The History of Higher Order Multiples
(Last Updated–June 10, 2006) In 1998 there were 6919 triplets and 627 quadruplets born in the United States. There were 79 quintuplets or higher births in the U.S. Just a little more than three decades earlier, author Amram Scheinfeld, in the book ‘Twins and Supertwins‘, estimated that there were probably no more than 250 to 300 surviving sets of triplets annually among the U.S.’s four million births and there were only 10,000 sets total triplets of any age throughout the U.S.
Until 1967, the United States had never averaged one living set of quadruplets per year and estimates made in 1972 in the book ‘The Curious World of Twins‘ theorized that perhaps only a dozen living sets of quadruplets were in the U.S. The numbers had increased slightly a decade later as supertwin statistician Helen Kirk Lauve estimated there were 101 complete sets of quads and eight sets of quints living in the U.S. in 1981.
Two major reasons (in-vitro fertilization treatments, women giving birth at older ages) for this amazing increase in the birth of multiples across the world are well known. But lesser known are some of the early pioneers in multiple births, the pre-fertilization treatment quadruplets, quintuplets and sextuplets.
Obviously, the birth of pre fertility-drug quadruplets was quite a rare event. Perhaps even more rare was the birth of identical quads. Two of the earliest examples of identical quadruplets in the United States were the Morlok girls (Edna, Wilma, Sarah, and Helen), born on May 19, 1930 in Lansing, Michigan and the Hargreave girls born in 1949. The Morlok’s turned 71 in 2001 and were the oldest-living quads in the world until one of the sisters passed away before what would have been their 72nd birthday.
The Keys Quadruplets were four girls born in Hollis, Oklahoma on June 4, 1915 and all four girls (two identical, two fraternal) ended up going to Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where they graduated together in 1937. About 60 years later, another set of quadruplet girls, the identical Hansen Sisters, would also go on to matriculate at Baylor.
Other early quadruplets in the United States were the Schenseses of Hecla, South Dakota (two girls and two boys born on January 13, 1931), and the Perricone boys of Texas in 1929 (the first all-male quads in the U.S.) and the Fultz girls of North Carolina (1947), the first black set of quads in the United States who were also likely the second set of identical quadruplets born. The Fultz Quads, Mary Alice, Mary Louise, Mary Anne and Mary Catherine, are shown in a 1962 UPI photo (l to r) below meeting President John F. Kennedy. The Perricone Quadruplets petitioned the U.S. Army successfully so that all four could serve together in the Korean War.
UPI 1962 Photo
The book ‘Multiple Human Births’ by Horatio Hackett Newman, published in 1940, claims that there were 48 sets of quadruplets born in the United States between 1915-30 in which at least one of the four quads was alive at birth.
While quadruplets are much more commonly born today, identical quads are still quite rare. We’ve seen one online reference to just 58-65 sets throughout the world. The oldest living quads in the world may be the Miles Quads of England, Ernest, Paul, Michael and Anne, who each turned 70 on November 28, 2005.
In terms of the first sets of quinituplets, The Facts About Multiples Web Page makes reference to many early quints, the Kanouse’s of Wisconsin (Feb. 13, 1875), the Lyons of Mansfield, Kentucky (1896), and the Drury’s of Kentucky (1914) in which none of the five babies survived for more than a few weeks. The Lyons Quints were five boys (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul) who survived for three weeks. ‘Multiple Human Births’ hints that they may have been identical. There are also references to sets in 1776 in Mars Bluff, South Carolina and in 1800 in Monticello, Illinois where at least one of the quints survived for brief periods.
Actually, the sad story of the world’s first surviving quintuplets has been well chronicled. The world’s first and so far only set of verified identical quintuplets were born on May 28, 1934, Cecile, Marie, Annette, Emilie and Yvonne Dionne of Ontario, Canada. The Dionne Quintuplets (shown above at age 2) were taken away from their parents and became wards of the Canadian Government, by whom they were exploited and displayed in a public museum.
Nine years later, with the horrid exploitation of the Dionne Quints still very fresh in the public’s minds, another set of quintuplets was quietly born in Buenos Aires, Argentina on July 15, 1943. Maria Esther, Maria Fernanda, Maria Christina, Carlos Alberto, and Franco (seen above at age 1) were born to wealthy parents, Senor Franco Diligenti and his opera singer wife, Ana Aversano, who decided early to try to raise his three girls and two boys away from the public eye and as individual children.
Senor Diligenti was so successful in this attempt to sheild his family away from the public (the babies were delivered at home with the help of a midwife sworn to secrecy and registerd with the government at different city offices throughout Buenos Ares) that the world didn’t learn of the birth until the quints were eight months old.
The Diligenti Quintuplets each went their own separate ways and have remained out of the public eye as adults. The two boys, Carlos Alberto and Franco, each went to school in Canada, and Maria Cristina went to live in Rome as a young adult, while Maria Fernanda and Maria Ester remained in Buenos Aires, marrying at ages 19 and 16, respectively. The Dilligenti Quints will turn 63 each on July 15, 2006 and are the world’s oldest living set of quints.
Within a seven-day period between September 7-14, 1963, there were actually two sets of surviving quints and two sets of surviving quadruplets born around the world. Included in that list was the Prieto boy quints of Venezuela on September 7, and the Fischer quints of Aberdeen, South Dakota on September 14, the first surviving set in the United States.
The Fischer Quints were born to small-town farmers, Mary Anne and Andy Fischer, and were part of a much larger family as the Fischer’s had 11 children (including a baby sister born less than a year after the quints) with the oldest boy just seven years older than the quints (girls Mary Ann, Margie, Cathy, Maggie and the outmanned lone boy, Jimmy, as pictured above).
As of mid-2006, the Facts About Multiples Web Page lists more than 735 sets of quint births in the world, with just 21 sets worldwide conceived spontaneously (as opposed to fertility treatments) since 1965.
The Facts About Multiples Web Page has uncovered references to unidentified sextuplets perhaps being born in the U.S. in 1831 and 1847 and in Italy in 1844. The first birth of sextuplets that we know the babies names were born on September, 8, 1866, as the Bushnell’s of Chicago, delivered Alberto, Alice Elizabeth, Alincia, Laberto (d), Lucy (d), and Norberto. Alinica reportedly survives to age 85, dying on March 27, 1952 in Warsaw, New York.
There were four sets of natural sextuplets born in the United States in the first half of the 20th century with only one of the 24 babies surviving, a baby girl born to Mr. and Mrs. Phillip Speichinger of Mendon, Missouri, on August 9, 1936. That surviving birth is verified in the 1963 Guinness Book of World Records.
However, the first all-surviving set of sextuplets was recorded on January 11, 1974 when the Rosenkowitz six were born in South Africa. The babies were named David, Grant, Elizabeth, Nicollete, Emma and Jason. Jason communicates with twinstuff.com every so often with updates and his latest update let us know he and his brothers and sisters are doing fine and are spread across the globe on four continents. He’s still hoping to meet another set of sextuplets one day.
There are approximately 33 sets of all-surviving sextuplets living across the world, including at least 12 sets in the United States. The first set of sextuplets born in the U.S. was the Dilley’s on May 25, 1993 (the Dilley’s conceived their sextuplets after the use of the drug, Pergonal. They thought they were going to have quints until one last baby surprised them at the birth). They have had a TV Movie of the Week on their birth and have a pair of books on the market.
It is unknown how many of the recorded sextuplet sets in the world were conceived naturally.
Septuplets and Beyond
In this day and age of modern fertility medicine, it sadly has almost become a race to see which parents can produce the highest number of healthy, surviving multiple babies.
The most famous of the modern-day multiples is likely the McCaughey Septuplets of Iowa, with four boys and three girls being born successfully on November 19, 1997. Births of septuplets were also recorded in Saudi Arabia in 1998 and in Washington D.C. in the United States on July 12, 2001.
A little over a year later, Nkem Chukwu of Houston, Texas (originally from Nigeria) gave birth to octuplets with one baby passing away a week after being born. The seven surviving multiples join a family in Saudi Arabia as the three largest surviving sets of multiple births. On September 13 and 17, 2000, eight surviving octuplets were born in Italy to parents Mariella Mazzara and Giovanni Pirrera. Sadly, four of the babies died less than two weeks after the birth, however. There is also reportedly a set of surviving septuplets who were born in India on September 20, 2002, although not much is known about that family.
There are also several other examples of multiple births, involving octuplets or even nine, 10 or as many as 15 fetuses, but with all resulting in all babies being miscarried or stillborn or with just one or two surviving babies.
Included in those cases were reports of decaplets (10 babies) being born to mothers in Spain in 1924, China in 1936, Brazil in 1947 but it is unknown if any babies survived. All three of those births, if they can be verified, would have been conceived without the use of fertility drugs.
These fertility-drug produced multiple births will most likely continue to garner headlines, media attention, and interest from people across the world but with horrible consequences. The medical dangers of these premature multiple births, not to mention the costs, are often overwhelming for the families involved. While we all marvel at the advances in modern medicine that allow these tiny babies to survive the tremendous challenges they face during large-scale multiple pregnancies, we must try as a society to find ways to allow families to conceive children safely and responsibly without placing unfair burdens on parents, hospitals, doctors and communities.
Finally, we should reflect that these higher-order multiple births are not a completely new phenomenon. The legend of Countess Margaret of Henneberg, Netherlands as described in the book The Two-Headed Boy & Other Medical Marvels by Jan Bonderon (Cornell University Press, 2000) relates one of history’s earliest multiple birth, the delivery of 365 children in one gestation on Good Friday, 1276.
According to the legend, the Countess insulted a peasant woman who was nursing newborn twins saying the only way women could give birth to twins was by having two fathers. The peasant cursed the Countess to give birth to as many children as there are days in the year–a fate which came true the following Good Friday. Each of the babies was supposedly no larger than a worm and all the boys were named ‘Jan’ and all the girls named ‘Elizabeth’. All the babies and the Countess herself died shortly after this supposed delivery of multiples.
The legend is obviously just that–a fanciful tale–but there is a church in Loosduinen in The Netherlands which has two wooden plaques on the wall commemorating this legendary birth. And Countess Margaret was a real noblewoman (her brother was the King of the Holy Roman Empire). In real life she died on that fateful Good Friday, leaving behind her husband and a boy, Poppo, and a girl, Judith.
A review of the history of higher-order multiple births in the past century shows us that we have come far as a society, but still have some difficult challenges ahead.