I thought it would be good to do a short posting about the Dionne Quintuplets since they were a big part of the popular culture of the mid-late 1930s. The world was fascinated by the five identical sisters. As with the Hollywood child star Shirley Temple, it seems like the keen interest the fans of the Quintuplets had provided a needed escape from the harsh realities of life during the Great Depression. The Quintuplets were very important to Emily as the following family story relates. From there Uncle Sammy and I present the research results on the Quints, as the press and public often referred to the Dionne Quintuplets.
Emily Leatrice Serrapede was born on April 18, 1931. She was the daughter of Josie and Sam; older sister of Jerry and Sammy; and EmilyAnn’s Mom.
Family Story: My name in French is Emilie!
Emily was 3 years old when the Dionne Quintuplets were born in 1934. One of them was named Emilie. A few years later Josie and Sam bought her a Dionne Quintuplet spoon with the name “Emelie” engraved on it. The handle of the spoon was shaped to represent a little girl that looked like one of the Quints. The figure on the spoon had clearly defined ringlets and wore a smock type dress. Emily was very possessive of that spoon. Another object she considered very precious was her blue Shirley Temple drinking glass. The spoon and the drinking glass were brought out only when the immediate family had a meal together. If cousins or friends were visiting Emily asked Josie not to take them out to show anyone. She also asked Josie not to tell anyone about them.
It’s not that she thought the spoon and drinking glass had any power to make her somebody special. It was the idea that they connected her to two well known children she followed with great interest through listening to the news on the radio or heard her parents mention if an article appeared in the newspapers. Sometimes Emily wondered what Shirley Temple was having for breakfast or what it was like when Emilie Dionne met news reporters and had her photo taken for the papers.
–as told by Emily L. Serrapede to her daughter EmilyAnn Frances May
There are no public domain images of the Dionne Quintuplet spoons or the blue cobalt Shirley Temple drinking glasses. I located good examples at some websites for which I provided links to in the Recommended Reading with photos section at the end of Part 2 this posting.
Headline News: May 28, 1934
Page 1 article from May 29, 1934 Brooklyn Daily Eagle describing conditions the Quintuplets were born into.
The Quintuplets were born into a farming family in Callendar, Ontario, Canada on May 28, 1934. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported the event in the Tuesday, May 29, 1934 edition. Emphasis was given to the harsh conditions the quintuplets had to overcome. To keep them warm, the babies slept together in a basket that was placed in front of the kitchen stove of the house where they were born.
Mrs. Dionne and the quintuplets a few hours after their birth.
Public domain photo.
The big news was that the quintuplets lived on. It was the first time in 500 years that a set of quintuplets lived more than a few hours after their birth. The girls were named:
Dr. Allan Dafoe provided pre-natal care for Mrs. Dionne prior to the birth of the Quintuplets. He never expected her to be carrying that many babies. At most it was thought she would have twins. As news went around the world about the quintuplets, the matter of their health and well-being was often discussed and written about. It was soon not only the newspapers and filmmakers who took a great interest in the babies. The provincial government also took an interest and decided to step into the lives of the Dionne family.
From Farmhouse to Quintland
On May 27, 1935 the quintuplets were seized by the Ontario government and made wards of the state. Dr. Allan Dafoe was made one of their guardians. They went to live in a compound across the road from the Dionne farmhouse. This compound included a hospital where Dr. Dafoe cared for the quintuplets. He obtained a water heated incubator for them to sleep in and a staff of nurses to provide round the clock care.
Also on the compound was a playground and a small house for the nurses. The Dionne sisters never left the grounds and so grew up with very little exposure to the outside world. Even their parents were not allowed to hold them or spend much time with them. This separation and distance caused great resentment in later years on the part of Mr. and Mrs. Dionne towards their daughters. It also prevented the formation of any bonds the quintuplets could have had with their other brothers and sisters.
The girls became a tourist attraction that made big money for Ontario. Tourists came from around the world to see the five little girls at play on the grounds of Quintland. Even Dr. Dafoe became wealthy off as he accepted fees for speeches and articles that he wrote about his experiences caring for them. Manufacturers used images of the Dionne quintuplets to advertise their products. A line of baby dolls and spoons also came out. The Ontario government promised to put money aside into a trust fund for the quintuplets. But when they reached 21 years of age they learned that due to bad administration only $800,000 of their trust fund remained.
(to be continued in the next posting)