Born Maria Sklodowska in Poland (1867) to a pianist mother and a university professor father, she showed an early interest in getting an education. She won awards for academic achievement and had hopes of pursuing advanced education but an unwise investment by the father dashed those hopes. She agreed to work as a governess in order to finance her sister Bronia’s education, who then would do the reverse for Maria. Both kept their promises but serious hurdles stood in the way of accomplishing Maria’s dreams.
A sad love affair plagued her time as a governess.
At Sorbonne, Paris, she lived in cramped student quarters surviving mainly on bread, butter and tea.
She married Pierre Curie in 1895 and both of them committed themselves to the study of radium and polonium, elements they had isolated in very poor laboratory conditions. She adopted the French version of her name, Marie.
In addition to scientific research, they spent hours teaching in order to support themselves and their two daughters. In spite of those hurdles they, together with Antoine Henri Bequerel, won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1904. Intense work leading to the discovery of radioactivity was tragically marred when Pierre was killed in a traffic accident. Soon after this devastating event Marie recovered and was asked to take Pierre’s teaching position at Sorbonne, becoming the first woman teacher there.
Another achievement rewarded her dedication as she won a second Nobel Prize in 1911. This time for Chemistry. This was followed by finding therapeutic use for radium in the medical field, but she didn’t realize the danger of frequent exposure to radioactivity. Eventually it was a major contributor to her death.
It’s a lesson in prevailing in spite of adversity!