The Dionne quintuplets, who drew world attention in the 1930s and became the subject of three Hollywood films, were sexually abused by their father for years, the three surviving sisters have charged on Canadian television and in a new book.
Annette, Cecile and Yvonne Dionne, now 61, made the allegation in an interview on the Radio-Canada television network in Montreal over the weekend. Asked why they had waited so long to break their silence, Yvonne spoke of their need to find “inner peace.”
Annette said, “We’ve come to a point where we had to liberate ourselves from the past.” Cecile added, “It’s a long time, but that’s normal for something so deep.”
The three now live in the Montreal area. Yvonne never married. Annette and Cecile are divorced, and both now use their maiden names. The two other sisters - Emilie and Marie - are dead.
The interviewer, Denise Bombardier, said she found the revelations “apocalyptic.”
“These women are completely destroyed psychologically,” she said.
Jean-Yves Soucy, a Montreal writer who was co-author with the three sisters, said, “This is a story not just of sexual abuse, but harassment and physical and verbal power abuse.”
The five girls were born May 28, 1934, in Corbeil, Ontario, near the Quebec border, to Elzire Dionne and her husband, Oliva. Dionne, a dirt-poor farmer before the birth of the quints, died in 1979.
As the first quintuplets on record to survive more than a few days, the infant girls were taken from their parents and made wards of the Ontario government, which turned them into what the Canadian Encyclopedia calls a “$500 million asset to the province.”
Three million people trekked to “Quintland” in North Bay in northern Ontario to watch the babies at play behind a one-way screen. Oliva Dionne fought a nine-year battle to regain custody of his children.
In the 1960s the four sisters then surviving - Emilie died in 1954 - told their often bitter story in a book titled “We Were Five.” But there was no mention of sexual abuse until the new book, “The Dionne Quintuplets: Family Secrets.”
The mistreatment the women now describe took place after they rejoined the family in the 1940s.
The incidents of sexual abuse occurred when they went for car rides with their father, the sisters said. Their father took them for rides one at a time and fondled them. The sisters never told their mother “so as not to aggravate the situation,” Annette said.
But when they did try to discuss the abuse with a school chaplain, Annette said, they were told “to continue to love our parents and wear a thick coat when we went for car rides.”