Famous Mothers and Daughters in History

Mothers and Daughters from Medieval to Modern Times

Emmeline, Christabel and Sylvia Pankhurst, Waterloo Station, London, 1911
Emmeline, Christabel and Sylvia Pankhurst, Waterloo Station, London, 1911. Museum of London/Heritage Images/Getty Images

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.

The Curies

Marie Curie and her daughter Irene
Marie Curie and her daughter Irene. Culture Club / Getty Images

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.

The Pankhursts

Emmeline, Christabel and Sylvia Pankhurst, Waterloo Station, London, 1911
Emmeline, Christabel and Sylvia Pankhurst, Waterloo Station, London, 1911. Museum of London/Heritage Images/Getty Images

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.

Stone and Blackwell

Lucy Stone and Alice Stone Blackwel
Lucy Stone and Alice Stone Blackwel. Courtesy of Library of Congress

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 and Family

Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

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.

Wollstonecraft and Shelley

Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

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.

Ladies of the Salon

Picture of Madame de Stael, Germaine Necker, feminist and salon hostess
Picture of Madame de Stael, Germaine Necker, feminist and salon hostess. Adapted from an image in the public domain. Modifications © 2004 Jone Johnson Lewis.

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.

Habsburg Queens

Empress Maria Theresa, with her husband Francis I and 11 of their children.
Empress Maria Theresa, with her husband Francis I and 11 of their children. Painting by Martin van Meytens, about 1754. Hulton Fine Art Archives / Imagno / Getty Images

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 and Daughter

Elizabeth I
Darnley Portrait of Queen Elizabeth of England - Unknown Artist. Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images

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.

Savoy and Navarre

Louise of Savoy
Louise of Savoy with her firm hand on the tiller of the kingdom of France. Getty Images / Hulton Archive

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).

Queen Isabella, Daughters, Granddaughter

Audience of Columbus before Isabella and Ferdinand, in an 1892 image
Audience of Columbus before Isabella and Ferdinand, in an 1892 image. Culture Club/Getty Images

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, Catherine, 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.

York, Lancaster, Tudor and Steward Lines: Mothers and Daughters

Earl Rivers, son of Jacquetta, gives translation to Edward IV. Elizabeth Woodville stands behind the king.
Earl Rivers, son of Jacquetta, gives translation to Edward IV. Elizabeth Woodville stands behind the king. The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Jacquetta of Luxembourg (~1415-1472), Elizabeth Woodville (1437-1492), Elizabeth of York (1466-1503), Margaret Tudor (1489-1541), Margaret Douglas (1515-1578), Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587), Mary Tudor (1496-1533), Lady Jane Grey (1537-1554) and Lady Catherine Grey (~1538-1568)

Jacquetta of Luxembourg's daughter Elizabeth Woodville married Edward IV, a marriage that Edward at first kept secret because his mother and uncle were working with the French king to arrange a marriage for Edward.  Elizabeth Woodville was a widow with two sons when she married Edward, and with Edward had two sons and five daughters who survived infancy.  These two sons were the "Princes in the Tower," likely murdered by Edward's brother Richard III, who took power when Edward died, or by Henry VII (Henry Tudor), who defeated and killed Richard. 

Elizabeth's eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York, became a pawn in the dynastic struggle, with Richard III first trying to marry her, and then Henry VII taking her as his wife. She was the mother of Henry VIII as well as of his brother Arthur and sisters Mary and Margaret Tudor.

Margaret was the grandmother by her son James V of Scotland of Mary, Queen of Scots, and, through her daughter Margaret Douglas, of Mary's husband Darnley, ancestors of the Stuart monarchs who ruled when the Tudor line ended with the childless Elizabeth I.

Mary Tudor was the grandmother by her daughter Lady Frances Brandon of Lady Jane Grey and Lady Catherine Grey.

Byzantine Mother and Daughters: Tenth Century

Depiction of Empress Theophano and Otto II with Party
Depiction of Empress Theophano and Otto II with Party. Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Theophano (943?-after 969), Theophano (956?-991) and Anna (963-1011)

Though the details are somewhat confused, the Byzantine Empress Theophano was the mother of both a daughter named Theophano who married the western emperor Otto II and who served as regent for her son Otto III, and Anna of Kiev who married Vladimir I the Great of Kiev and whose marriage was the catalyst for Russia's conversion to Christianity.

Mother and Daughter of Papal Scandals

Theodora and Marozia

Theodora was at the center of a papal scandal, and raised her daughter Marozia to be another major player in papal politics. Marozia is supposedly the mother of Pope John XI and grandmother of Pope John XII.

Melania the Elder and the Younger

Melania the Elder (~341-410) and Melania the Younger (~385-439)

Melania the Elder was the grandmother of the better-known Melania the Younger. Both were founders of monasteries, using their family fortune to finance the ventures, and both traveled widely.