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Learn from the Greatest Women in History - Lessons from the Life of Marie Curie

Updated on April 2, 2014

Marie Curie


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The Nobel Prize Marie Curie Won for Her Work in the Field of Chemistry


The Sorbonne Academy that helped produce one of the greatest women in history.

The Sorbonne Academy:
Sorbonne, Paris, France

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The famous Sorbonne where Marie Curie became the first woman to obtain a position in a school of higher education.

An Introduction to One of the Greatest Women in History - Marie Curie

Truly one of the greatest women in history, Marie Curie stands out in the crowd of pioneering geniuses for a number of reasons; which is why I have chosen her as my first subject of analysis. This series of articles aims to take a close look at what made each woman so great, and reveal the disadvantages they had to contend with as well as the advantages they enjoyed. Finally, I'll share some lessons that we can all take from these successful women and implement in our own lives. There is no doubt that the greatest women in history played just as important a role as the greatest men who ever lived. Enjoy!

Marie Curie Facts

  • Born November 7, 1867 in Warsaw, Poland which was part of the Soviet Union.
  • Was the youngest of five children.
  • The first woman to win a Nobel prize.
  • The only woman to win a Nobel prize in two different fields.
  • Discovered the elements: radium and polonium.
  • Coined the term 'radioactivity.'
  • Is the first woman to be given a teaching position in higher education.
  • Discovered that Radium destroyed infected cells and growths.
  • Thrived in a world dominated by men.
  • Never patented her discoveries, leaving the way open for further development of her work by other scientists.
  • Died of suspected overexposure to radium in 1934.

From this, we can see she definitely deserves to rank among the greatest women in history, but just how difficult was it to attain that standing?

Let's find out...

Marie Curie and Her Husband Pierre Curie Experimenting with Radium


Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? 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

The Advantages, Disadvantages and Challenges that Marie Curie Contended With

Quite often, when we examine the lives of the greatest women in history; we discover that they were faced with almost insurmountable challenges, yet somehow still managed to succeed in their chosen field. What is it that makes them so different from the rest of us? It has to be both to do with their upbringing and their ability to adapt and change themselves to become that which they need to be in order to survive. Let's take a look at Marie Curie's advantages and disadvantages throughout life.

The Life of Marie Curie

Advantages of Marie Curie:

  1. Marie possessed a keen intelligence from a very early age that astounded her parents and teachers.
  2. Her parents were both high achievers - Her father was a scholar who taught physics and Math in a high school and her mother was a gifted musician who gave up her career to raise her young children.

  3. Attended a secret university for gifted Polish students where she was taught science, sociology and many other subjects.

  4. Met and Married another scientist, Pierre Curie who was to become her research partner and later receive a joint Nobel prize alongside Marie Curie.

  5. Henri Becquerel's discovery of rays emitted by uranium salts inspired Marie Curie's Nobel prize winning discovery of radioactivity.

The Stern-faced Marie

The Disadvantages of Marie Curie

  1. Grew up in a terrible time for the Polish people who were expected to be subservient to their russian rulers. The polish accent was ridiculed and students were taught in russian and read from russian texts.

  2. Lost her sister at the age of 9. Her sister, Zosia died from Typhus contracted from one of the boarders staying with them.

  3. 2 years later her mother died of tuberculosis.
  4. Universities under the rule of the Tsar refused to accept women. Marie was forced to go to Paris to further her

  5. Marie sent part of her salary as a Governess to her sister Bronya each month so her sister could gain an education. She also hated working as a Governess but did it anyway, knowing the good it was doing her father and sister at the time.
  6. Remained a Governess, a position she disliked for 5 years until she was 24 in order to take care of her father and younger sister Hela. Before leaving, she made sure Hela had a job so she could support herself.

  7. Survived on tea and bread and was half-starved for much of her time as a student at the Sorbonne.

  8. During their quest to discover Radium, Marie and Pierre Curie worked in squallid conditions. During the winter it grew so damp that water dripped from the ceiling and in summer the heat in the tiny shed was stifling. Still, for 8 years, they persevered.

  9. During the smelting of the ore, a necessary process to separate elements, Marie breathed in all kinds of noxious fumes because there was no chimney in the little shed they worked in. Still, Marie considered those years in the shed as some of the happiest of her life, entirely dedicated to her work alongside her equally dedicated husband.

  10. Grew up in an era where all fields were dominated by men, and women had little influence or say in any matter.

  11. Was a full-time mother of 2 daughters, unlike many male scientists who concentrated solely on their work.

  12. In April 1906, 3 years after the Curies received their joint Nobel prize, disaster struck. Pierre, upon leaving his home one rainy night in April was run over by a horse-drawn wagon and killed instantly. Marie was distraught. she had lost her beloved, her partner, the father of her children and her dearest friend in a cruel twist of fate, yet she still persisted on her path to becoming one of the greatest women in history.

Marie Curie, on the far right, the only female in this group of scientists

The Character Traits of Marie Curie

(click column header to sort results)
Character Traits Needed  
Grew up in a poor family, with little income and lived in an overcrowded house
Gained employment and made enough money to take care of both her father and sisters
Selflessness, determination, willpower
Lost both her mother and sister in the space of 3 years
Worked in a job she disliked to care for her family, studied hard at the secret university for gifted polish students
Selflessness, determination, desire to help others, a burning desire to learn more
Universities in Poland refused to accept women
Traveled to Paris where she began studying at The Sorbonne and became an excellent student
A burning desire to learn, determination, willpower, passion for a subject/goal, feisty, persistant
Conducted reasearch in a ramshackle shed that was freezing in the winter and sweltering in summer
Discovered the element, radium
Passion for a subject/goal, determination, willpower, burning desire to learn more, a long-term goal, a purpose in life

Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas. - Marie Curie

A Lesson from the Life of Marie Curie

Marie Curie, even long after her death, can teach us much about success.
Marie Curie, even long after her death, can teach us much about success. | Source

A Quick Lesson from Marie Curie

Having studied Marie Curie, you now know that her success as a Nobel-prize winning scientist was no small feat. Against all the odds, she prevailed and started in motion the wheels of discovery that would bring us x-ray technology and more importantly, chemotherapy. Many other scientists throughout history patented their discoveries, therefore making it difficult for other scientists to develop the work further, however, Marie seemed only to want to help others and never patented her work and this is yet another reason she is one the list of the greatest women in history.

Marie Curie's Characteristics Were Learned Through Adversity

It was more Marie's situation than her inherent personality that made her the woman she was. Take a look at her Characteristics again:

  • Determination - Borne from growing up in an unfair environment that was hard on the Polish people.
  • Selflessness - A by-product of the situation her family was thrust into suddenly after the deaths of her sister and mother. She realized if she didn't take it upon herself to become the bread-winner, then her family would suffer.
  • A desire to learn - Early on, Marie was hungry for knowledge and always asking questions. She was intelligent, yes, but it was the desire to learn that made her what she became.
  • Willpower - Marie's incredible willpower quite clearly began to develop at the time her family was living in poverty and lack, but then was more than likely boosted massively by the deaths of her sister and mother. Hardship bred an iron will that couldn't be broken within her.
  • A burning desire to achieve a goal - Marie was driven on by her goal to not only help others, but also to learn. She knew that in order to help others, she needed to arm herself with more knowledge and education. Again, she learned this through her experience of taking care of her family after the death of her mother.

I am one of those who think like Nobel, that humanity will draw more good than evil from new discoveries. - Marie Curie

A Sixteen Year-Old Marie Curie

Went on to become one of the greatest women in history.
Went on to become one of the greatest women in history. | Source


The most fundamental lesson of all then, that we can take from Marie Curie who is without a doubt, one of the greatest women in history, is this:

Your life may seem to be fraught with challenges and obstacles wherever you may turn, and you may feel like life is unfair to you, BUT are you focusing on the problems OR are you focusing on solutions? Are you learning from the challenges placed in front of you or are you turning away from those valuable lessons and shrinking as a result? Marie Curie became one of the greatest women in history by adapting and by persistently pursuing a better life for her family and herself. She was willing to tread the rough, if it meant that both Marie and her family would benefit in the long run.

Would Marie have been as great as she was, if life had been a bed of roses? I doubt it. Life is hard at times, yes, but without the hardships Marie Curie wouldn't have become one of the greatest women in history.

Fresh activity is the only means of overcoming adversity.
- Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

The Life of Marie Curie in 2 Minutes

What are your thoughts on Marie Curie? Do you agree that she is one of the greatest women in history?

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    • lakshmianand profile image


      14 months ago from Erode.

      Of course, yes. What an article!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      "Born November 7, 1867 in Warsaw, Poland which was part of the Soviet Union."

      Yes in Warsaw, Poland - which Was part of Russia, Prussia and Austria from 1795 to 1918. Soviet Union was born in 1917 and Poland never had been a part of Soviet Union. In advance in 1920 Poland kicked ass boshevists in battle of Warsaw (known as miracle at Vistula). After WW2 Poland was sold by Churchill (Britain, France and Poland was in alliance before WW2) to Eastern Block but it was a state known as People Republic of Poland (to 1991) and it wasn't a part of Soviet Union.

      It isn't important for this topic, but it is important for us, Poles.

      By the way Maria Skłodowska (surname from home) Curie (surname from husband) was Polish, not Frenchwoman as France would like to teach the world history. She has been only studying in France and fall in love with Frenchman. Confrimation of this info may be fact that she has named the element she discovered as Polon.

    • Richawriter profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard J ONeill 

      6 years ago from Bangkok, Thailand

      Hey rdsparrowriter.

      I'm glad you enjoyed reading about this exceptional woman. Certainly a woman all women can be proud of, and me for that matter!!

      Have a great day and sorry I am 5 months late in replying!!


    • Richawriter profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard J ONeill 

      6 years ago from Bangkok, Thailand

      Hey Alastar! Sorry I took so long getting back to you my friend.

      Yes, a truly fascinating woman Alastar. I have never heard of the Radium girls. Will have to read up on that for sure, could be another hub in this series.

      I like to mix the genres I guess. This is a history/psychology hybrid to inspire people that read it.

      Well, my life has taken a turn for the better because now I have accomplished the unexpected - I have gone freelance, both in teaching and writing and it feels fantastic! I have more time with my son and no longer take orders from moody bosses - wonderful!

      My family is very very well, especially my wonderful son whom is developing very quickly indeed. My wife and I both swore the first word from his mouth was Dadda!! A proud moment for me!

      Even though we are in Thailand, he had taken to English first it seems, even though he is surrounded by Thais so I'm also pleased about that, as we'll be back on the green isle soon enough.

      I hope you are well my friend and its good to see you are still here and as awesome as ever!

      Until next time my friend!


    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 

      6 years ago from North Carolina

      I like the way you've done this piece on Marie Currie, Richie. It's a bit different than the usual and therefore uniquely interesting in its presentation. She sure did overcome adversity to greatness. So many pioneers in the field and even lowly workers like the Radium girls paid a heavy price not fully understanding the dangers of radiation, though. The scientist Currie was an inspiration for women then and today, well done mate. PS- fill me in on how the teaching and your life has ben going during your HP hiatus soon. And thanks for the title typo info, got caught up in the i before e except after c the other day when I changed the title lol. Up and interest on this hub my friend.

    • rdsparrowriter profile image

      Rochelle Ann De Zoysa 

      7 years ago from Moratuwa, Sri Lanka

      Hi ! You've written about a lady whom I adore :) Awesome hub ! Thank you for sharing :) God bless you!

    • Richawriter profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard J ONeill 

      7 years ago from Bangkok, Thailand

      Hey, Denise!

      Thank you for those kind words.

      I'm glad my hub achieved its purpose of teaching people about the greatness of Marie Curie.

      To be honest, before doing my research, I hadn't much about Marie Curie; but the more I read about her the more I was fascinated by her life story and all the trials and tribulations she overcame.

      Thanks for the comment.

      Take care and Peace to you. :)

    • Richawriter profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard J ONeill 

      7 years ago from Bangkok, Thailand

      Thank you so much, Faith Reaper!

      Those wonderful comments have lifted my soul and spurred me on to write even more.

      There will be more hubs on these great women to come because I have always admired women who managed to succeed against all the odds in what was a male dominated world. Truly inspiring, indeed!

      Thank you again for such kind words!

      Peace and have a great day! :)

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      7 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      I have never really known much about Marie Curie's personal life story. You have summarized it well, and pointed out character traits that we would all do well to emulate, no matter who we are.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      7 years ago from southern USA

      Rich!!! - I applaud you dear one for writing about all of us learning from the greatest women in history, especially Marie Curie. This is an amazing hub, very infightful and well-written. You have shown Marie Curie much honor here in your hub dear one. This is excellent on so many levels. I just cannot say enough. We can draw a lot from you own conclusions here, as well ----very thought-provoking indeed. I really respect you a lot for writing this great hub. It is very evident you have taken much time and research to deliver such a hub as this hub. Bravo!!! God bless you. In His Love, Faith Reaper


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