7 Of The Most Influential Sisters Throughout History

Angelina and Sarah Grimké

Angelina and Sarah Grimké

The Grimké sisters were 19th century women’s rights activists and abolitionists, which is extra impressive, considering their wealthy father owned hundreds of slaves in their hometown of Charleston. The Grimkés said “nah” to their life of luxury, moved north and became Quakers, and gave lectures about their experiences witnessing the brutalities of slavery. Despite getting publicly ridiculed for speaking to “promiscuous meetings of men and women together”, they persisted — Angelina’s Appeal to the Christian Women of the South drew groundbreaking parallels between women’s rights and abolitionism, and Sarah and her husband Theodore Weld’s American Slavery as It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses shook the public’s understanding of slavery. Renegades till the very end, they even tried to vote in the 1870 election because of the gender-neutral language of the15th amendment. Go Grimkés!

Margaret and Roumania Peters

Margaret and Roumania Peters

The Peters sisters — often called “Pete” and “Repeat” in their day — were the Venus and Serena Williams of the mid 20th-century tennis scene. When the tennis legends got their start in the 1930s, pro tennis was segregated, so they played in the all-black American Tennis Association, and they became famous for completely dominated the competition. Together, they won 14 doubles titles between 1938-1953; on her own, Roumania won two singles, one of which was against the legendary Althea Gibson. That’s some real sibling ~love~ right there.

Trung Trac and Trung Nhi

Trung Trac and Trung Nhi

The Trung sisters of ancient Vietnam are the badass sheroes you’ve been looking for. They led what’s now considered the first Vietnamese independence movement by successfully rebelled against their Han Chinese leaders and establishing their own independent state. Trung Trac and Trung Nhi ran their matriarchy for three years, but they chose to commit suicide rather than admit to defeat by Chinese troops in 43 CE. The actual queens are now regarded as national heroines of Vietnam.

Stefania and Helena Podgórska

Stefania and Helena Podgórska

The Catholic Podgórski sisters were just 16 and six years old when they started hiding 13 Jewish men, women, and children in the attic of their house in Poland during WWII. By that point, their father had died, and their mother had been sent to a forced labor camp, so teenaged Stefania was running the show, bravely breaking the law even as an SS officer lived next door. Desperate for money, Stefania knit sweaters to trade for food for everyone in hiding. When a German officer demanded that the sisters move out of the house, they insisted on staying out of solidarity. In the end, all 13 Jews they hid for 2 1/2 years survived the war, and the Podgórskis were honored as Righteous Among Nations. Righteous indeed.

Emily and Elizabeth Blackwell

Emily and Elizabeth Blackwell

You’ve probably heard of Elizabeth, the first woman to receive a medical degree in the US, but did you know that her sister Emily, who was also a doctor, was equally awesome?! Emily followed her older sister’s footsteps into medicine, and together, they did big things for women and health. The Blackwells, along with Marie Zakrzewska, founded the New York Infirmary for Women and Children — now known as New York-Presbyterian / Lower Manhattan Hospital — in 1857, which was the first hospital run by women and the first hospital dedicated to serving women and children in the US. They really put the “well” in Blackwell. Ba dum ch.

Sarah Louise and Annie Elizabeth Delany

Sarah Louise and Annie Elizabeth Delany

The Delany sisters were as impressive together as they were on their own. The Columbia graduates and daughters of a slave lived during the Harlem renaissance and went on to become civil rights pioneers and leaders in their fields. Annie Elizabeth, who went by Bessie, was the second black female dentist in New York State and was known for giving free children’s dental exams when she wasn’t looking after the teeth of famous civil rights leaders and authors. Sarah, or Sadie, as she was called, was the first black woman to teach home economics in a New York City school. Much later in their lives, they became famous for Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Year, their best-selling oral history of their lives. The duo was practically immortal — Having Our Say came out when the sisters were 103 and 101, respectively; they lived until they were 109 and 104.

Patria, Minerva, and Antonia Mirabal

Patria, Minerva, and Antonia Mirabal

The Mirabal sisters, aka Las Mariposas, are celebrated as national heroines in the Dominican Republic for their actively opposing dictator Rafael Trujillo, who was the country’s president from 1930-1938 and 1942-1952. The sisters formed the Movement of the Fourteenth of June — named after the date on which Patria witnessed Trujillo’s men massacre a group of people — and as a group, they distributed anti-Trujillo pamphlets and were involved in other underground anti-government organizations. Unfortunately, their clandestine activities did not go unnoticed by Trujillo: Minerva and Antonio were jailed in January 1960, and all three were murdered by Trujillo’s forces later that year.

History has been much kinder to them, though: In 1999, the United Nations General Assembly designated 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in their honor, and they’re now featured on a stamp and the 200-peso bill in the Dominican Republic.

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