Famous Figures With Forgotten Siblings Who Pulled Strings Behind The Scenes

Famous Figures With Forgotten Siblings Who Pulled Strings Behind The Scenes

If you think your sibling rivalries can get fierce, imagine how complicated being the brother or sister of a historical icon must be. A few great men and women from the past had siblings who went toe-to-toe with them, and in some cases, these family members were incredibly supportive and vital to their success. In others, these pairs stopped at nothing to destroy each other.

1. John Wilkes and Edwin Booth

You might’ve heard that John Wilkes Booth was an actor, but before slaying Lincoln, he was far from the most notable member of his family. His older brother Edwin was one of the most famous stage performers in the United States, with many critics calling him the greatest Hamlet of his generation. He, too, had a momentous experience with the Lincoln family.

Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection / Wikimedia Commons

Saving Lincoln

Just months before Abraham Lincoln’s 1865 assassination, both Edwin Booth and the President’s son, Robert, happened to be at a New Jersey train station. Pushed and shoved on the crowded platform, Robert actually fell onto the tracks. Edwin pulled him back up just in time, saving young Lincoln’s life in an ironic twist.

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

2. Wolfgang Amadeus and Maria Anna Mozart

We all know that Amadeus was a child prodigy, but his elder sister was just as talented, if not more so. In the siblings’ sold-out concerts, Maria Anna often received top billing. Her father said that “although she is only 12 years old, is one of the most skillful players in Europe.” If that’s the case, why isn’t she a household name?

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The Music Stops

While few could rival Maria Anna’s talents on the harpsichord, in the 18th century it simply wasn’t proper for a grown woman to enjoy a professional music career. Her parents sidelined her so she could focus on starting a family. Maria Anna reportedly penned some compositions as an adult, though none remain in existence.

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

3. Wilbur, Orville, and Katharine Wright

While the Wright brothers are among history’s most famous siblings, their older sister Katharine gets left out of the narrative too often. Following their mother’s death, she practically raised Wilbur and Orville while working as a teacher. Then, she became instrumental in getting their dreams of flight off the ground.

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Taking Flight

Katharine managed the financial and administrative aspects of the Wright flying business, and she tended any wounds from failed test flights. After their airplane prototype was successful, the Wrights toured Europe. While Wilbur and Orville wilted in the spotlight, Katharine charmed audiences and became a minor celebrity.

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

4. Cleopatra and Arsinoe IV

Though they both were daughters of Ptolemy XII Auletes, the Pharoah of Egypt, Arsinoe IV and Cleopatra had very different ideas in mind for the future of their nation. Cleopatra wanted Egypt to continue as a Roman territory under Julius Caesar, while Arsinoe hoped to drive the Romans out. She staged a daring siege against Caesar and her half-sister.


A Short Reign

Arsinoe drove Caesar out of Egypt and ruled Egypt as Queen for a time, until her own countrymen sold her down the river to curry favor with Rome. She lived for several years as Cleopatra’s captive until she was executed under the orders of Marc Antony.

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

5. Harry Houdini and Theodore Hardeen

Erik and Ferenc Weisz, as they were once known, first began performing magic together as the Houdini Brothers. They wowed audiences until the day that Harry fell in love for a beauty in their Coney Island audience. The illusionist soon married her — and used her to replace Ferenc.

John Cox Collection / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Solo Career

Although he never reached the same heights as Harry, Ferenc struck out on his own as Theodore “Dash” Hardeen. He was the first magician to escape a straitjacket in full view of the crowd, and he notably debunked a number of phony psychics. Dash died at age 69, while in the early stages of drafting a book about his brother.

Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

6. Emily and William Austin Dickinson

Emily Dickinson wasn’t known for her warmth towards many people, but her brother Austin was an exception. He had a way of getting the poet to come out of her shell, and he established himself as a successful lawyer and treasurer. However, Austin also stirred up quite a bit of drama in Emily’s life.

Jeremiah D. Wells / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Mistress and Publisher

Unhappy in his own marriage, Austin began a passionate affair with Mabel Loomis Todd, the wife of a brilliant astronomer. As their romance became public knowledge, Emily’s sister-in-law said, “Mabel effectively destroyed the Dickinson family.” But that relationship also started a correspondence between Mabel and the reluctant poet. From there, Austin’s mistress became one of Dickenson’s primary editors and publishers.

Soda Pictures

7. Harriet Beecher Stowe and Catharine Beecher

As the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe is the best-known member of her family, though the Stowes were full of bright minds. Her oldest sister, Catharine, happened to be one of the leading educational voices of the time.

Fotosearch/Getty Images

Education for Everyone

While her sister built up the abolitionist movement, Catharine promoted women’s education and kindergarten access, in addition to writing educational manuals. She believed that a robust schooling system was fundamental to the American democracy, though she curiously opposed women’s suffrage.

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

8. Oscar, Emily, and Mary Wilde

Oscar Wilde, the wit of Ireland, might have had some competition in the family under different circumstances. He had two half-sisters who grew up apart from him because they were illegitimate. And when Emily and Mary did enter high society as young women, they met an untimely end.

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Red-Hot Fashion

At a Halloween ball in 1871, Emily hit the dance floor, lost in the eyes of her handsome gentleman suitor. It took her a few moments to realize that her voluminous dress had swept through the fireplace. Mary rushed over to help her sister, only for her own crinoline to catch fire. They both perished, and Oscar noticed his father was never the same after losing them.

Wellcome Collection gallery / Wikimedia Commons

9. Al and James Capone

Both Capone brothers were known for their gun-slinging skills, though they used them to very different ends. Jim never shared his younger sibling’s criminal tendencies, but as a romantic at heart, he did go out west on his own to join the circus. Their paths wouldn’t cross again for decades.

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Cowboy Lawman

James adopted a sharpshooter cowboy persona, calling himself Richard James “Two-Gun” Hart. Following a successful showbiz career, he actually became a prohibition agent. When his gangster brother got busted for tax evasion, James testified at the trial. Before then, none of Two-Gun’s friends knew he was secretly a Capone!

Chicago Mafia History / Facebook

10. Anne and Mary Boleyn

Anne made history as King Henry VIII’s second wife — a marriage that was later cut short — but she wasn’t even the first Boleyn whom he fell in love with. The monarch actually took her sister Mary as his mistress before ever courting Anne, and it’s rumored that the couple had two children together. So how did Mary fall out of favor?

Alex Bailey/Columbia Pictures

Romantic Rivals

After annulling his union to Catherine of Aragon, Henry was on the hunt for a new wife. Though Mary was reportedly more beautiful, Anne commanded more social cachet. The King’s former lover went on to marry a commoner instead, a move so scandalous that the rest of the Boleyns disowned her. Even family bonds don’t stand a chance against true love…

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

11. Prince Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson

Siblings have changed history again and again, but romantic relationships can alter the course of the world. On December 11, 1936, Edward VII announced that he was abdicating his royal position to his brother. He fell deeply in love with American divorcée Wallis Simpson but was forbidden from marrying her as a royal — so he left.

© Hulton-Deutsch Collection / CORBIS / Corbis via Getty Image

12. Mildred and Richard Loving

In the 1950s, interracial marriage was a crime in Virginia, so couple Mildred and Richard Loving traveled to Washington D.C. to make things official. They were arrested when they returned to Virginia and sued — their court case wound up removing the ban on interracial weddings.

Grey Villet / Abrams & Chronicle

13. Marie and Pierre Curie

In 1903, the Curies were awarded the Nobel Prize for their discovery of radioactivity. Though Pierre died at 46, Marie continued their scientific work, earning a second Nobel Prize in 1911.

Musée Curie (coll. ACJC)

14. John Lennon and Yoko Ono

One of the most notorious couples of the 20th century was John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Their relationship is rumored to have broken up The Beatles — John definitely became more of a hippie with Yoko.

Susan Wood / Getty Images

15. Cleopatra VII and Mark Antony

Because his love for Cleopatra was so immense, Mark Antony killed himself with his own sword when he heard a rumor that she died during war. When Cleopatra learned about his death, she took her own life to be with him.

Wikimedia Commons

16. James Obergefell and John Arthur

A few months before John Arthur lost his battle with ALS, he married his longtime partner, James Obergefell. This was in 2013, which meant their marriage was recognized in Maryland but not in their home state of Ohio. James’ fight to be named Johns’ husband on his death certificate inspired the Supreme Court to finally legalize gay marriage in 2015.


17. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott

For the 16 years up until he was assassinated in 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott were a political couple to be reckoned with. Their actions influenced the civil rights movement that continues still today.

William Lovelace / Express / Getty Images

18. Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal

When Mumtaz Mahal died in 1631, her husband, Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, used his power to make his subjects mourn with him for two years. Then, he ordered the construction of the Taj Mahal.

Photo via Pinterest

19. John F. and Jackie Kennedy

A political pair, John F. and Jackie Kennedy didn’t have the most faithful relationship, but both were devoted to one another. While she lived in the White House Jackie enraptured America with her style.

Bettmann / Contributor

20. Johnny and June Carter Cash

For 45 years, Johnny and June Carter Cash were a musical couple who spent as much time as they could together. They loved performing and June even helped Johnny through his addiction issues. In 2003, John died only three months after June.

VEVO / YouTube

21. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

The English public loved the marriage between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert — though apparently not as much as the pair loved each other. When Prince Albert died, the queen mourned for 40 years.

English Heritage / Heritage Images / Getty Images

22. Jerome and Isabella Karle

From lab partners to husband and wife, Jerome and Isabelle Karle are scientists known for their teamwork. When the Nobel Prize panel only recognized Jerome for their work on the atomic structure of molecules, he was furious that Isabella wasn’t acknowledged.

The Washington Post

23. Antoine and Marie-Anne Lavoisier

These 18th century scientists developed a name for themselves through their work on oxygen, but that notoriety didn’t stop Antoine Lavoisier from being executed in 1794 for treason.

Wikimedia Commons

24. Juan and Eva Perón

When Eva married Juan Perón, the president of Argentina, she took an active role as First Lady. In her role, Eva — better known as Evita — supported women’s voting rights and lobbied for communities in need of government assistance.

Keystone / Getty Images

25. Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra

Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, Alexandra, refused her arranged marriage because she was in love with Nicholas II. Unfortunately, the two weren’t destined for a lifelong romance: they (along with their children) were assassinated in 1918 by the Bolsheviks.

Historica Graphica Collection / Heritage Images / Getty Images

26. Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt

Though their marriage was fraught with scandal, Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt remained together and used their partnership to influence progressive policies in Congress.

Fotosearch / Getty Images

27. Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo

When Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo first started dating, Diego was a well-known artist, while Frida was only beginning in the art scene. Through their difficult partnership, it was Frida who became an icon.

FPG / Getty Images

28. Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir

The pioneer of existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre’s intelligence was matched by his partner, feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir. The two never officially married but were instead in “essential love.”


29. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

The paparazzi lost their minds when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle started dating in 2016. Eventually, the pair decided to move to North America and distance themselves from the rest of the royal family, turning the British monarchy upside down.

Chris Jackson / Getty Images