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Friday, June 28th, 2013

A couple of weekends ago, while working at the German Festival, I went to make copies of an informational flyer.  The copy machine is in a small room that is located in the Modern Childhood exhibit.  As I exited the room,  a young girl asked me why the doll on display was named a “Yvonne doll.”  I told her I didn’t know where the term came from, and then decided to do some research.  The doll was made in the image of Yvonne Dionne, one of five quintuplets who were born in the 1930s.  One of five girls who found their childhood upended by unwanted fame.
Yvonne and her four sisters (Annette, Cecile, Emilie, and Marie) were born on May 28, 1934.  Having been born two months premature, none of them were expected to live.  All did.  This unprecedented quintuplet birth shocked the world.  Within days of the girls’ birth, representatives from Chicago’s Century of Progress exhibit came to Ontario, their hometown, and asked to take the quintuplets for a display.  This was the first effort to use the children as a publicity stunt.  A few months later, the Ontario government declared them wards of the state, claiming their family could not afford to care for five weak children who had such special medical needs.
As a result, the Dafoe Hospital and Nursery was built across the street from the quintuplets’ birthplace.  It served as more than a medical care center, however.  The five girls quickly became a tourist attraction.  People would visit and watch them play in an enclosed playground.  A souvenir shop popped up next to the building as well.  “Quintland,” as it came to be called, was a boon for Ontario, bringing in $51 million between 1936 and 1943.
So the Yvonne doll, which is a widely accepted feature of what is considered a normal childhood for girls, originated with a girl whose childhood was anything but normal.

The Yvonne doll at BNHV.

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