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The odds of their conception were about one in 50 million, their chances of living to adulthood even lower. America’s first surviving quintuplets were born today in 1963, in Aberdeen, South Dakota, to Mary Ann Fischer and Andrew Fischer, a grocery clerk.

Large multiple pregnancies, usually ending in premature birth, are quite risky. Previously, the only North American quints to survive infancy were Canada’s Dionne sisters, born in 1934. Their story was tragic, involving callous commercial exploitation.

The Fischers, despite an insatiable press, were determined to shun the limelight. The quints, four girls and a boy, had six other siblings. Today, many still live in or near Aberdeen, working in elder care, sales and other jobs.

They remain close. In 2013, all 11 gathered for the quints’ 50th birthday: “We’re just like anybody else,” Cathy Bales told a local paper. “Working and trying to make a living.”

The year 2013 was also a big birthday for the first surviving African-American quintuplets, who celebrated their 30th year at Disney World. The five children, three girls and two boys, believe they, too, benefited from parental protection.

“Why go on national TV and tell everything?” Rhealyn Gaither-Thomas once said. “You have to sell your soul.”

Otherwise, she added, “I don’t know if we would be as close, tight-knit and grounded as we are.”

Nancy Wartik wrote today’s Back Story.

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