A lot of people only know Marie Curie as a woman who won a Nobel prize (or two…spoilers) but that is just a small part of the life of this intelligent, brave, determined and focused physicist, wife and mother. Her life was so full it’s going to take us two episodes to bring it to you.
Marya Sklodowska was born in Russian controlled Warsaw, Poland, in 1867, the 5th child of two educators. But before you think that having teachers for parents must have made getting an education easy, think again. The Russians weren’t fooling around when they told the people of Poland that they were Russian now, forget everything Polish. And the Polish people weren’t fooling around when they said, “uh, yeah, about that…no.” This meant that Manya (her nickname), her sisters and brother had to learn twice as much: what the Russian education system expected and what their heritage and love of Poland dictated.
Russian rule aside- overall life wasn’t easy for the Sklodowski family–Mama and a sister died before Manya was 10, and Papa did most of the child raising. If academic performance and national pride were the only benchmarks of success–he was very successful. When public education ended for her (Polish University doors were not open to women) Manya and her sister used inventive ways, legal and illegal, to continue their education.
Manya’s path to the Sorbonne wasn’t easy, either (although she did have some fun along the way–hello, Casimir!) but at 23 Manya stepped into her new French life as Marie and began to fulfill her dream of becoming a research scientist. Her dedication, intelligence, drive and passion for her subjects propelled her to a degree in both Physics and Mathematics within two years.
While Marie wasn’t in college to get her MRS Degree…she did become Madame Curie after she and fellow scientist, Pierre, began the most romantic, nerd-romance in the history of nerd-romances.
Love is great, but they made science, too! Major science! This perfect pairing of education, science, math and compatibility allowed the pair to rack up some important discoveries: Marie discovered and named “Radioactivity” (yeah, that was her) (no, not the song), they added two elements to the Periodic Table- Polonium and Radium- and two daughters to their family-Irene and Eve.
Of course it wouldn’t be a story for us to tell if Marie hadn’t battled sexism and hurdles that a man never would have experienced. Being acknowledged for her contributions and receiving the Nobel Prize in Physics, shared EQUALLY with Pierre and another scientist, was no exception to that unfortunate life-theme.
When Pierre died suddenly in 1906, the challenges of making her way in a male dominated field as a single mother dedicated to science was more than enough of a story to fill part two.
So we did.
TIME TRAVEL WITH THE HISTORY CHICKS
We’ll put all of our book and media recommendations on the shownotes for part two but here are a few to tide you over until the next episode:
New to Susan but maybe not to you? 2001 trailer for Osmosis Jones
The Nobel Prize– this is the official site and my gosh, you can be in there a very, very long time.