NOT, HOWEVER THE FIRST WOMAN TO WIN A NOBEL PRIZE
AND NOT THE FIRST TO BE PUNISHED FOR IT
In Fact, She Died For Your Sins
Maria "Manya" Sklodowska was born in Warsaw, Poland under the Russian Czars in 1867; her parents were both teachers. She was educated only as far as high school; women were not permitted to attend university in Poland at that time. In fact, women were thought of as mindless breeding animals; and still are, in some parts of the world, until this very day. Women like Marie Curie proved this to be very, very wrong.
She worked as a governess to help her family, and sent money to her sister, a medical student in Paris, France. Her sister became a physician, and married a doctor. Manya came to stay with them, adopting the French form of her name, Marie. Marie entered the Sorbonne and studied mathematics and physics, graduating at the top of her class. In 1894, Marie Sklodowska married French chemist Pierre Curie, becoming Madame Curie.
Textbooks in my day gave the impression that Mrs. Curie was a kind of help-mate, an assistant only, even a bit of a hanger-on to her husband. In fact, the Nobel Prize Committee disagreed, and awarded her not one, but two separate prizes, one shared by her husband and French physicist Antoine Henri Becquerel for fundamental research on radioactivity. But only after a fight by one Swedish scientist, on Manya's behalf.
That, and Mr. Madame Curie's insistence that, in fact he was HER lab assistant. The other Nobel prize Madame Curie won all by herself in 1911 (five years after her husband was killed in a traffic accident), for the discovery of two new elements, Polonium and Radium. She was the first person ever awarded a second Nobel.
The Sorbonne also recognized Marie's individual talents, appointing her the very first female Professor at the prestigious French university, giving her her husband's post after his tragic death (which may have been caused by weakness from radiation poisoning). She pioneered studies of the health applications of radioactivity, and ran the Radium Institute at the Sorbonne, later the Institute Curie, while raising her daughters, alone.
Apparently, she did well there also, as her daughter Irene Joliot Curie and her husband Frederic Joliot-Curie also won a Nobel prize together, for Chemistry. Irene also taught at the Sorbonne, served as undersecretary for scientific affairs for the French government, worked at the French atomic energy commission, ran the Institute Curie, and became an officer of the Legion of Honor.
Mom became the head of the Radiological Service for the International Red Cross. During World War One, Madame Curie personally saw to the equipment of French military ambulances with X-ray machines, and even drove them to the front herself. She pioneered the use of radioactive materials to treat cancer, of which she and her daughter Irene both perished, due to exposure to radioactivity during their vital studies.
Much of what we know today about the decay and transformation of radioactive elements into stable elements, and the applications of radioactivity, especially in medicine, we owe to the Curie family. Madame Curie and her helpmate in life, Pierre Curie, are entombed at the Pantheon in Paris, among the Immortals. She was the first woman to receive this honor.
Madame Marie Curie and her daughter, Madame Irene Joliot-Curie, stood out for their hard work, determination, scientific genius and true humanitarianism. They never patented anything, preferring to see the results of their efforts (for which they were to die) made freely and readily available to all of us.
This is, in part, why such things as radium therapy and X-rays have always been relatively cheap, compared to MRI's and other patented technology. The Curie's also turned all prizes and award monies back into their research, living frugally and giving themselves to Science in the interest of humanity, every day of their lives, until it killed them.
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 we can be most useful.
Columbia Encyclopedia: Curie
ENCARTA: Curie, Marie
NPR: The Life of Marie Curie
[LINKED TO: "THOUGH THEY'VE BEAT YOU AND THEY'VE FLAYED YOU" (above).]
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