The Life and Work of Marie Curie-Sklodowska (timeline)
- On November 7, 1867, Marie Salomea, the fifth child of Bronislawa and Wladyslaw Sklodowski, was born in the Nowe Miasto district of Warsaw in an apartment complex at Fret St. apt. 255 (currently apt. 66)
- In 1873, the six year old Marie enrolled in the private school of Jadwiga Sikorska.
- On June 12, 1883, Marie Sklodowska, at the age of sixteen, completed the III National Women’s Middle School at Krakowskie Przedmiescie St. in Warsaw, graduating at the top of her class.
In September 1884, Marie started her first job as a tutor. At the same time, with her sisters Bronislawa and Helena and her teacher Bronislawa Piasecka, she continued her graduate studies (mainly in the areas of Ecology and Sociology) in secret at an underground school- the Flying University. Classes were held in private homes throughout Warsaw with groups comprised of 8-10 people. Participation in these classes was extremely dangerous. If found by the police, students faced prison, or exile in Siberia. Marie became close with a group of positivists. At the time, the study of Ecology was common to youths throughout Europe. These courses of study, along with mathematics had their own family traditions. Marie’s grandfather, Joseph Sklodowski- a participant in the November 1830 uprising, was a physics and chemistry teacher but also the sponsor and principal of the Middle School in Lublin on Namiestowska St. (currently Narutowicz St.). He had lived in Lublin with his family for eight years. Her father Wladyslaw Sklodowski was a physics and mathematics teacher and her mother Bronislawa from Bogucki was a teacher.
Forty years later, Marie Sklodowska Curie would write: “I have very clear memories of the secret meetings. I can remember the pleasant atmosphere of camaraderie and intellectual collaboration. Our means were very modest, the results of our work could not be meaningful, yet to this day I believe that the beliefs which guided us are the sole foundation on which meaningful social progress can arise. However, one cannot hope to turn the world in the right direction without starting with individuals. With this goal in mind, every one of us should strive to better themselves, all the while remembering our personal responsibility for the world in its entirety, and that each one of us has the duty to help those who are most in need.”
- In January 1886, she took a job as a teacher near Plock on land owned by the Zorawski family. She taught two daughters of the property owners, and an additional 18 village children. She used her own savings to purchase for the children; notebooks, pens and pencils. In the center of her room she placed a kitchen table and chairs. “These children bring joy to my life”- wrote Marie Sklodowska Curie in a letter to Henia in December 1886. At the same time, she demonstrated incredible willpower and dedication by spending nights studying sociology, physics and mathematics. She later said: “I was less interested in literature than in sociology. However during these years of work, in an effort to discover my true passion, I eventually turned to math and physics. My lonely studies were brimming with hardship. The education which I had obtained in middle school was on a much lower level than that of my French proficiency exam preparation class. I tried to supplement it on my own, with books I had gathered. It was not a very effective method, however I fell into a routine of lonely studying and later I discovered how useful what I had learned was.” In a letter to Henia from December 1886, she reveals that she had read: Physics by Daniell, Sociology by Spencer and Paul Berts lessons on anatomy and physiology in Russian. “I am reading a few books, because focusing on solely one topic for too long would bore me in my occasional exhaustion. When I am incapable of drawing any useful information from reading, I work on algebra or trigonometry problems, because these do not allow me to lose focus, and make me feel refreshed.” She financially supported her sister Broncia, who was studying medicine at the Sorbonne, and set aside money for her own studies. In Szczuki, she experienced her first romance, she fell in love with the son of the property owners, Kazimierz Zorawski, a mathematics student. They planned to get married, but they were forbidden by the parents of Kazimierz, who were against him marrying a woman they believed to be inferior in status. Coming out of depression she confessed to a friend: “Everybody says that during my stay in Szczuki I changed a lot, both physically and spiritually. This is not hard to believe. I was barely over eighteen when I first arrived, and went through many trials. I count some of those moments as the worst in my life…I was surrounded by aggression…including violence towards me. However I made it through and my strong nature won out, freeing me from this nightmare…Rule number one: never let people or situations take control over you.” And she stayed this way.
- In 1889 she left Szczuki and moved to work for the Fuchs in Sopot.
- In October 1891 Marie left for Paris and attended the Sorbonne, in the Department of Mathematics and Nature. At first she lived with her sister Bronislawa, who was married to Dr. Kazimierz Dluski. In a letter to Marie’s father, Dr. Dluski wrote: “Ms. Marie works very diligently. She spends nearly all day at the Sorbonne, we usually only see her in the evening. She is a very independent person, therefore though you named me her official guardian, she not only shows me little respect, but also refuses to listen. She cares about my authority as much as she would care about a torn shoe.”
- On July 28 1893, she received a degree from the Sorbonne’s physics department
- In the spring of 1893, at the house of Joseph Kowalski (who arranged the meeting), she met the French physicist Pierre Curie. The first meeting went as follows: “When I walked in, Pierre Curie was standing by the balcony door. He seemed very young, even though at the time he was thirty years old; I was struck by his expression and a certain disheveled feel about his tall figure. His simplicity, a smile simultaneously serious and young, the way he talked-slowly and deliberately-all of these things sparked my trust. Our conversation soon warmed up: we discussed his research, on the subject of which I wished to know his opinion.” Afterwards, they regularly met at the French Physics Institute, and in Pierre’s laboratory.
- In July 1894, she received a degree in mathematics. She also received a research commission from the Organization for the Advancement of National Industry to study the magnetic properties of several varieties of steel.
- In July 26 1895 Pierre Curie and Marie Sklodowska were married in Sceaux (Pierre’s hometown). The ceremony was small, with no veil or rings, and at the reception guests were served turkey and peaches. Later the guests played boules. The newlyweds purchased a pair of bicycles. Their honeymoon consisted of a bike ride around the French village.
- On August 15, 1896 Irena, the elder daughter of Pierre and Marie Sklodowska Curie was born. Like the wedding, the birthday celebration was not extravagant, with champagne for 3 francs and a telegram for 1.10 francs.
- On December 23, 1897 Marie decided on the subject of her doctor’s thesis: uranium radiation. Uranium had been discovered a year earlier by Antoine H. Becquerel, who did not write many details about the element.
- On July 5, 1898 Pierre and Marie became convinced that they had isolated an unknown element from uranium ore. Its properties were similar to those of bismuth. In honor of Marie’s homeland (Poland) it was named polonium. In their July 1898 report to the French Academy of Science, Marie and Pierre wrote: “Some ores, containing uranium and pitchblende, are very active with regards to Becquerel’s radiation. In previous work, one of us showed that reactivity was even greater than that of uranium and pitchblende, and expressed the opinion that this fact should be attributed to some other, unusually active body, which can be found in these ores in limited quantities… Assuming that that the substance which we isolated contains an unknown metal, similar to bismuth in chemical properties. If the existence of this metal is confirmed, we propose the name “polonium”- in honor of one of our countries.” Polonium became element 84.
- On July 18, 1898 Pierre and Marie officially issued a statement, “Concerning the new radioactive substance found”, in the Registry of the French Academy of Sciences about the discovery of polonium. The statement used the term radiation for the first time.
- On December 26, 1898 the researchers released official information about their discovery of radium. In the statement, they said; “the facts lead us to believe that the new radioactive substance contains a new element, for which we propose the name radium. The substance contains a significant amount of barium, however it is highly radioactive. The radioactivity of radium therefore must be enormous”.
Pierre and Marie made these discoveries between 1898 and 1902 in very simple facilities; a shed with no ventilation, often leaking during rain. Previously it had been used by the Medical School as a mortuary, where medical students dissected cadavers. Marie wrote: “We had no money, no laboratory and no help, while we worked on this difficult and important task. It was as if we were creating something out of nothing-and if my years as a student were as Kazimierz Dluski put it ‘a heroic period’ of my life, then I can state without exaggerating that for my husband and me these years were a heroic time of our lives. In spite of this, the memories from that shed are the best ones of our lives, solely devoted to work. I often made dinner in the shed, so we would not have to interrupt any particularly important work. Occasionally a whole day passed with me mixing some broth with a ladle nearly as large as myself. In the evening I would collapse from exhaustion.” In recognition of their research on the magnetism of steel and radioactivity the Academy of Sciences awarded her the Gegner prize and 3800 francs, she received word of this through her husband, because the members of the Academy did not think it proper to inform a female laureate directly.
From 1899 to 1904 the Curies submitted 32 scientific papers, some alone, others with friends. Among the published works are; M. and P. Curie, On the chemical effects of radium radiation (1899), M. Curie, On the atomic weight of barium containing radium (1900), M. and P. Curie, New radioactive bodies and the rays they emit (1900), P. Curie and A. Debierne, On induced radioactivity from radium (1901), P. Curie and H. Becquerel, The physiological effects of radium (1901), M. and P. Curie, On radioactive bodies (1901), M. Curie, On the atomic mass of radium (1902).
- In 1899 Pierre and Marie went to Poland for the first time after their marriage. They went to Zakopane.
- In early 1902 the Curies received a grant in the amount of 20,000 francs from the French Academy of Sciences, which allowed them to purchase more unrefined uranium for research.
- In 1902 the Curies isolated a 0.1 gram sample of barium chloride from the unrefined uranium and they found its atomic mass.
- One June 25, 1903 the 36 year old Marie wrote her doctoral thesis “The study of radioactive bodies”. Her sponsor was Professor Gabriel Lippmann. She was congratulated on the fact that she “conquered a male domain”-as stated by the biographer D. Wilson. In the same year the Curie’s were awarded the Davy Medal by the Royal Society.
- On December 10 1903 Pierre and Marie Curie and Antoine Henri Becquerel received the Nobel Prize in Physics. Four members of the French Academy of Sciences, who could not accept the fact that the Nobel Prize could be awarded to a young woman from a foreign country, wrote a letter to the selection committee in Stockholm without mentioning Marie giving all of the credit to Pierre and Becquerel. The monetary award was split in half between the Curies and Becquerel. The ethical stance towards research displayed by Marie and Pierre Curie is well known. They believed that accepting money for their discoveries would be contrary to the spirit of science. They made the choice between wealth and poverty. Due to Marie’s health problems and teaching responsibilities, they did not participate in the ceremony in Stockholm. The medal was accepted in their name by the French minister Jean-Baptiste Marchando. 20 years later Marie wrote: “with my permission, Pierre gave up all material gains from our discoveries: we took no patent and with no restraint we announced the results of our research, and taught our methods of uranium refining. We gave advice to anybody who asked us. This did a lot for the advancement of the radium industry, which was able to expand first in France, then later in other nations, allowing scientists and doctor’s easy access to the products they needed. This industry continues to use methods prescribed by us(…) The Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences offered me a publication, which included a discussion of the progress of the Radium industry in the United States and copies of letters in which Pierre Curie answered questions posed by American engineers in 1902 and 1903.” Of the monetary prize that was transferred on January 4, 1904, Marie lent 20,000 francs of the money to her sister Bronia and her husband, so that they could complete the construction of a tuberculosis clinic in Zakopane. She lent or gave various sums to her brother Joseph, her sister Helena, a few poor Polish students, and a poor student in Sevr.
- On December 6, 1904 the second daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie was born- Ewa Denise.
- Starting in 1904, Marie was the laboratory coordinator in the physics department at the Sorbonne. After the death of her husband she became the head of the department.
- On April 19, 1906 Pierre Curie was killed in a street accident. On April 22, 1906, Le Journal reported on the Marie Curie’s tragic situation. She decided to speed up the funeral process to avoid an official ceremony along with countless people, delegations and speeches. The funeral was held on April 21 at small cemetery in Sceaux. “Mrs. Curie walked alongside her father in law behind her husband’s coffin to the gravesite by the brick fence, shaded by chestnut trees. She stood there for a while, looking straight ahead with the same angry and shocked expression. Only when a bouquet of flowers was placed by the grave, she suddenly grabbed it and separated the flowers, placing them one by one on the coffin. She did this slowly, with deliberation; as if she had completely forgotten about the other people present, they stood in complete silence, moved by the sight. The funeral director thought it necessary to tell her that people wished offer her their condolences. She let the rest of the flowers fall and without a word walked to her father in law.” The only official guest present at the funeral was the minister of education Aristide Briand.
- In 1906 the Committee of the department of mathematics and ecology allowed Marie to lecture, and in 1908 she became a professor. Her warmth, love and loyalty to Pierre, along with the responsibility to continue their research is evident in the pages of her diary, which she began writing On April 30, 1906. “They offered me your former posts, Pierre; your classes and the directorship of your laboratory. I accepted. I do not know if I did right or wrong. You often told me that you would like me to lecture at the Sorbonne. I would at least like to put forth some effort into continuing our research. Sometimes I feel that this will make life easier for me, other times I think it is madness.”
- On May 7, 1906 she wrote: “My Pierre, I think about you constantly until my head hurts and I can’t think straight. I cannot comprehend that I must live without seeing you, without seeing you smile in my company. For two days now, the trees have leaves and the garden looks beautiful. This morning I watched the children playing in it. I felt that you would have thought it beautiful and that you would have called me over, to show me the blooming flowers. Yesterday at the cemetery, I could not understand the words ‘Pierre Curie’ engraved on the tombstone. The beauty of the village pained me and I veiled my face, to obscure my vision of everything.”
- On May 11, 1906: “Dear Pierre, I woke up well rested after a good night’s sleep much calmer. That was only fifteen minutes ago and now again I feel the urge to scream, like a wild animal.”
- On May 13, 1906 the faculty of the Sorbonne officially named Marie as Pierre’s successor as Director of Research at the Science Department of the University of Paris, with a pension of ten thousand francs per year, without a title. It was unthinkable for a woman, even a Nobel Prize winner, to become head of the department. She was however the first woman to lecture at the Sorbonne.
- May 14: “Pierre. I would like to tell you that flowers are beginning to bloom. This would have made you very happy. I want to say that I was nominated to your post at the department and there were people foolish enough to congratulate me.”
- May 22: “I spend entire days in the lab: it is the only thing that I can do! There, I feel a lot better than anywhere else. I do not know what could bring me joy, besides scientific work, although this too could become unbearable if I made a new discovery, because I could not stand the thought that you would not know about it.”
- On November 5, 1906 Marie Sklodowska-Curie, the “famous widow”, presented at the Department of Mathematics and Ecology an inaugural lecture in physics on the subject of ‘Modern Theories of Relativity and Electricity of Matter’. The lecture was advertised in a Parisian Journal; “Mrs. Curie, the widow of a great scholar after whose tragic death she accepted a position at the Sorbonne, will lecture for the first time on Monday, November 5, 1906 at 1:30 P.M….In this preliminary lecture Mrs. Curie will present the theory of ions in gases and will discuss radioactivity. The lecture will be held in a classroom at the Sorbonne. These rooms typically have seating for 120, most of which will be taken up by students, therefore only 20 seats will be available to the press and the public who also should have the right to witness this historic event. In these circumstances would it not be possible to stray from tradition and allow Mrs. Curie to use the amphitheatre-solely for this first lecture?” The unusual situation stemmed from the fact that this was the first lecture by a woman in the history of the Sorbonne. “Le Journal” called Marie’s success The Great Triumph of Feminism.
- 1910 was the beginning of a rough period in Marie’s life, she was accused by part of the academic society and by the press worldwide of having affair with a married man; 38 year old Paul Langevin, a former student of Pierre Curie and his successor at the School of Physics and Chemistry. Langevin never publicly admitted to having the affair, but the issue was well publicized and Marie was hounded during her Nobel nomination. A close group of friends defended her: On November 11, 1911 Charles-Edouard Guillame wrote in a letter to Marie: “We join you in your joys and sorrows. We were with you during the bad times you went through: we are still with you. There are people who cannot forgive you your fame: they showed this during the selection to the Academy. This same primitive jealousy roused them again. The campaign of the past few days is proof that these people have not given up.” In Marie’s defense some people engaged in duels: Henri Chervet and her tormentor Leon Daudet, Gustave Terry and Pierre Mortier.
- On January 23, 1911 voting on whether to admit Marie Sklodowska-Curie to the French Academy of Science began. In France at the time, only two methods of honoring a living person existed: the Honorary Legion and a chair in the Academy; Marie was offered the Officers Cross of the Legion in 1910, but in accordance with Pierre’s views, like him, she declined. She did decide to run from the Academy. Her opponent was Edward Brandly, a brilliant scholar and devout catholic. Ewa Curie wrote: “Between the Curie supporters and the Brandly supporter, the freethinkers and the clergy, supporters and opponents of the sensational ‘revolution’ that would be the admission of a woman to the Institute- a fight ensued. Determined, abrubt and with modest means, Marie watched with horror at the arguments she had not foreseen and with respect to which she was powerless and defenseless. The best known people on her side included: Henry Poincare, Dr. Roux, Emil Picard, Professors Lippmann, Bouty and Darboux. The other side fought aggressively. ‘Women should not be allowed to join the Academy’ yelled Mr. Amagat, who had been Pierre Curie’s friendly rival for eight years. Catholics were told that Marie was a Jew; the freethinkers were reminded that she is after all a catholic. On the day of the selection, January 23, 1911, the presiding officer at the beginning said loudly: ‘Please let in everyone but the women.’ One of the Academicians, nearly blind, complained that he had accidentally voted against Mrs. Curie, of whom he was a staunch supporter. An incorrect ballot was secretly slipped into his hand. At four in the afternoon, excited journalists ran to write the story of the day, triumphant or bristling with indignation: Mrs. Curie was one vote short of being chosen.” The news of Marie’s candidacy was announced earlier. The discussions in academic circles of France were reported on by the “Illustrated Weekly Herald”. On January 21 1911, journalist “Z” wrote: Will Marie Sklodowska-Curie join the Academy of Science?
“This is the question that has taken over nearly all of Paris, academic circles, and feminists along with future female Academy candidates. The female candidates are of course the most interested, and their numbers were small. For the general public, Mrs Sklodowska-Curie is a ram, which with its perfection will break the gate into a keep never before breached by a woman.
The calling of a Polish scientist to the Academy would not have been met with such opposition, if not for the fact that she is to become a precedent and that right behind her are other women who wish to join the Academy. These women included: Gerard d’Houville, the Countess of Noailles, Collette Willy, Marcelle Tinayre, Jeanne Catulle Mendes and many others.
The Academy without a doubt acknowledges the merits of Mrs. Sklodowska- Curie’s work; they undoubtedly consider her deserving of a palm above the palms of others decorated with it. It cannot be any other way, because the Academy must appreciate accomplishments of the candidate. The matter at hand is a matter of principle; therefore she does not wish to decide the issue herself. A committee of delegates from all five Academies was called and it was decided that a woman could not be prevented from receiving this highest honor; however in practice it would have been better to stick to tradition, which did not allow women to join the Academy.
Communities of learned people, feminists and above all, the candidate herself, are not satisfied with this kind of ‘Solomon’ solution; a press battle ensued, into which many people have been dragged; scientists, academicians and politicians. Everyone agrees on one thing: Mrs. Sklodowska is deserving of a chair in the Academy, however they are divided on the issue of whether a woman can join the Academy. The storming of the keep that is the academy by women, with wide public support continues. The question: ‘Will Mrs. Sklodowska-Curie join the Academy?’ is still relevant.
At the same time a second question has arisen for the future. Academicians have their traditional robes, what will the robe of a female academician look like? This was the new subject of discussion by the press, projects and mockery. Should female Academicians be uniformed the same? What will the uniform look like? Will every woman have an individual costume? The Parisian ‘Femme’ devoted a poll to this question, accompanying it with projects for a general uniform and individual ones for future women. The Parisian fashion community is displaying a very lively interest in the issue. They even forgot about what Marcelina Tinayre said in response to the poll; ‘one should not auction the skin off of a still living bear.”
- On December 18, 1911 Marie Sklodowska-Curie was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for separating pure radium salts. She arrived in Stockholm with her sister Bronislawa and older daughter Irena (after 24 years herself a Nobel winner). Accepting the honor, she dedicated it to the memory of her husband: in the introduction of her lecture to the Stockholm Academy of Science she said: “Before I get to the subject of today’s lecture, I would like to remind everyone that the discovery of radium and polonium was mine and Pierre Curie’s. He also deserves acknowledgement in the field of radiation for his research, which he carried out alone, with me, or with students. Work in the field of chemistry to purify radium salts and to define the element was mainly mine, but it still bears relevance to my husband’s work. Therefore I believe that I correctly interpret the intentions of the Academy of Science, that this high honor was given to me for the results of our joint research and is therefore a tribute to Pierre’s memory.”
- In July and August 1913 Marie, Albert Einstein and his son and daughters went on a trip in the Alps.
- On May 6, 1912, Marie received a delegation from the Scientific Society of Warsaw, who wished to convince her to return to Poland, where a laboratory was being built for her. Two prominent members of the delegation were Professor Joseph Boguski and Henryk Sienkiewicz, a Nobel Prize winner and author of Quo Vadis, who said to Marie Curie: “Honorable Lady, please choose to move your research to our country, our capital. You know the reason why our level of education and culture has declined. We are losing faith in creative abilities; we are lowering ourselves in the opinion of our enemies, losing hope for a better future. Our nation admires you, and would like to see you working in the city where you were born. It is the deepest desire of our society. Having you in Warsaw, we would feel stronger, lift our heads bowed down under the weight of misfortune.” Marie decided not to return to Poland.
- On November 29, 1913, during Marie’s stay in Warsaw, the Scientific Society of Warsaw organized a banquet in her honor in the Raspberry Hall at the Bristol Hotel.
- 1914 marked the completion of Curie laboratory at the Radium Institute in Paris, in which Mari worked from 1919 to 1934.
- After the start of World War I Marie donated Roentgen machines to hospitals, and from September 1914, serving as director of radiology for the French Red Cross she organized moving “Roentgen points” along the French and German front. The Society of French Women granted her funds to buy a Renault, which was converted into an ambulance; the second car was donated by the architect Ewald; she accepted two others from the Marquis de Ganay and Princess Murat; some of the cars were rentals. In total Marie compiled 20 radiology vehicles called “Little Curies”. The Curie family biographer D. Brian estimated that during the four years of war “Marie traveled to battlefields in Amiens, Calais, Dunkirk, Furnes, Poperinghe, Verdun, Nancy, Luneville, Belford, Compiegne and Villers-Cotteres. Thanks to her determination and her 20 vehicles, which she gathered and equipped, over 1,000,000 soldiers were screened, saving the lives of thousands. Her daughter Irena showed herself to be useful and brave in the roles of helper and chief of radiology staff in various military hospitals. A grateful French government decorated Irena with a medal. Marie Curie received nothing.
- On November 1, 1914, Marie hired her daughter Irena in the radiology department. Along with her mother, Irene trained the first 20 nurses, and later accompanied Marie to the battlefront at the age of seventeen.
- In 1918 after Poland won its independence, Maria took the first steps to create Radium Institute in Poland.
- On May 17, 1920 Maria hosted an American journalist at her laboratory; the chief editor of “The Delineator” William Brown Maloney, who later helped Marie organize a trip to the United States. Maloney summed up their first conversation: “The doors opened and I saw a pale, shy woman with a sad expression, the likes of which I had never seen before. She wore a black cotton dress. In her miraculous expression, both patient and gentle, one could see a sense of detachment from the rest of the world, common to people who dedicate their lives to science. I felt as if I was an intruder and I became even shyer than Mrs. Curie. I had been a reporter for 20 years , yet I could not ask a single question of this defenseless, black clad woman. I began explaining how American women are fascinated by her great work; I tried to apologize for my intrusion. In an effort to allay my fears, Mrs. Curie initiated a conversation about America.
-‘The U.S. owns about 50 grams of radium’ she stated. ‘Four in Baltimore, six in Denver, seven in New York…’
She accounted for every gram, naming all the cities that possessed radium.
-‘What about France?’ I asked.
-‘My laboratory has a little over one gram.’
-‘You only have one gram of radium?’
-‘Me? I don’t have any, that gram is the property of my laboratory.’
I mentioned the patents, which should have made her a wealthy woman. She calmly answered:
-‘Radium should not make anyone wealthy. It is an element, therefore it belongs to everyone.
-‘If you could choose anything on Earth, what would bring you the most joy?’
It was a stupid question, which turned out to be significant.
During the week I had found out that one gram of radium costs 100,000 dollars. I also learned that Mrs. Curie’s laboratory, although it was new, was not sufficiently equipped, and their radium was mainly for medicinal purposes.” W.B. Maloney began a successful campaign, mainly among American women who read “The Delineator”, to raise money from donations in 1 or 5 dollar increments. The money was used to purchase a gram of radium for Marie.
From May 4 to June 28 1921 Marie and her daughters (23 year old Irena and 16 year old Ewa) went on their first trip aboard the “Olympic” to the United States. On May 15 she attended a meeting with the Association of Women with University Diplomas (1500 members attended), which was also attended by the French Ambassador , Ignacy Paderewski and his wife and American scientists. Marie received honorary New York citizenship, and various diplomas. On May 20 in the Blue Room of the White House, she met President Warren Harding, who gave her the key to a leather suitcase, containing a vial of radium. In her speech Marie said: “The President of this great republic has made me feel honored in a way no woman in America has been honored before. The purpose of a nation whose women are free to do what your countrywomen do with your help, Mr. President, is safe and sure. It gives me hope and faith in the future of Democracy. I accept this rare gift, Mr. President, in the hope that I can use it to serve mankind. I thank your country’s women in the name of France. I thank them in the name of all people, whose happiness is so important to us. I love you all very much, my American friends.”
The gram of precious radium arrived in France in the steel hold of a ship. Due to exhaustion, Marie let her daughters represent her at some banquets and ceremonies, Irene sometimes represented her at scientific conferences…
Marie Sklodowska Curie also came to Chicago. Ewa Curie wrote of the experience: “In Chicago she was named an honorary university member, she was offered honors and there were banquets in her name. On the first of them we were separated from the crowd by a rope. At the second one a heap of flowers at her feet nearly covered her. The third occasion exceeded them all in every aspect. It was held in the Polish neighborhood of Chicago and was attended solely by Poles. Here the shouts were not in honor of a scientist, but a Polish woman greeted by immigrants greeting her as a symbol of their far way homeland. With tears in their eyes, men and women threw themselves at Marie, kissing her hands, touch the hem of her dress.” In New York on May 28 she received an honorary doctorate from Columbia University. She attended meetings in many cities and universities, she toured Standard Chemical Company lab in Pittsburgh, where radium was being commercially refined. She also went to the Grand Canyon, the sands of Texas and Niagara Falls.
- On February 7, 1922 Marie was inducted into the Paris Medical Academy, breaking a 224 year old tradition of excluding women. Her candidacy was submitted by 35 members of the Academy, and 65 members from other academies supported her. All of the candidates for the open Academy seat resigned in favor of Marie.
- On December 17, 1924, by recommendation from Paul Langevin, Marie accepted 24 year old Frederick Joliot as a lab assistant. Joliot was the top student in his class at the School of Physics and Chemistry. On January 1, 1925, he worked with Irena, with whom he got married in Paris on October 9, 1926. On September 19, 1927, their daughter Helene was born. Their articles in academic journals were signed Irena Curie and Frederick Joliot; in popular journals as Irena and Frederick Joliot-Curie.
- In 1925, Maria Sklodowska-Curie laid the first stone at the site of construction for the Warsaw Radium Institute on Wawelska St. During the ceremony she met Stanislaw Wojciechowski, a member of the Polish Socialist Party, and president of Poland, whom she had met in exile in Paris. Wojciechowski asked whether she remembered that she had lent him a small pillow upon his return to Poland. Marie smiled and replied: “I also remember that you forgot to return it to me.”
- On July 4, 1926 the Lublin Medical Society unanimously elected Marie as an honorary member.
- In October and November 1929, Marie went on a second trip to the United States, by invitation from President Herbert Hoover. She spent a few days at the White House. The main reason why ailing Marie went was to gather funds for the Polish Institute. Like before, she was greeted warmly, bestowed with honors, flowers and gifts. President Hoover handed her a check in the amount of 50 thousand dollars. She met with public four times. She visited the General Electric laboratory, the chemical lab at St, Lawrence University in Canton and institutes in New York. Irena documented the trip: “On the day of her birthday she is given many presents: flowers, books, various objects, checks for her laboratory. Many of these gifts are from people she has never met. From physicists she receives: a galvanometer, vials of radon, rare minerals. Before departing she tours St Lawrence University, guided by Owen D. Young, where she sees a sculpture dedicated to physics; it is her likeness. She takes part in Edison’s jubilee.”
- In 1930 Marie underwent her fourth and final eye surgery at the age of 63.
- On May 29, 1932 Marie visited Poland for the last time. She participated in the opening ceremony of the Radium Institute, where the treatment of cancer patients had already begun, using Radium from the United States.
On July 4, 1934 Maria Sklodowska-Curie died at the age of 67 in Sancellemoz. In an official press release Dr. Tobe concluded: “Maria Curie died as a result of malignant anemia, with abrupt symptoms and fever. Her bone marrow did not react in the usual manner most likely due to changes caused by extended radiation.”
The New York Times on July 5, 1834 ran the story on the front page: “Mme. Curie Is Dead: Martyr to science- Mme. Marie Curie, whose individual and collaborative work on radium and radiology is one of the greatest accomplishments of modern science, died at six o’clock this morning. Her death, caused by anemia, was accelerated by what doctors called ‘long-term exposure to radiation, which affected her bone structure, and prevented a normal reaction to the disease’. Her daughters, Ewa, who is a writer and pianist of great talent, and Mrs. Joliot, who along with her husband is continuing family tradition at the Radium Institute recently headed by her mother, were by her bed when the end came.”
- On July 6, 1934 the funeral was held at Sceaux. She was buried next to her husband Pierre.
- In 1935 Maria’s last work was published posthumously. It was titled “Radiation”. Ewa Curie wrote her mothers biography “Marie Curie”, which became an international bestseller. The book was released in more than 60 countries. Based on the book, Metro Goldwyn Meyer filmed “Madame Curie”, which was released in 1943 and received seven Oscar nominations. In the coming years, more biographical movies were made, as well as television series about Marie.
- On April 20, 1995 Marie and Pierre’s ashes were interred in the Pantheon, among other distinguished people of France. Marie is the first foreign born person and first woman buried in the Pantheon. Along the way, the ashes of Pierre and Marie were accompanied by President Francois Mitterrand, President Lech Walesa, Ewa Curie, Irena and Frederick Joliot Curie with their children, scientists, and citizens of Paris. F. Mitterrand carried the ashes into the Pantheon and dedicated his farewell speech: “Carrying the ashes of Pierre and Marie to our holiest place is not only an act of memory, but also one in which France shows its respect for those whom we consecrate here, for their greatness and for their lives. Today’s ceremony is a key step for us, to welcome the first woman in the history of the Pantheon. It is another symbol directing the awareness of our society-the battle of a woman, who chose to rise above society with her skills, and it was a society in which skill, research and public responsibility were reserved for men.”
- In 1994 the Curie Museum in Paris changed its name to the Museum and Archives of the Radium Institute of Pierre and Marie Curie with Frederick and Irena Joliot-Curie.
- In April of 2005 viewers of channel 2 in France voted for the greatest French person of all time. The first was Charles de Gaulle, second was Louis Pasteur, and fourth was Marie Curie, the first woman to appear on this list.
The Curie Family
Family scientific traditions did not die with Marie. They were continued by Frederick and Irena Joliot-Curie, Nobel laureates in 1935 in chemistry for the synthesis of new radioactive elements. It is worth noting that Irena briefly accepted a post as undersecretary of state in the government of socialist Leon Blum, the first Jewish prime minister. He formed the department of scientific research for her. It was the first time in France that a woman had attained such a highly placed position. Helene is one of the top specialists in low energy nuclear physics. Since 1957 she works at the Nuclear Physics Institute in Orsay (founded by her parents). Their children Helene and Pierre also became researchers. Helene’s son Yves is an astrophysicist, mainly interested in planets and asteroids. Pierre Joliot is a biophysicist, a respected authority in the field of photosynthesis, professor at the College de France and dean in the Department of Cellular Biology. He is also a member of the French Academy of Science and the American Academy of Science.
Ewa Curie-Labouisse is famous as the biographer of her mother. She was a tireless activist in peacekeeping missions and a staunch opponent of communism. In 1944 she opposed naming a University after Marie Sklodowska-Curie, because it was commissioned by the pro Soviet Polish National Liberty Commission. She wrote music reviews and translated American musicals to French. Occasionally she performed herself. In the U.S. she received the National Book Award in the category of nonfiction literature. During the war she joined the army of Gen. Charles de Gaulle. After the war she took a position as director of the Department of Women’s Affairs in the Ministry of Information. She was an advisor to NATO Secretary General H.L. Ismay. At the age of 50 she met the American diplomat Henry Labouisse, U.S. ambassador to France, whom she married in 1954. Labouisse as Director General of UNICEF received the Nobel Peace Prize awarded the organization. In peacekeeping missions to help children, Ewa visited 19 countries. In December 2005, she was 102 years old. In 1938, Polish president Ignacy Moscicki had awarded her the Officer’s Cross “Polonia Restituta”. In July 2005, President Aleksander Kwasniewski awarded her the Commander’s Order of Gratitude of the Republic of Poland (it was handed to her by current president Lech Kaczynski).
Prepared by: Prof. Edward Olszewski (UMCS)
Prepared on the basis of:
- - Denis Brian, The Curie Family. Translation: Jan Hensel, publisher Amber, Warsaw 2006.
- - Ewa Curie, Maria Curie, transl. from French by Hanna Szyllerowa, PWN, Warszawa 1969.
- - Gilette Ziegler (red.), Marie Sklodowska-Curie’s Correspondence with Daughter Irena, 1905-1934. Selected & translated by Krystyna Dolatowska, Warszawa 1978.
- - Barbara Goldsmith, Genius & Obsession. Marie Curie’s Internal World. Translated by Jaroslaw Szmolda, Dolnoslaskie Publishing House 2006.
- - Francoise Giroud, Marie Sklodowska-Curie, Translated by Janina Palecka, Warsaw 1987.
- - Laurent Lemira, Marie Sklodowska-Curie, Swiat Ksiazki, Warsaw 2003.
- - Marie Sklodowska-Curie, Autobiography, Literackie Publishing House, Krakow 1963.
- - Susan Quinn, Marie Curie’s Life, Translated by Anna Soczynska, Warsaw 1997.
Translated by Lukasz Sewera,
Educational & Communication Consulting, Inc.