Marie Skłodowska Curie: a snapshot biography

“We must not forget that when radium was discovered no one knew that it would prove useful in hospitals. The work was one of pure science. And this is a proof that scientific work must not be considered from the point of view of the direct usefulness of it. It must be done for itself, for the beauty of science, and then there is always the chance that a scientific discovery may become like the radium a benefit for humanity.” – Marie Skłodowska Curie

A black and white historical photograph of Marie Sklodowska Curie standing in a laboratory. She is dressed in a full-length dark dress with a high collar and her hair is pulled back. Curie holds a glass beaker in her left hand and a chemical apparatus is placed on a table beside her. Her expression is serious and focused, indicative of her dedication to her scientific work.
Marie Skłodowska Curie

Marie Skłodowska Curie Biography

Marie Skłodowska Curie was shy, and she loved nature. She was known to work hard, at times even forgetting to eat. And she was practical, wearing a dark blue dress on her wedding day, which she would continue to wear for many years while working in her laboratory. “I have no dress except the one I wear every day. If you are going to be kind enough to give me one, please let it be practical and dark so that I can put it on afterwards to go to the laboratory,” she would say.

Born in Warsaw in 1867, Marie was the youngest of five children. She grew up in a home with an emphasis on education; her father worked as a science teacher, while her mother ran a boarding school. As a teenager, because of her gender, Marie attended a “floating school,” which was an underground school that often changed locations to avoid being discovered by authorities. And for her college years, Marie and her sister alternated years of work to financially support each other, as their father could not pay for their schooling.

Black and white portrait photograph of Marie Skłodowska Curie from 1898. She has a gentle, yet determined expression, with her hair styled in a typical updo of the era. She is wearing a dark dress with a ruffled collar and a simple necklace. The lighting casts soft shadows on her face, highlighting her features and reflecting the photographic style of the late 19th century.
Marie Skłodowska Curie, circa 1898

Her formal education culminated with a Ph.D. in 1903. That same year, Marie became the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize. She was awarded the distinction along with two others, including her husband, for discoveries made in physics, specifically around radioactivity. And in 1911, Marie was awarded the Nobel Prize again, this time for research conducted in Chemistry.

Often facing sexism, questions of time spent at work instead of raising her children, Marie focused on research to make important discoveries. She passed away in 1934 from aplastic anemia, believed to be the result of prolonged exposure to radiation.

“A snapshot biography of Marie Skłodowska Curie” Sources: 

Marie Skłodowska Curie – Physics Today / “Madame Curie’s Passion.” By Julie Des Jardin. Smithsonian Magazine. / Marie Curie – Wikipedia / Wikiquote – Lecture at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York (14 May 1921) / Scientific Monthly 12, 580 (1921) / “Underwood and Underwood, New York” / The World’s Work 16, 525 (1921) / “Wide World Photos” – Wikimedia Commons / Wikimedia Commons


To cite:

“Marie Skłodowska Curie: a snapshot biography.” Historical Snapshots.