25 of History's Oddest Couples
25 of History’s Oddest Couples

25 of History’s Oddest Couples

Larry Holzwarth - September 2, 2019

25 of History’s Oddest Couples
Albert Einstein in 1947. Wikimedia

22. Albert Einstein and Mileva Maric

Albert Einstein’s enduring image is that of the stereotypical addle-brained scientist; rumpled clothing, wildly disarranged hair, tattered shoes, and an absent-minded stare. But life with Albert was far more difficult than just dealing with a mind driven to distraction while absorbed with the secrets of the universe. Albert had very definite ideas of the duties of his wife, and he spelled them out clearly to Mileva Maric. Though many of the scientist’s letters to his wife are loving and clearly share with her his work – he often referred to it as our work – he also gave specific instructions regarding his behavior and her duties.

That changed after Einstein embarked on an affair with his cousin Elsa in 1912. The affair and a long separation caused by his work, among other events, for all practical purposes ended what had been a happy marriage. When Mileva protested against a provision made by Albert regarding his Nobel Prize money, he responded in a letter which read, in part, “when someone is completely insignificant, there is nothing else to say to this person”. Mileva collaborated with Einstein on most of his most important achievements as a physicist, but fell into obscurity, where at least as far as the general public is concerned her reputation continues to languish today.

25 of History’s Oddest Couples
Amelia Earhart and her husband, publisher George Putnam, in 1931. Wikimedia

23. Amelia Earhart and George S. Putnam

Amelia Earhart was an American superhero of the 1920s and 1930s, based upon her notable achievements as an aviator, rather than her views as what today is known as a feminist. Amelia was a celebrity before she gained fame as a pilot (as the first woman to fly the Atlantic, although as a passenger). She was a teacher and lecturer, a consultant to aviation pioneers, politicians, and students of aviation and engineering, and was one of the most recognizable persons in the United States by 1935, if not the western world. She is remembered for vanishing on her ill-fated around-the-world flight in company with Fred Noonan, her long-time navigator and companion.

Her husband was George S. Putnam, a famous and wealthy publisher and one of the partners involved in the marketing of her writing, as well as her aviation achievements. Together, Earhart and Putnam created a public image for her (today it would be called branding) and together they made her wealthy in her own right, as well as an international celebrity. Earhart, in private letters made public decades after her death, referred to her marriage as a “dual control partnership”. The couple had no honeymoon, highly unusual for their day, and the marriage produced no children. They purchased a California home together after fire destroyed Putnam’s family seat, but delayed moving in for many years and spent little time there after they did. After Amelia was lost, the public quickly forgot her marriage to Putnam, as rescue efforts and journalistic speculation centered on the missing Fred Noonan.

25 of History’s Oddest Couples
An article by James T. Callendar introduced the world to what became the Jefferson-Hemings mystery, still in dispute and still controversial two hundred years later. Wikimedia

24. Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings

The Sally Hemings – Thomas Jefferson liaison first appeared in the public eye in 1802, after James T. Callendar made the accusations in print. Callendar was irked that he had been denied a position as a Postmaster (then political spoil) and had threatened to reveal what he called their illicit relationship. Jefferson ignored the accusations publicly and privately, despite the “revelation” that he had fathered several children by Sally, whom he had brought to Paris in company with his daughter Martha, in order to have her trained in the art of French cooking. Since Callendar’s accusations the story has never faded, making it the longest running sex and political scandal in American history.

In the 21st century DNA analysis demonstrated that the Hemings and Jefferson lines were mixed, but without definitive proof that it had been because of a relationship between Sally and Thomas. The argument remains a spirited one, with those determined to denigrate Jefferson (and the other founders who were also slaveholders) as amoral hypocrites. Sally Hemings is to them proof positive. Others have argued that Jefferson’s younger brother, Randolph, is a more likely candidate as the father of Sally Hemings’ children. Yet Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson have become a couple in the minds of many, to be used as a means of judgment whether that judgment is informed or not.

25 of History’s Oddest Couples
Confederate General James Longstreet, one of Ulysses Grant’s closest friends both before and following the Civil War. Wikimedia

25. James Longstreet and Ulysses Grant

Other than to Civil War buffs, James Longstreet is one of the lesser known Confederate generals of the American Civil War. Robert E. Lee considered him an essential lieutenant, calling him his Old Warhorse. But Longstreet’s reputation suffered, especially in the old South, after the war. He was not a proponent of the Lost Cause mythology which made the war a noble defense of state’s rights, rather than a conflict over the issue of slavery. Southern writers and historians placed much of the blame for the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg on Longstreet, exonerating Robert E, Lee, helping to keep the latter’s myth untarnished. In many areas of the defeated south, Longstreet became a pariah.

But he retained one friend from his military days, one which went back all the way to his student days at West Point. Longstreet and Grant remained friends after the southern surrender, a well-known fact which did nothing to further endear Longstreet to society in the defeated south. The former Confederate became a fervent and active supporter of Reconstruction, and he and Grant maintained a relationship through correspondence for years, a strange relationship given the fervency with which they had fought against each other during the Civil War. In fact, they opposed each other on battlefields on few occasions, though Longstreet was present at the surrender at Appomattox. Together they represented the reconciliation of the country, maybe not such an odd couple after all.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Did Henry VIII really have six wives? Why everything you think you know about the Tudors is wrong”. Olivia Goldhill, The Daily Telegraph. January 26, 2016

“Creation Myths of the World”. David Leeming. 2009

“Wedded, Unbedded, and Beheaded: The Human Side of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette”. Joe McGasko, Biography. May 9, 2017

“Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde”. Jeff Guinn. 2009

“John Adams and Thomas Jefferson on Life, Religion, and the Young Republic”. Ed. Lester J. Cappon, National Center for the Humanities. Online

“American Has Already Had a Gay President”. Ezekial Emmanuel, The Washington Post. March 26, 2019

“Lou’s on First: The Tragic Life of Hollywood’s Greatest Clown Warmly Recounted by his Youngest Child”. Chris Costello. 1982

“When Jerry Met Dean – Again on Live Television”. Donald Liebensen, Vanity Fair. September 5, 2016

“Roosevelt and Churchill: A Friendship That Saved The World”. National Park Service. Online

“Mrs. Alfred Hitchcock: The Unsung Partner”. Nisha Lilia Diu, The Telegraph. February 8, 2013

“Who Was the Marquis De Sade?” Tony Parrottet, Smithonian.com. February, 2015

“Inventing Al Gore”. Bill Turque. 2000

“The Fraught Friendship of T. S. Eliot and Groucho Marx”. Lee Siegel, The New Yorker. June 25, 2014

“The Wright Brothers”. David McCullough. 2016

“TV Comedy Writer Danny Simon Dies”. Adam Bernstein, The Washington Post. July 28, 2005

“Sir Arthur Conan Doyle”. Entry, History, BBC Online.

“The electricity between Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla”. Juliana Adelman, Irish Times. February 11, 2016

“Why DID the Everly Brothers hate each other?” Ray Connolly, Daily Mail. January 5, 2014

“The Shortest Celebrity Marriages of All Time”. Nana Callaway, The Spruce. July 28, 2019

“How Did P. L. Travers, the Prickly Author of Mary Poppins, Really Fare Against Walt Disney?” Amy Henderson, Smithsonian.com. December 20, 2013

“Did Bogie Destroy Lauren Bacall?” Nina Caplan, The Guardian. January 1, 1999

“The Forgotten Life of Einstein’s First Wife”. Pauline Gagnon, Scientific American. December 19, 2016

“Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy”. Annette Gordon-Reed, CNN. March 3, 1999

“Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant”. Ulysses S. Grant