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12 Things About Marie Curie That Prove She's One of the Most Influential Women Ever

Updated November 7, 2018 56k views12 items

Marie Curie (also known as Madame Curie) was born Marie Sklowdowska in Warsaw, Poland, in 1867. At the time, Poland was a Russian territory, and residents had to abide by Russian rules, which included speaking Russian in schools (not Polish) and not publicly showing any pro-Polish sentiments, which wound up hurting Curie's family, as it prevented her schoolteacher father from getting a good-paying job.

Curie's early home life was interrupted by the death of her mother in 1878, when Curie was only 10. After this, Curie's father enrolled her in a tough school, where she excelled in mathematics and science. She went on to work as a tutor before attending college in secret. The life of Marie Curie was not easy, but after moving to France as a young adult, she went on to become one of the first famous female scientists

Tragically, one of the most important women in scientific history sacrificed her life for her work when she died of anemia caused by a lifetime of exposure to radiation.

  • She Refused A Prestigious French Honor To Protest Sexism

    Photo: Mariluna / via Wikimedia Commons

    After the end of World War I, Marie Curie began to travel the world in order to raise money for her Radium Institute and for her scientific studies. As part of her fundraising campaign, she was invited to meet with President Warren G. Harding, who gifted her with a gram of radium worth approximately $100,000.

    Before her visit, the French government offered to give Curie the French Legion d'Honneur medal. However, she refused the award, upset about not being allowed to join the French Academy of Science when some members refused to vote for a woman.

  • She Discovered Two Important Radioactive Elements

    Photo: Public Domain / via Wikimedia Commons

    Early on in her scientific career, Marie Curie discovered two important radioactive elements. She called the first one polonium, after her home country of Poland. The second was named radium. Both were discovered in 1898. Radium became famous for its glow-in-the-dark properties and was used on the dials of watches until it became clear that exposure to its radioactivity was harmful to people's health. 

  • She Coined The Word "Radioactivity"

    Photo: Public Domain / via Wikimedia Commons

    Marie Curie and her husband, Pierre, worked on expanding the discovery of Henri Becquerel, a French physicist. Becquerel worked on uranium, which he noticed gave off rays of energy similar to X-rays. Building on his idea, Marie came up with the theory that the rays coming from uranium were a part of the atomic structure of the element, and emanated from it constantly. She came up with a new term for this development: radioactivity.

  • She Developed A Mobile X-Ray Machine For Battlefield Use

    Photo: Eve Curie / via Wikimedia Commons

    Marie Curie developed a new technology based on the discoveries of previous scientists who worked on X-rays. Thanks to her knowledge of radioactivity, Curie was able to create small, portable X-ray machines for use on World War I battlefields. These machines, driven around by military vehicles, were called "Little Curies."