By the time they had survived four months, they government took the girls from their poor family (and their father, who had allegedly already considered exhibiting them for money) and guardianship of the girls was given to Dr Dafoe (who attended their birth). A specially designed hospital across the street from the family farm was built where they spent the next nine years of their lives, seeing nothing of the outside world and little of their parents who were made to feel unwelcome. They were tested and studied and examined, with meticulous records kept of everything. Once the government realized this could be a tourist attraction where they could make money there was no stopping the number of souvenirs, endorsements, and apparently tourists. More people came to visit what became known as 'Quintland' than visited Niagara Falls. The girls were put on display for 30 minutes two or three times a day as they were brought to a special 'play area' where tourists could watch them through a one way screen. Even in the Depression, 6,000 tourists a day made their way to this little Northern Ontario town. Souvenirs with their identical likeness (they were always dressed the same, why would anyone want to see identical quintuplets not dressed identically?) included everything from postcards, calendars, dolls, spoons, plates, cups, plaques, to special chocolate bars. Anything that could have their picture imprinted on it was and sales of Quaker Oats, condensed milk, toothpaste, corn syrup, soared as people bought into the cuteness factor and aided the economy and the exploitation.
A whole new Quint industry sprang up and provided employment for thousands. The Quints helped millions of people feel happy during the depression and forget the hunger and unemployment for a moment. - from the website of the Dionne Quints Museum North Bay District Chamber of Commerce
All was not rosy when they were eventually returned to their family. The girls felt alienated from their five older siblings and their father continued to use them as a source of income.
Emilie died at age 20 of an epileptic seizure, Marie died at age 35 of a blood clot, and Yvonne died in 2001 at age 67 of cancer. The two remaining sisters, Annette and Cecile live in Montreal. The girls all left home when they turned 18 and had little contact with their parents after that.
"We hope your children receive more respect than we did. Their fate should be no different from that of other children," Annette, Cecile and Yvonne Dionne wrote in an open letter published in Time magazine (1997) to the McCaughey's after the birth of their septuplets. "Multiple births should not be confused with entertainment, nor should they be an opportunity to sell products."
Jon and Kate take note.
Happy 75th birthday to Annette and Cecile.
See here for more Archival pictures
For more on the Quints story including video footage see here