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Famous Mothers and Daughters in History

Mothers and Daughters from Medieval to Modern Times


Many women in history found their fame through husbands, fathers, and sons.  Because men were more likely to wield power in their influence, it's often through the male relatives that women are remembered.  But a few mother-daughter pairs are famous -- and there are even a few families where the grandmother is also famous.  I've listed here some memorable mother and daughter relationships, including a few where granddaughters made it into the history books.  I've listed them with the most recent famous mother (or grandmother) first, and the earliest later.

Marie Curie (1867-1934) and Irene Joliot-Curie (1897-1958)

Marie Curie, one of the most important and well-known women scientists of the 20th century, worked with radium and radioactivity.   Her daughter, Irene Joliot-Curie, joined her in her work.  Marie Curie won two Nobel prizes for her work: in 1903, sharing the prize with her husband Pierre Curie and another researcher, Antoine Henry Becquerel, and in 1911, in her own right.  Irene Joliot-Curie won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935, jointly with her husband.

Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928),

Christabel Pankhurst (1880-1958) and Sylvia Pankhurst (1882-1960)
Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, Christabel Pankhurst and Sylvia Pankhurst, founded the Women's Party in Great Britain.  Their militancy in support of woman suffrage inspired Alice Paul who brought some of the more militant tactics back to the United States.  The Pankhursts' militancy arguably turned the tide in the British fight for women's vote.

Lucy Stone (1818-1893) and Alice Stone Blackwell (1857-1950)

Lucy Stone was a trailblazer for women.  She was an ardent advocate for women's rights and education in her writing and speeches, and is famous for her radical wedding ceremony where she and her husband, Henry Blackwell (brother of physician Elizabeth Blackwell), denounced the authority the law gave men over women.  Their daughter, Alice Stone Blackwell, became an activist for women's rights and woman suffrage, helping bring the two rival factions of the suffrage movement together.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902),

Harriot Stanton Blatch (1856-1940) and Nora Stanton Blatch Barney (1856-1940)
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was one of the two best-known woman suffrage activists in the first phases of that movement.  She served as theoretician and strategist, often from home while she raised her seven children, while Susan B. Anthony, childless and unmarried, traveled as the key public speaker for suffrage.  One of her daughters, Harriot Stanton Blatch, married and moved to England where she was a suffrage activist.  She helped her mother and others write the History of Woman Suffrage, and was another key figure (as was Alice Stone Blackwell, daughter of Lucy Stone) in bringing the rival branches of the suffrage movement back together.  Harriot's daughter Nora was the first American woman to earn a civil engineering degree; she was also active in the suffrage movement.

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) and Mary Shelley (1797-1851)

Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is one of the most important documents in the history of women's rights. Wollstonecraft's personal life was often troubled, and her early death of childbed fever cut short her evolving ideas. Her second daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley, was Percy Shelley's second wife and author of the book, Frankenstein.

Suzanne Curchod (1737-1794) and Germaine Necker (Madame de Staël) (1766-1817)

Germaine Necker, Madame de Stael, was one of the best-known "women of history" to writers in the 19th century, who often quoted her, though she is not nearly so well known today.  She was known for her salons -- and so was her mother, Suzanne Curchod.  Salons, in drawing political and cultural leaders of the day, served as influences on the direction of culture and politics.

Empress Maria Theresa (1717-1780) and Marie Antoinette (1755-1793)

The powerful Empress Maria Theresa, the only woman to rule as a Habsburg in her own right, helped to strengthen the military, commercial. educational and cultural strength of the Austrian empire.  She had sixteen children; one daughter married the King of Naples and Sicily and another, Marie Antoinette, married the king of France.  Marie Antoinette's extravagance after her mother's 1780 death arguably helped bring on the French Revolution.

Anne Boleyn (~1504-1536) and Elizabeth I of England (1533-1693)

Anne Boleyn, the second queen consort and wife of King Henry VIII of England, was beheaded in 1536, likely because Henry had given up on her having his much-wanted male heir.  Anne had given birth in 1533 to the Princess Elizabeth, who later became Queen Elizabeth I and gave her name to the Elizabethan age for her powerful and long leadership.

Louise of Savoy (1476-1531),

Marguerite of Navarre (1492-1549) and
Jeanne d'Albret (Jeanne of Navarre) (1528-1572)
Louise of Savoy married Philip I of Savoy at the age of 11.  She took on the education of her daughter, Marguerite of Navarre, seeing to her learning in languages and the arts. Marguerite became Queen of Navarre and was an influential patroness of education and a writer. Marguerite was the mother of French Huguenot leader Jeanne d'Albret (Jeanne of Navarre).

Isabella I of Spain (1451-1504),

Juana of Castile (1479-1555),
Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536) and
Mary I of England (1516-1558)
Isabella I of Castile, who ruled as the equal of her husband Ferdinand of Aragon, had six children.  The sons both died before they could inherit their parents' kingdom, and so Juana (Joan or Joanna) who had married Philip, Duke of Burgundy, became the next monarch of the united kingdom, beginning the Habsburg dynasty.  Isabella's oldest daughter, Isabella, married the king of Portugal, and when she died, Isabella's daughter Maria married the widowed king.  The youngest daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand was sent to England to marry the heir to the throne, Arthur, but when he died, she swore that the marriage had not been consummated, and married Arthur's brother, Henry VIII.  Their marriage produced no living sons, and that prompted Henry to divorce Catherine, whose refusal to go quietly prompted a split with the Roman church.  Catherine's daughter with Henry VIII became queen when Henry's son Edward VI died young, as Mary I of England, sometimes known as Bloody Mary for her attempt to re-establish Catholicism.

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