In her native Poland, Manya Sklodowska, as she was then called, had strong positive role models. Both her parents were educators. Both were politically active. In a country, dominated by Russia, they taught patriotism and promoted the Polish culture. Marie learned early to stand by her principles. She excelled in school, even after her mother's untimely death and her father's financial ruin. She wanted nothing more than to obtain a higher education.
Banned from the university because of her gender, Marie attended classes in secret meetings at night, in ever changing locations to escape detection. Appropriately named the Floating University, it represented a grassroots movement of students who shared knowledge and strove to better themselves.
Her sister moved to France to attend medical school and Marie worked as a governess for several years to fund her education and to save money for herself, so she could join her in Paris. During this time she took chemistry lessons from a local chemist and studied sociology and literature. When her father lucked into a lucrative job and was able to regain some of his wealth, he sent Marie to Paris, so she could complete her education.
Living in disparaging conditions did not hinder Marie's studies. She had much catching up to do. The inability to find a laboratory had left her lagging behind in science. She desperately needed to find lab space. Pierre Curie, laboratory chief of the Municipal School of Industrial Physics and Chemistry in Paris, provided her with an opportunity, as he needed an able assistant to aid him with his research. They ended up falling in love and married.
While Marie Curie supported her husband in his research, she also conducted her own. The birth of two children did not hinder her studies. She chose for her doctorate research a study on Uranium and its rays and she created the word "radioactivity." Her husband, intrigued by her discoveries, joined forces with her and together they discovered a new element in 1898: Radium.
The scientific community became intrigued with the new element, which would be used to destroy cancer tissue. Unfortunately, Radium also damages healthy tissue and the Curies both suffered gradually declining health, due to their continued, unprotected exposure.
Both, Marie and Pierre were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics, during a time when women were not usually officially acknowledged. When Pierre was killed in a traffic accident, Marie continued her work with added intensity, determined to create a legacy for her dead husband. In 1911, she was awarded a second Nobel Prize, this time in Chemistry. As the only double laureate ever, Marie set the scientific world on fire.
During the first World War, Marie initiated the deployment of X-ray vans to the troops to assist medical of injured soldiers. She personally operated one of the vans, tirelessly X-raying soldiers at the battle front, exposing herself to further hazard from improperly shielded rays. As the war raged on, she helped develop radiation therapy, which would direct radiation to the exact spot where destruction of diseased tissue was needed.
Marie's health continued to deteriorate, as the radiation did its work in her body. At the time, a connection between her work and her illness was not positively confirmed, although she suspected it. In 1934, Marie Curie died, leaving behind a wealth of knowledge and a mind-boggling legacy of excellence and personal sacrifice.
"We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained."-- Marie Curie, physicist