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A Modern Family: Scientific Management, Medicine, Nursing and the Dionne Quintuplets (1934-40)
Visiting Scholar Lecture
Date: 20 Apr 2020
Presented by: Dr. Sioban Nelson, Faculty of Nursing, University of Toronto
Room: T182, 3rd floor of the UBC Hospital, UBC School of Nursing
Born on May 28, 1934, in the depths of the Depression to a francophone family in rural Northern Ontario, in a house without running water or electricity, these identical five baby girls riveted the world as they grew up in a Truman Show-like tourist attraction called “Quintland.” This talk examines the creation of the scientific model “family” for the babies, comprised of celebrity doctor, Alan Dafoe and the team of nurses who cared for the babies from birth. The paper draws on published and archival accounts by the health professionals overseeing the quintuplets, such as the writings of the first head nurse, Louise de Kiriline, serialized in Chatelaine magazine; as well as the papers of William E. Blatz, University of Toronto psychologist and early childhood expert responsible for the children’s routine; and correspondence on the management and upbringing of the children between Dafoe and medical experts, such as Dr. Alan Brown of the Hospital for Sick Children, first professor of paediatrics at the University of Toronto, and the international scientific advisory board engaged in researching the babies. Nurses were key to the scientific management of the babies, implementing protocols and collecting data on every aspect of the children’s lives. As the world’s first surviving quintuplets, the care of the babies was seen as a victory for scientific management and the quints were idealized in the public health literature as prototypical ‘healthy babies’ whose scientific surrogate parents provided the model for North American mothers and families during the 1930s and 40s. Dr. Nelson examines the complex relationships between the Francophone nurses, the children’s family, and the Anglophone medical men who oversaw the children’s health and commercialization. It provides insight into early public health nursing and the natalist ideology of the period.