World History I History is full of firsts: the first person to sail around the world, the first man to walk on the moon, the first to successfully climb Mount Everest. Unfortunately, many of these firsts do not involve women. For centuries, men wrote and rewrote history with firsts. But, two very important ones were accomplished by a woman: Marie Curie.
Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the first person to win the award in two separate categories. Born in Warsaw, Poland November 7th of 1867, Marya Sklodowska, who later became known as Marie Curie, received a general education with her father teaching her science on the side. Many other Polish women had not been allowed to receive an education because of Russia’s harsh rule. But, because her parents were both educators, they demanded on their daughters being educated. Marie finished high school at the young age of 15 along with being the first in her class. She ended up completing her studies in Paris, France at Sorbonne University for a more expansive education. Then, in 1894, Marie met her future husband, Pierre Curie. Together, they worked in physics at Sorbonne but later, she passed him as the Head of the Physics Laboratory. During this time, women’s roles focused on their married and house life. Many would spend all their time making sure her husband is happy since he would be the only one working. Marie was different.
Not only was she a working woman, she worked alongside her husband before becoming head of their department. In addition to working, she had two daughters, Irene, who followed in her mother’s footsteps and won a Nobel Prize, and Eve Curie. Being a mother and an incredible scientist proves that women are not as weak and fragile as thought to be in that time period. Inspired by the work of Henri Becquerels and William Roentgen, who discovered radioactivity, Curie decided to choose radioactivity as the subject of her research. The reports done by Becquerels and Roentgen stated that rays similar to x-rays were being transmitted from uranium ore. Using her husband’s instruments, she got the idea to measure the dim electrical currents she detected in the air that had been filled with uranium rays. Her work proved Becquerel’s observation that the more uranium in an ore, the more intensified rays.
After this, she started her revolutionizing hypothesis: an atomic property of uranium was the transmission of these rays. If this is true, the widely accepted theory of the atom being the smallest possible form of matter would have to be false. (https://www.livescience.com/38907-marie-curie-facts-biography.html) Curie had already proved so much, but, she furthered her research. She and Pierre were the first to enable radioactive isotopes to be isolated for the first time in history. In this process, she discovered two new elements: polonium and radium. Which leads to her Nobel Prizes. The first of which being awarded to her, her husband, and Henri Becquerels in 1903 for “contributions to the understanding of atomic structure” under the Physics category. Her second Nobel Prize, in 1911 was awarded to her after her husband’s death for discovering the radioactive elements polonium and radium. Marie Curie was a leader and pioneer. She paved the way for many more scientific advancements, women in science, and women who work. Her revolutionary work led to her becoming the first woman in history to win the Nobel Prize, which inspires women today. She offers strength to women who are going into the science fields. Curie broke down many barriers for women.
Adding to her lists of firsts, she was the first woman to hold the job for Professor of General Physics at the University of Paris. Curie was not so much persecuted like other women, but because she was a woman in science, she was met with opposition. The Nobel nominating committee objected having her as a Nobel Laureate, but her husband stood up for her and made sure they knew the original research belonged to Marie. Unfortunately, since she had been exposed to so much radiation during her life, she developed a blood disease known as aplastic anemia. She passed away July 4th, 1937. Marie was buried next to her husband but they were both moved to the Pantheon in Paris in 1995. Her legacy left such an impact that she is considered one of history’s greatest scientists.