“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”-
“Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.” –
“You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end, each of us must work for our own improvement and, at the same time, share a general responsibility for all humanity, our particular duty being to aid those to whom we think can be most useful.” –
Marie Curie (née Maria Sklodowska) was born in Warsaw, Poland. She was the fifth and youngest child of two well-known teachers. Marie Curie’s father taught mathematics and physics and was also director of two Warsaw gymnasia, a certain type of school that focuses on providing secondary education, for boys. Her mother directed a prestigious Warsaw boarding school for girls. When Marie was born, her mother retired from her position to stay at home with her children. However, she died from tuberculosis when Marie was only ten years old.
Marie Curie was a top student in her secondary school and wanted to continue her education, however, at the time women weren’t allowed to attend the men’s only University of Warsaw. Marie had to get creative to continue her education so she utilized the “floating university,” a set of underground, informal classes held in secret. Marie and her sister Bronya had a dream to continue their education, by going abroad and earning an official degree. However, there was a problem. They couldn’t afford it financially so they worked out a deal. Each would work to help but the other through school. For close to five years, Marie worked as a governess and tutor, while reading about physics, chemistry, and math in her free time.
In late 1891, Marie finally got her chance and headed for Paris. Marie enrolled at Sorbonne. She had very little money and survived on buttered bread, tea, and wearing everything she owned to stay warm in the winter. In 1893, Marie received a master’s degree in physics and in 1894 she received a second degree in mathematics. She began her scientific career with an investigation of the magnetic properties of various steels.
On July 26, 1895, Marie married French physicist Pierre Curie, whom she had met through a colleague. At the beginning of the relationship/marriage, they worked respectively on their own projects, however, in 1898 with Marie’s discovery of radioactivity he decided to put his work aside and help with her research. During their research, they worked with the mineral pitchblende, which allowed them to discover a new radioactive element in 1898, which they named polonium. Pierre and Marie took their research a step further and found a second element that they called radium.
In 1903, Curie received the Nobel Prize in Physics, along with her husband and Henri Becquerel, for their work on radioactivity. Marie Curie was the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize, but it was not without some level of dramatics. At first, the Nobel Prize Committee had intended to honor only Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel, but Pierre found out and lodged a complaint and Marie’s name was added to the nomination.
In 1904, Pierre and Marie welcomed their second daughter, Eve. Irene, their first was born in 1897, and would later follow in the footsteps of her mother, receiving the Nobel Prize in 1935 in Chemistry.
In 1906, Marie Curie suffered the loss of Pierre, when he was killed in Paris after stepping in front of a horse-drawn wagon. After his death she took over his teaching position at Sorbonne, becoming the institution’s first female professor.
n 1911, Curie won her second Nobel Prize, in Chemistry, for her discovery of radium and polonium. She accepted this honor alone but gave credit to her late husband in her acceptance speech. Winning this second Nobel Prize made her the first person, man or woman, to win twice.
In 1914, World War I broke out and Marie Curie noticed that wounded soldiers weren’t getting worked on quickly enough in the field. “Little Curies,” portable x-ray machines were used in the fields. In 1921 and 1929, Curie traveled to the United States to raise funds to buy radium. In August 1922 Marie Curie became a member of the League of Nations’ newly created International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation, an organization used to promote “international exchange between scientists, researchers, teachers, artists, and intellectuals.” She sat on this committee until 1934.
On July 4, 1934, Marie Curie died of aplastic anemia, believed to be caused by prolonged exposure to radiation. Rumor has it that she was known to carry around test tubes of radium around in the pockets of her lab coats and store them in her desk drawers.
See you next week for another #InspirationalWomenWednesday. ❤
“But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” -Isaiah 40:31