The Backstory: Three Historical Couples Who Didn’t Start Wars, End Empires, Or Marry Their Cousins

February 28, 2021

Mark Antony and Cleopatra. Wallace Simpson and the Duke of Windsor. Napoleon and Josephine. Turns out, some of history’s favorite couples, in reality, were both miserable and immoral! While they’re great reminders that, comparatively, your love life isn’t really all that bad, it’s time to grab our bottomless boxes of chocolate and celebrate some historical couples who didn’t go on dates in graveyards, hang out with Nazis, or behead their spouses.

John & Abigail Adams

Smithsonian Magazine

Somewhat radically for the time, John and Abigail Adams not only genuinely loved one another, but respected each other as equals and worked hand-in-hand to govern the United States — which is, like, a big deal or something. After the couple married in 1764, John spent a lot of time traveling for his political career. It was a pre-cell phone era; he and Abigail communicated by correspondence, exchanging over a thousand letters over the course of four decades. That is a lot of postage stamps! When the couple moved to Washington during John’s vice-presidency and later presidency, Abigail jumped into public service alongside her husband, defining the role of first lady and serving as John’s political advisor and confidant. But their busy public life never hindered their relationship. Abigail wrote to her husband in 1782, “I look back to the early days of our acquaintance and friendship as to the days of love and innocence, and, with an indescribable pleasure, I have seen near a score of years roll over our heads with an affection heightened and improved by time, nor have the dreary years of absence in the smallest degree effaced from my mind the image of the dear untitled man to whom I gave my heart.” Aww! 

Philip Schuyler & Catherine Van Rensselaer 

Schuyler Mansion

Revolutionary War general Philip Schuyler — better known as “Alexander Hamilton’s Father In Law” — and New York socialite Catherine Van Reansler were childhood sweethearts and married in 1755. Much like the Adamses, Phillip and Catherine kept an extensive correspondence while apart. In one letter, Phillip wished farewell to a friend and told him to look out for his “Sweet Kitty VR” while he fought for American independence. Catherine stayed back to manage the family estate, raise her fifteen children, and commit a little bit of patriotic arson, burning down her own corn and wheat fields to cut off food supply to the invading British. The Schuylers were married for over fifty years, supporting each other through war, revolution, and that time when Alexander Hamilton took over their personal library to write the Federalist Papers. Not cool, dude. 

Marie & Pierre Curie

Marie Curie Foundation

Scientific power couple of the 19th century, Marie and Pierre Curie met as students at Sorbonne University in Paris. Marie was instantly smitten by “the open expression of his face and by the slight suggestion of detachment in his whole attitude. His speech, rather slow and deliberate, his simplicity, and his smile.” With that description, who could turn him down? Despite the apparent chemistry pun intended Marie was determined to return to her native home of Poland to pursue higher education in physics. But one rejection from Krakow University and two proposals later, Pierre and Marie married just outside of Paris. Ever the practical woman, Marie opted for a quick, casual wedding ceremony, lamenting, “If you are going to be kind enough to give me [a wedding dress], please let it be practical and dark so that I can put it on afterwards to go to the laboratory.” Clearly, she knew how to have fun. Speaking of fun, the Curies’ “honeymoon” consisted of a short, practical bike ride around the countryside before they went back to their lab to conduct research; Marie did not change clothes once!* The couple went on to have two daughters and win a joint Nobel Prize for their research in radiation before Pierre died in a horse-drawn carriage accident. 

*This is not a proven historical fact.

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