Sunday, May 27, 2012

Marie Curie: Early Years (1867-1895)

1867-1883: Childhood and youth
Marie Curie was born on November 7, 1867. At birth she was given the name Maria Skłodowska.

She was born in the city of Warsaw. At that time Warsaw was part of the Kingdom of Poland. That kingdom, in turn, was part of the Russian Empire.

Both of her parents were educators. Her father, Władysław, was a teacher of math and physics. Her mother, Bronisława, was the director of an important boarding school for girls.

Władysław was an atheist. Bronisława was a committed Roman Catholic. In 1877, Marie’s oldest sister Zofia died of typhus. In 1879, Marie’s mother died of tuberculosis. After these deaths, Marie decided to be an agnostic: someone who believed that a god exists but not the one worshiped by Catholics.

1883-1895: Years of wandering
Marie finished secondary school in 1883. After graduation, she spent some time with her extended family and did some tutoring in Warsaw.

In 1885, her older sister Bronisława needed help paying for medical school in Paris. Marie agreed to send money to her. To do so, Marie started working as a governess in Kraków.

A year later she worked as governess for the Żorawski family. She fell in love with Kazimierz Żorawski, who was a year older than her. The two wanted to get married. Kazimierz’s parents would not allow it because Marie’s family was too poor. To keep the two young lovers apart, they fired Marie.

Marie found another job as governess. She continued to send money to her sister Bronisława in Paris.

By 1890 Marie’s sister no longer needed money from her. Marie returned to her father in Warsaw. She started learning how to do scientific research in a laboratory. Her cousin, Józef Boguski, was director of the lab. He had studied in St. Petersburg with the great Dmitri Mendeleev.

In 1889, Bronisława had gotten married. She had invited Marie to come live with her and her husband in Paris. In October 1891, Marie decided she would.

Soon after moving to Paris, Marie found a small cheap flat of her own. She started studying at the University of Paris during the day and tutoring at night. In 1893 she got her first degree in physics. In 1894 she got a first degree in math.

Marie met Pierre Curie in 1894. He taught science at a technical college. They got to know each other because of a shared interest in magnetism.

Although the two liked each other, Marie returned to Warsaw to look for work. When she couldn’t get a job as a scientist because she was a woman, she went back to Paris.

In 1895, Marie and Pierre got married. After that, they spent most of their time doing scientific research together.

Copyright © 2012 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.