Minds at Work: 7 of History’s Smartest Power Couples

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Stories November 12, 2020 Minds at Work: 7 of History’s Smartest Power Couples

Opposites may attract, but great minds think alike — or at least that’s the case with some of history’s greatest intellectual power couples!

We’ve compiled a list of 7 of history’s brainiest bedfellows. Read on and see how you and your partner stack up!

Mary Leakey and Louis Leakey

The Leakeys first met when Louis was in search of an illustrator for his book and was introduced to Mary through an archaeologist colleague. Not long after, this pair of paleoanthropologists dug up love — and a whole lot more! During their lifetimes, Mary and Louis Leakey discovered multiple previously unknown animal species, uncovered numerous important hominid fossils and artifacts, and were credited with much of the proof that humankind had its genesis in Africa.

Mr. and Mrs. Leakey and their three sons often explored and excavated around the world as a family, and their son Richard (and his daughter, Louise!) proved that all runs in the family by following in Mary and Louis’ footsteps, pursuing  a career in the fields of paleontology and anthropology.

Abigail Adams and John Adams

The love story of Abigail and John Adams is well-documented, thanks to over 1,100 letters they wrote each other from the start of their courtship and throughout John’s political career. In these letters, the two discussed everything from family to politics, and even referred to each other by pet names —  “Diana” for Abigail (the Roman goddess of the moon) and “Lysander” for John (the Spartan war hero).

Unlike her FLOTUS predecessor, Martha Washington, Abigail took an active stance on politics, and was, in fact, John’s closest advisor during his presidency. A vocal supporter for women’s rights, Abigail said to John in one of her many letters:

…remember the ladies . . .If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.

Helen Pitts Douglass and Frederick Douglass

Born free as a result of her parents’ manumission, Frederick Douglass’s first wife, Anna Murray-Douglass, inspired in him hope for the possibility of his own freedom — which she helped him attain (along with hundreds of other fugitive African-American slaves, whom she helped escape via the Underground Railroad headquarters in her home).

Upon his escape from slavery, Frederick became a national leader of the abolitionist movement, and with his platform he used his voice for the abolitionist effort, equality, free public education, and even women’s rights.

A year after Anna’s passing, Frederick remarried. His second wife, Helen Pitts Douglass, was an ardent abolitionist, a suffragist, a member of the women’s rights movement, and co-editor of a radical feminist magazine. She worked under Frederick’s direction as clerk for the Recorder of Deeds in Washington, and she often helped him in his work as he gave lectures and penned his autobiography.

Émilie du Châtelet and Voltaire

Mathematician, philosopher, scientist and contributor to Newtonian mechanics — Émilie du Châtelet didn’t mess around. And Voltaire wasn’t without his achievements, either. A satirical debater with biting wit, Voltaire penned more than 2,000 books and pamphlets in his lifetime.

Not long after the start of their friendship (and with the approval of Émilie’s husband), Émilie invited Voltaire to move into her country house. While Voltaire’s achievements were better aligned to the literary world than Émilie’s scientific world, the paramours collaborated on scientific endeavors together in a laboratory the two set up in Émilie’s home.

The two remained together for fifteen years. Émilie died as a result of complications from childbirth (the product of another affair). Of her passing, Voltaire said,

It is not a mistress I have lost but half of myself, a soul for which my soul seems to have been made.

Marie Curie and Pierre Curie

Marie Curie was a famed physicist and chemist who led the charge on the theory of radioactivity (and was actually the one to coin the term!). Not only was Marie the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, but she’s the only woman to win twice.

Pierre, also a Nobel Prize winner, was a physicist, and studied crystallography, magnetism, piezoelectricity, as well as a contributor to Marie’s research on radioactivity.

Having been originally introduced through a mutual friend, the relationship between Pierre and Marie was that of teacher and student, but it wasn’t long before a romance began to blossom. Pierre once said to Marie:

It would be a beautiful thing, a thing I dare not hope, if we could spend our life near each other hypnotized by our dreams: your patriotic dream, our humanitarian dream and our scientific dream.

Together, the work of Marie and Pierre Curie breathed new life into the scientific world of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. To this day, Marie is widely regarded around the world as one of the most inspirational female figures in science.

Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin

While theirs was, by all accounts, an unconventional relationship according to the standards of their day, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin are a fitting example for the marriage of two great minds.

Mary, a feminist writer best known for her novel A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, is considered one of history’s founding feminist philosophers, and a pioneering advocate for women deserving the same fundamental rights as men.

William was one of the first advocates for utilitarianism and the anarchist movement. He was a prolific writer in his day, and is even credited with having written the first mystery novel!

The two met as a result of traveling in the same circles of literary friends. Having read one of Mary’s works, Letters Written in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, William proclaimed of it:

If ever there was a book calculated to make a man in love with its author, this appears to me to be the book. She speaks of her sorrows, in a way that fills us with melancholy, and dissolves us in tenderness, at the same time that she displays a genius which commands all our admiration.

Mary Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley

Mary Shelley (daughter of previously mentioned power couple, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin!) and Percy Bysshe Shelley spent one fateful summer in Switzerland with friends Lord Byron, John William Polidori, and Claire Clairmont (Mary’s stepsister) where one challenge to write a ghost story turned into what we know today as Mary’s literary masterpiece, Frankenstein.

Having given his own contributions to the finished work of Frankenstein, Percy was a writer, himself, though he preferred poetry to fiction. Known for such works as Ozymandias and Queen Mab, Percy is widely regarded as one of the most influential poets in the English language. He was also a supporter of fair treatment for all living beings and wrote multiple essays on the subject of vegetarianism.

Mary’s father, William Godwin, was Percy’s mentor. Percy and Mary first met when Mary returned from studying in Scotland. It’s believed that the two shared secret meetings at Mary Wollstonecraft’s grave as their romance grew, and it was there that they fell in love. Though Mary’s father disapproved of the relationship, the two eloped not long after, and in spite of numerous hardships, the two remained together until Percy’s passing, just before his thirtieth birthday.

written with 💖 by Carly Hill

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