Inspiring Women Who Were Overshadowed by Their Brothers

Think back to your history class. Think back to all the history books you had to read. How many historical figures do you remember? How many of those figures were men? How many were womxn? Did you know Vincent Van Gogh had a sister? Oscar Wild? Edgar Allen Poe? 

These womxn were child prodigies before their achievements became overshadowed in history books by their more widely known brothers.

Here is a small glimpse into the lives of these inspiring sisters who never got the historical recognition that their male siblings received.

  1. Ironically, much of the famous writer Charles Dickens’ childhood was spent in the shadow of his sister. “Fanny”, as she was known to her family, was very gifted at a young age. She was a talented pianist and singer who studied at the Royal Academy of Music under a former friend of Beethoven, Isaac Ignaz Moscheles. 

    The Dickens family prioritized Frances’ education over Charles’ as they could only afford school fees for one child. Despite her family's attention towards her gift, Frances received little attention, aside from her parents, in comparison to her male sibling counterpart.

  2. poetry book & tea

    Mary Hardy was poet Thomas Hardy’s younger sister. Mary also had a deep love for words, like her brother,  and led a life as an independent Victorian woman when she became a teacher. She attended higher education and worked for several years as a teacher before being appointed Headmistress of Piddlehinton Village School. This was a significant achievement for any woman at the time, earning her much respect.

  3. The sister of King Edward VII was a founding member of the British Red Cross and President of the Royal British Nurses Association. She fought for better working conditions, rights and pay as champion of healthcare workers, which led to nurse registration. 

    During the Franco-Prussian War, she played a key role in recruiting nurses and in organizing relief supplies for the front line.

    At that time, there was no formal registration for nurses in the UK and no specific organization to monitor their training and qualifications. This meant that nursing was not seen as a noble or honorable profession. After decades of campaigning, the princess saw the Nurses Registration Act pass, creating the profession we know today.

  4. At age 12, before her brother Wolfgang Amadeus became famous, Maria was a gifted harpsichord and fortepiano player who toured Vienna and Paris and dropped jaws all over Europe. Even when her younger brother joined her, it was often Maria Anna who received the highest revenue, not Mozart. 

    As she got older, she was no longer seen as a child prodigy, but as a womxn, and the idea of ​​a womxn making money from music was seen as deeply dishonorable. She would have to perform for free to be considered respectable, but would not earn any money for her father. She tried to compose her own music, but unfortunately her musical legacy was forgotten when her brother reached great heights.

  5. Jet Cloud Landing Aircraft

    Not only did the Wright brothers have a sister, but she flew with them. She was also the only Wright sibling to hold a college degree. While working as a teacher, she handled her brothers’ business affairs and managed to charm investors with her trademark shyness. When Orville crashed during one of his flights, she nursed him back to health. 

    France awarded the all three Wright siblings the Legion of Honor. Her brothers may have received overall recognition, but Katharine remains one of the few U.S. womxn to hold this incredible award.

  6. With the spotlight on Vincent van Gogh cutting off his own ear, few are aware of his sister’s accomplishments. During the first part of her life, Wil van Gogh served her family and others nursing the sick. 

    After the death of her brothers, she obtained a modest job in a hospital. There she engaged in a committee to organise the "National exhibition of women's work.” This was a highly successful enterprise. The funds raised from the exhibition served to establish the Dutch national bureau for women's work. She was one of the first feminists of the 1800s.

Why do sisters often live in the shadow of their brothers? This is a question Netflix seemed to acknowledge as well. In celebration of its new movie Enola Holmes, Netflix started shining a spotlight on these iconic female figures whose names were left out of the history books by putting up statues in their honor.


Go check out the movie and visit the statues around the world placed in honor of these inspiring sisters.