Childhood and Education
Maria Sklodowska, later known as Marie Curie, was born on November 7, 1867, in Warsaw (modern-day Poland). Curie was the youngest of five children, following siblings Zosia, Józef, Bronya and Hela.
Both of Curie’s parents were teachers. Her father, Wladyslaw, was a math and physics instructor. When she was only 10, Curie lost her mother, Bronislawa, to tuberculosis.
As a child, Curie took after her father. She had a bright and curious mind and excelled at school. But despite being a top student in her secondary school, Curie could not attend the men’s-only University of Warsaw. She instead continued her education in Warsaw’s “floating university,” a set of underground, informal classes held in secret.
Both Curie and her sister Bronya dreamed of going abroad to earn an official degree, but they lacked the financial resources to pay for more schooling. Undeterred, Curie worked out a deal with her sister: She would work to support Bronya while she was in school, and Bronya would return the favor after she completed her studies.
For roughly five years, Curie worked as a tutor and a governess. She used her spare time to study, reading about physics, chemistry and math.
In 1891, Curie finally made her way to Paris and enrolled at the Sorbonne. She threw herself into her studies, but this dedication had a personal cost: with little money, Curie survived on buttered bread and tea, and her health sometimes suffered because of her poor diet.
Curie used her celebrity to advance her research. She traveled to the United States twice—in 1921 and in 1929—to raise funds to buy radium and to establish a radium research institute in Warsaw.
Curie won two Nobel Prizes, for physics in 1903 and for chemistry in 1911. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize as well as the first person—man or woman—to win the prestigious award twice. She remains the only person to be honored for accomplishments in two separate sciences.
Marie Curie’s Legacy
Curie made many breakthroughs in her lifetime. Remembered as a leading figure in science and a role model for women, she has received numerous posthumous honors. Several educational and research institutions and medical centers bear the Curie name, including the Curie Institute and Pierre and Marie Curie University (UPMC).
In 1995, Marie and Pierre’s remains were interred in the Panthéon in Paris, the final resting place of France’s greatest minds. Marie became the first and one of only five women to be laid to rest there. In 2017, the Panthéon hosted an exhibition to honor the 150th birthday of the pioneering scientist.
The story of the Nobel laureate was back on the big screen in 2017 with Marie Curie: The Courage of Knowledge, featuring Polish actress Karolina Gruszka. In 2018, Amazon announced the development of another biopic of Curie, with British actress Rosamund Pike in the starring role.
I am proud of Irene’s mother. Fame couldn’t get to her, her discovery did. Honor science, to honor religion.