few minutes older than Annette, Cécile, Émilie, and Marie, she had acted the part of the little mother since she was a toddler. For nine years Mr. Dionne had battled with the government to unite his family under a single roof. Now that his triumphant moment had arrived, the man who had once crawled through a drainpipe to elude hospital guards just so he could glimpse his five famous babies through a window spoke a single sentence. "The little girls are here," he told his wife, and continued into the house, leaving his daughters standing in the unfamiliar kitchen with their dolls and suitcases. "Bonsoir, Mom," Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Émilie, and Marie said, greeting their mother in a mixture of French and English. "Supper will be ready soon," Mrs. Dionne replied in French, then called for two of her elder daughters. "Show the little girls around the house," she instructed. Without a word, "the little girls" followed as their big sisters pointed into one doorway after another. The living room, the den, the sewing room, their father's office. Redolent of fresh paint and filled with pristine furniture, the house felt new and sterile, more sterile by far than the hospital that had been their home since they were four months old. Then they reached the dining room. Like everything else in the house, it was big, in this case big enough to seat fourteen--Mr. and Mrs. Dionne, Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Émilie, Marie, and their seven brothers and sisters, Ernest, Rose-Marie, Thérèse, Daniel, Pauline, Oliva Jr., and Victor. An archway divided the room in half, with a table on each side. "This side is for our family," the little girls remembered one of their elder sisters saying. "The other side is for your family." Not one of the bewildered nine-year-olds knew what to say. Excerpted from The Miracle and Tragedy of the Dionne Quintuplets: Five Children Who Captivated the Entire World by Sarah Elizabeth Miller All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prologuep. 1
Part 1 1 IN 57,000,000 Births
Chapter 1 Quintuplets Born to Farm Wifep. 5
Chapter 2 Canadian Woman Gives Birth to Five Girls; All Are Doing Wellp. 15
Chapter 3 Country Doctor Struggles to Save Lives of Canadian Mother and Quintuplet Girlsp. 21
Chapter 4 Progress of Quintuplets Amazes Medical Worldp. 28
Chapter 5 Star Sends Assistance to Mother and Five Babesp. 33
Chapter 6 Quintuplets May Go on Exhibit at Chicago Fairp. 37
Chapter 7 Quintuplets' Father to Get $100 a Week While All Livep. 40
Chapter 8 Home Turned into Hospitalp. 46
Chapter 9 Parents of Quintuplets Dazed by Sudden Fame, Offers, Giftsp. 52
Chapter 10 Too Many Showmen After Quintupletsp. 57
Chapter 11 Dionnes Now Have to Guard Quintuplets from Tourist Hordep. 63
Chapter 12 Quintuplet Hospital Started Near Home of Parentsp. 69
Chapter 13 Parents of Babies Plan for Futurep. 79
Chapter 14 Parents' Wishes to Be Ignoredp. 86
Part 2 Quint-Mania
Chapter 15 Ontario Adopts Five World-Famous Little Girlsp. 93
Chapter 16 Most Famous of Mothers One of the Unhappiestp. 99
Chapter 17 The Private Life of the Dionne Quintsp. 104
Chapter 18 Quins Lose Stage Fright, 2500 Gawkers a Dayp. 109
Chapter 19 Quintuplet Frolics Play to "Standing Room Only"p. 115
Chapter 20 The Threat to the Quints' Happinessp. 122
Chapter 21 Dionne Endorsements, Incorporatedp. 127
Chapter 22 Dr. Dafoe Himselfp. 133
Chapter 23 Science Designs a Life for the Dionnesp. 137
Chapter 24 Home or Science? The Dionnes1 Case Debatedp. 144
Chapter 25 Just One Big Unhappy Familyp. 151
Chapter 26 Guardians of Dionnes Seek Better Relations with Tots' Parentsp. 153
Chapter 27 "Felt Right at Home with King and Queen"p. 157
Chapter 28 Dionne Suing Dafoe for Libel; New York Photo Basis of Actionp. 166
Chapter 29 Dionne Wins Control over His Five Girlsp. 175
Part 3 Finding Home
Chapter 30 Quints Will Soon Move to New Homep. 181
Chapter 31 Dionne Quints Get Schoolmates, Nine Specially Selected Girlsp. 194
Chapter 32 Dionne Quints 16 Now, But No Dates, Says Stern Papap. 203
Chapter 33 Famous Dionne Quintuplets to Be Separated for First Time This Fallp. 208
Chapter 34 Four Quints Dry-Eyed and Close to Shockp. 216
Chapter 35 Four Dionne Sisters Start Life Anewp. 222
Chapter 36 Boys? Million Dollars? Dionnes Shrug Shouldersp. 227
Chapter 37 The Dionnes: A Fight for Happinessp. 234
Chapter 38 Quints' Story Causes New Woundp. 241
Chapter 39 The Babies of Quintland Now: Broke and Bitterp. 248
Epilogue: Dionne Visit Creates New Memoriesp. 257
Afterwordp. 261
A Note on Dialoguep. 263
Referencesp. 265
Acknowledgmentsp. 269
Notesp. 271
Indexp. 301