4 Famous Sets of Sisters Who Changed History

Earlier this month was National Sisters Day, which got me thinking about famous sibling duos. I thought it would be fun to share a list of the most famous of these sister pairings, but to be fair, there are so many famous pairs of sisters out there that it would be impossible to list them all. That’s why I’ve decided to leave out most of the contemporary examples you’re probably already familiar with, like Paris and Nikki Hilton and Venus and Serena Williams. I’ve also left out all of the popular sister singing groups from the last hundred years because there are so darn many of them between the Pointer Sisters, The Andrews Sisters and the gals from Heart. That being said, here are some sisters who impacted history.

The Graeae

These not-so-attractive ladies are probably some of the earliest examples of famous sister groups, even if they aren’t exactly real. The Graeae were three ancient goddesses from Greek mythology who shared one eye and one tooth amongst the group. While they were actually archaic goddesses, when they interacted with humans, they  usually took the form of old witches. Perseus stole the eye of the witches when they were passing it amongst themselves and used it to force the Graeae to tell him where the three objects he needed to kill Medusa were hidden. Thus, the Graeae were instrumental in the killing of Medusa, who was one of their sisters. Even if these siblings aren’t real, the story has been so long-lasting that it’s hard to imagine it not having any impact on European history to some extent. Source

The Trung Sisters

Around the same time that tales of Jesus were starting to be spread through the Middle East, two Vietnamese sisters were kicking butt, leading a revolt against the Chinese oppression of their country. It all started when Trung Trac fell in love and married a man named Thi Sach. The Chinese rulers of Vietnam were making assimilation into their way of life mandatory and when Thi Sach took a stand against the repression of his culture, he was executed. His death was supposed to be a warning against all those who would consider rebelling, but instead it spurred his wife and sister-in-law, Trung Nhi, to take up his cause and fight against the Chinese. The two sisters were raised learning martial arts and studying the art of warfare, so when it was time to start a rebellion, they were ready. In 39 AD, the two women repelled a small Chinese unit from their village and started to assemble a large army of rebels –mostly women according to popular legends. Within a few months, they already had taken back over 60 citadels from the Chinese and had liberated the kingdom of Nam Viet. The two were named as queens of their free country and they were able to keep the territory free from the Chinese for over two years.

The Trung’s victory was short-lived though. It wasn’t long before the Chinese amassed a massive army and decimated the women’s forces. One legend claims the Chinese were able to win the battle by fighting naked, embarrassing the female warriors so they willingly left the battlefield. Another story says that a pregnant woman on the front lines, Phung Thi Chinh, gave birth to her baby, scooped it up in one arm and continued to fight with the sword in her other hand. Despite their most valiant efforts, the female fighters were outnumbered. To protect their honor and avoid capture by the Chinese, the Trung sisters committed suicide by drowning themselves in the Hat River. Their remaining fighters carried on the battle until they were killed or until they killed themselves. While much of the story is more legend than truth, the Trung sisters are still highly revered in Vietnam as heroes of the first resistance movement in their independence from China. There is even a holiday honoring the day they committed suicide and temples throughout the country are dedicated to their memory. Source

The Grimke Sisters

The Grimke Sisters were some of the first women to publicly act in American social reform movements. While many revolutionaries were raised by progressive parents who taught them to question the way things are, Angelina and Sarah Grimke were the opposite. Their father, the chief judge of the Supreme Court of South Carolina was a strong proponent both of slavery and of the subordination of women. The girls were raised on a massive plantation, where they saw the worst parts of slavery on a regular basis. When Sarah was only five, she tried to run away so she could escape somewhere without slavery. She later taught her personal slave to read although this was against the law at the time. Sarah was a bright girl who studied constantly and wanted to become a lawyer. Unfortunately, when her parents learned that she wanted to attend college, they forbade her to study any more. Since she could no longer continue her education, Sarah begged to become godmother to her youngest sister Angelina. From that point on, the two were extremely close. The two started working for the abolition movement in 1835 and soon learned just how powerless women were when it came to politics. Angelina caused a scandal when she wrote her first abolitionist work, as it urged southern women to reject slavery because it allowed their husbands the opportunity to cheat on them with their black slaves. Discussing such a sensitive subject in such a brazen manner was considered outrageous at the time. As if that weren’t enough, the pair urged racial acceptance, not just the banning of slavery –something even many abolitionists were against. Every letter they wrote and every speech they gave was fought by criticisms, but the sisters stood strong. They pressed on and eventually, they became the first women to address the Massachusetts state legislature in 1838. Their appearance caused a scandal, but inspired a number of young women to follow them. Eventually, they attracted thousands of women in New England to join the abolitionist movement and thousands of men and women would travel from miles around to see the girls give public speeches. In 1838, Angelina got married to abolitionist and women’s rights supporter Theodore Weld. While the couple initially planned for Angelina to stay active in politics, when she delivered a baby, she found herself too busy to be a public speaker any more. Sarah moved in with the couple and also chose to retire from the public sphere. While they no longer spoke publicly on the matter, the girls continued to write and edit abolitionist newspapers and pamphlets. At one point, the girls started a boarding school and many abolitionists sent their children there to learn about politics and slavery without the racial prejudices of other schools at the time. After the Civil War, the Grimke girls learned that their deceased brother had three mixed-race sons with one of his slaves. The girls took in the oldest two of the children and provided them with education and support. After years of support for the abolitionist and feminist movements, the girls lived long enough to see the slaves freed and to see the 15th Amendment passed. At almost 80 years old, Sarah and her sister were able to vote for the first time in 1870. Source

The Podgorski Sisters

You can change the world in a number of ways and while Stefania and Helena Podgorska may have only saved the lives of 13 individuals, they are still heroes who could very likely inspire other groups of brave rebels. The girl’s father died in 1938, so Stefania had to start working in a grocery store owned by a Jewish family called the Diamants when she was only 15. It wasn’t long before Poland was invaded by both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union and the town of Przemysl was right at the dividing line between the two nations. The Germans took the girl’s mother and their brother to a forced labor camp to support the Third Reich, leaving a 16 year-old Stefania to care for her 6 year-old little sister. They also took the Diamants to a newly-formed ghetto. Stefania took a job as a machine-tool operator and paid rent for the apartment where she and Helena lived. In 1942, the Germans began to liquidate the Przemsyl ghetto, sending the Jewish residents to concentration camps. Fortunately, two sons of the Diamants escaped from the train that was scheduled to take them to the Belzec extermination camp and made their way to the Podgorska’s home. While the two girls were scared, they knew they had to help, so they let the boys stay in the attic. The older boy, Max, asked Stefania if he could bring his family to stay in the attic and she said yes. Because the attic was too small for so many people, Stefania soon rented a detached cottage with a larger attic. She and Helena moved in first and the rest of the family and their friends followed. Soon there were 13 people living in the girl’s attic. Unsurprisingly, the young girls quickly ran out of money to feed and house all of their visitors, so the girls began knitting sweaters and Stefania took orders for them from everyone she knew. She would even trade clothes for food when she couldn’t get enough money together. The family lived next to an SS officer for a long time, but everyone worked hard to stay quiet and not alert suspicion. Even so, the girls were terrified and shocked when a German officer knocked on their door one day and ordered them to vacate their home in the next two hours. Their fugitive tenants begged them to run away, but Stefania refused and the officer soon returned, informing the girls that he changed his mind and would be taking a home on the other side of the house. A few months later, the Soviet Army took over Przemysl and the Jewish attic-dwellers were free. Stefania married one of the Diamant’s sons and emigrated to the US. Helena remained in Poland, married and eventually became a physician.  In 1979, the two were flown to Jerusalem and honored as the Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem for their heroism during the war. Source As I said in the beginning, I did decide to leave out most of the contemporary famous sisters and any music acts, so if you’d like to take this time to talk about your favorite famous female siblings, go right ahead. Also, if you have any fun anecdotes involving your sisters, feel free to share them here.

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Please also remember the Mirabla sisters, the Butterflies, from the Dominican Republic who stood up to Rafael Trujillo at the cost of their lives.

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