Maria Curie Skłodowska
Maria Skłodowska Curie

Childhood and youth in Poland 

Maria Skłodowska-Curie was born in Warsaw, Poland, on November 7, 1867. The mother Bronisława, her maiden name was Bogucka, came from the noble family ( family of Topór coat of arms).

She was a teacher and an owner of the girls'boarding school at 16 Freta street. Father Władysław Skłodowski (family of Dołęga coat of arms) taught physics and mathematics at high schools. Apart from the youngest Marie, they had 4 children : Zofia, who died, Bronisława (later named Dłuska-doctor, founder of sanatorium for the sick with tuberculosis in Zakopane), Józef (doctor, a head of hospital department in Warsaw), Helen (later named Szalay, teacher).

Since 1878 father brought up children himself, because Bronisława died of the lung tuberculosis. At home there were maintained patriotic traditions, firstly romantic, then positivistic ones. Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Słowacki and Zygmunt Krasiński's poetry had influenced the children. In the latest times Maria's ideological examples were Eliza Orzeszkowa, Boleslaw Prus and organic work.

In 1877, Maria (she was called Maniusia by her parents) started studying at the private boarding school, whose owner was Jadwiga Sikorska, at Marszałkowska street in Warsaw. Six years later in a state lycee, from which she graduated with a golden medal. She visited her relatives during yearly holidays and regained strength after school and personal problems and experience. In 1884 ,Maria attended university preparatory courses in Warsaw, which programme included natural and social sciences.

A young Maria was a person with many talents. She spoke 5 languages, , she was interested in sociology and in psychology, exact sciences, she was good at drawing. She choose exact sciences, dreamt about studies at Sorbonne. Going abroad to study was necessary for girls in those times, because it was forbidden for  them to take up studies in the annexed Poland.

The Skłodowski's family did not have  great financial sources, that meant -the first ,who went abroad to study medicine, was the older sister Bronisława. Maria worked as private tutor giving her financial support, later Bronisława would help Maria in this field.

In the years 1886-1889, Maria worked as a governess in the landed estate Szczuki which belonged to Krasiński's family. She taught there Żorawski's children-owners of the property. She organized classes for the children in the village having taught Polish, history and mathematics. For this illegal activity she was threatened to an exile. During her stay in Szczuki she felt for the first time in love with Kazimierz Żorawski, student of mathematics-son of the owners. They were going to marry, but his parents were against this relationship having called it misalliance. In 1898, an embittered Maria came back to Warsaw. One year later she appeared for the first time in the laboratory at Museum of Industry and Agriculture. At that time she trained herself in chemical analysis and cooperated with chemist and Mendelejew's assistant –Joseph Bogucki or Napoleon Milicer. She became acquainted with research work.

 

Paris-study and adulthood

In November 1891, her dreams were fulfilled, she came to Paris and studied as a one of the few girls at the Faculte des Sciences at Sorbonne.

At the beginning she lived at Bronisława and Kazimierz Dłuski's house. They maintained a close contact with the Polish people in Paris. Maria got friends with the pianist and later Prime minister of the Republic of Poland- Ignacy Jan Paderewski. Maria attended his first concerts in Paris, participated in the Polish patriotic performances as well. Since 1892 she lived alone and kept herself .In 1893, she graduated from the university having won her licenciate in physics and in mathematics a year later. She worked for Society Supporting National Industry in France having carried out research in the field of steel magnetism.

In 1894, she met Pierre Curie, the great French physicist, who sued for Maria's hand. It was a difficult decision for her, because she must have left  family, old father and native country.

In 1895, she married Pierre Curie, who shared her affection and interest in scientific work. Maria did not renounce her Polish country, the Polish roots and her Polish surname. She undersigned according to the French tradition: „Madame Pierre Curie, Madame Maria Curie, Madame Curie-Skłodowska”.

On the Nobel diploma in 1903, when she received Nobel prize for physics with her husband Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel, she was figured as Maria Curie, but in 1911, she received a Nobel prize for chemistry as Maria Skłodowska-Curie. She maintained close contact with Poland all the time , she visited  native country many times: private or connected with her research work.

In 1899, she visited Poland with Pierre to show him Warsaw and Zakopane. She climbed Rysy-the highest peak in Tatra Mountains. They could breathe fresh mountain air and enjoy freedom in country, which did not exist on any maps in those days. Maria loved Poland so far that she visited it regularly, with daughters. Here a small Eve Curie learnt horse riding.

The first daughter Irene who was born in 1897, became a scientist as well. In 1935, she received with her husband Frideric Joliot Curie a Nobel prize for discovery of artificial radioactivity. The second daughter came into the world seven years later, Eve was a pianist, an author of Maria Skłodowska-Curie's biography and a war correspondent.

Maria and Pierre worked together in the laboratory, which was located in the renovated shed being there property of  the University of Physics and Industrial Chemistry, where Pierre worked.

The Curie's investigation of the radiations of uranium led in 1898 to the discovery of two highly radioactive new chemical elements, polonium and radium.

The new era began, the world got crazy about it. Radium became a wonder medicine. It was advertised as a remedy which corrected beauty and youth, ensured a  long life. The scientists were involved in research work at radium. They did not patent this invention. They stood far away from the radium madness.

In 1903, Maria Skłodowska-Curie received her doctoral degree in physical sciences for her studies on radioactive substances and  together with her husband and Henri Becquerel won the Nobel prize for physics. Maria was the first woman who received this prize and the only who got two Nobel prizes in the two different research fields. Work and life with Pierre gave Maria a great satisfaction and joy. Unfortunately, Pierre died on April, 1906  in an accident. After the depressed time Maria got back on feet, she remained silent, thoughtful and she was a little inattentive. She was appointed to succeed him as a head of the physics department at the Sorbonne. After two years she became as the first woman a professor at this university. In 1911, she came to Poland, where she regained the strength after hate campaign in Paris against her relationship with Paul Langevin.

In 1911, in Stockholm she received the Nobel prize for chemistry for her work on the isolation of metallic radium. In 1913, her efforts and direct aid enabled The Radiological Laboratory in Poland to develop research on radioactivity. Her former student, professor L. Werstenstein directed it in Warsaw. She helped founding the Radium Institute in Paris in 1912- the modern medical and research laboratory. The First World War broke out. Maria  ealized that she must have closed down the institute, hidden radium in Bordeaux. She did not need to be passive, it was against her nature. Thanks to her stubbornness she organized a mobile radiographic unit and took it to the battlefront, where she frequently operated it herself, examining the wounded and training radiographic assistants on the Belgian-French border. Thousands of soldiers were saved, without cutting legs or hands. Nevertheless, her devotion and intensive hard work affected negatively her health. After the end of the war she came back to Paris and started working again at the Radium Institute. From all over the world came the scholars to Paris to study at the Sorbonne. She took care of  Polish science supporting Polish students. She was a Polish representative at the League of Nations, where she was a chairwoman of the Commission of International Cooperation since 1922.

She travelled twice to USA in 1921, where she got financial support for institute equipment in Paris and again in 1929 she obtained funds for building and equipment of similar institute in Warsaw. She dreamt about such a modern laboratory and hospital in Poland as she possessed in Paris. Her initiative and generosity were also decisive in the creation of the Radium Institute in Warsaw at Wawelska street in 1932, with its foremost task of utilizing the healing properties of radium to protect health and save human lives. It was her last visit in Poland. In 1934, Maria Skłodowska -Curie was 67 years old, sick and tired but still working, she wrote  the next book , worked at the Radium Institute. On July 1934, she went with Eve to the sanatorium  in Sancellemoz, where she died on July 4, 1934 of leukemia caused by prolonged exposure to radioactive substances. She was buried in Sceaux near Paris together with her husband. Only the closest members of family took part in the highly simple funeral ceremony.

In 1955, their ashes were carried out to the Pantheon in Paris. Maria Skłodowska-Curie was the first woman awarded in this way for her research work and the only person buried at the Pantheon, not being French.

She was a friend for the worldwide known scientists of those days: A. Einstein, E. Rutherford, M. Planck. She participated as the only woman the Solvayowski's conference. After her death, A. Einstein wrote in his essay about Marie Skłodowska-Curie: ” She was the only person, not spoiled by fame, among these who I met”