Yvonne Dionne, one of the legendary Dionne sisters--the first quintuplets known to have survived infancy--died Saturday in Montreal, the family announced. She was 67 and had been fighting cancer.
In an era before test-tube babies and fertility drugs, the birth of the Dionne quintuplets on May 28, 1934, was considered a modern miracle.
The identical girls--Emilie, Annette, Marie, Cecile and Yvonne--were born two months premature, and each weighed less than two pounds.
But their births were treated as curiosities, and the provincial government of Ontario took custody of the girls after declaring their impoverished parents unfit to care for them.
They were placed in a specially built hospital--in reality, a virtual theme park--called Quintland, where they became a tourist attraction. Over the next nine years, more than 5 million tourists viewed the girls through one-way glass. The quints left the hospital just once during that period, to visit the queen of England.
It was estimated that they brought $500 million in tourist and endorsement revenues to the province during the 1930s.
Nine years after their birth, after a protracted legal battle waged by their father, the Ontario government finally returned them to their parents. But years later, the girls said that they all had been sexually abused by their father after their return to the family.
The five sisters ended up having generally unhappy lives. Emilie died in 1954 of an epileptic seizure at age 20; Marie died in 1970 of undetermined causes at age 36.
In their book “We Were Five,” published in 1963, the girls wrote that Dionne family members were disenfranchised, bitter outsiders. Their parents, they wrote, behaved “as though they were partners in some unspoken misdeed in bringing us into the world. . . . We were drenched with a sense of having sinned from the hour of our birth. . . . We were riddled with guilt.”
The three surviving Dionne quints eventually sued the Ontario government for damages and received a $2.8-million settlement.
Yvonne, who spent years working in a library, is survived by sisters Annette and Cecile.