Women's History Month

Marie Curie

Written by Sophomore Maya Samuel

Marie Curie, born Maria Sklodowska, discovered radioactivity. Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the first person to win the award twice.

Marie Curie was born in Warsaw in modern-day Poland on November 7, 1867. Both of Marie Curie’s parents were teachers, and she was the youngest of five children. She had a bright and curious mind and excelled at school. When she was 10, Curie lost her mother, Bronislawa, to tuberculosis.

Despite being a top student in her secondary school, Curie could not attend the men's-only University of Warsaw. She instead continued her education in Warsaw's "floating university," a set of underground, informal classes held in secret. For approximately five years, Curie worked as a tutor and a governess. In her spare time, she studied physics, chemistry, and math.

In 1891, Curie moved to Paris and enrolled at the Sorbonne. She concentrated on her studies, but this dedication had a personal cost: With limited money, Curie survived on buttered bread and tea, and her health suffered because of her poor diet. Curie completed her master's degree in physics in 1893 and earned another degree in mathematics the following year.

She was fascinated with the work of Henri Becquerel, a French physicist who discovered that uranium casts off rays weaker than the X-rays found by Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen.

Curie conducted her own experiments on uranium rays and discovered that they remained constant, no matter the condition or form of the uranium. She theorized the rays came from the element's atomic structure. This revolutionary idea created the field of atomic physics. Curie created the term “radioactivity” to explain the phenomena.

In 1898, she and her husband discovered a new radioactive element. She named the element polonium, after Marie's native country of Poland.

In 1903, Curie received the Nobel Prize in Physics, along with her husband and Henri Becquerel, for their work on radioactivity. In 1911, Curie won her second Nobel Prize, this time in Chemistry, for her discovery of radium and polonium.

Curie attended the first Solvay Congress in Physics and discussed the many groundbreaking discoveries in the field. Albert Einstein and Max Planck were some of the many famous scientists in attendance.

When World War I broke out in 1914, Curie devoted her time and resources to help the cause. She implemented the use of portable X-ray machines in the field, and these medical vehicles earned the nickname "Little Curies."

Curie used her celebrity status to raise funds to buy radium and to establish a radium research institute in Warsaw.

On July 4, 1934, Marie Curie died of aplastic anemia. It is believed to be caused by prolonged exposure to radiation.

Marie Curie made many scientific breakthroughs in her lifetime. Several educational and research institutions and medical centers currently bear the Curie name, including the Curie Institute and Pierre and Marie Curie University.

In 1995, Marie and Pierre Curie’s remains were buried in the Panthéon in Paris, the final resting place of France's greatest minds. Curie became the first and one of only five women to be laid to rest there.

Clara Barton

written by Sophomore Amelia O'Connor

Clarissa Harlowe Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, was born in 1821 in Oxford, Massachusetts. She was educated at home and began to teach by the age of 15.

At the outbreak of the American Civil War, Barton showed a knack for securing medicine and supplies for wounded men. She gained permission to pass through the battle lines to distribute supplies, search for the missing, and nurse the wounded. Barton carried on this work through the remainder of the Civil War. At the request of President Abraham Lincoln, she set up a bureau of records to aid in the search for missing men after the war ended.

After she completed that work, she went to Europe for a rest. She didn’t rest long, though. While she was there, the Franco-German War broke out, and Barton again distributed relief supplies to war victims. In Europe she became associated with the International Red Cross, now known as the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

After her return to the United States in 1873, she campaigned vigorously and successfully for our country to sign the Geneva Convention. This international agreement, still followed today, allows for the treating of the sick and wounded in battle, the proper identifying and burial of those killed in battle, and the proper handling of prisoners of war.

In 1881, Barton organized the American Association of the Red Cross and served as its president until 1904. She wrote the American amendment to the constitution of the Red Cross, which provides for the distribution of relief not only in war, but also in times of calamities such as famines, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, and pestilence.

Barton devoted herself entirely to the organization, soliciting contributions and taking to the field with relief workers even as late as the Spanish-American War in Cuba, when she was 77 years old. She was jealous of any interference, however, and supervised the organization’s activities so closely that she was accused of authoritarianism. She was forced to resign in 1904, at the age of 83.

There may have been some complaints about her administrative methods, but no one can doubt Clara Barton’s achievements. She was affectionately known as the “angel of the battlefield” for her life’s work. She wrote several books, including History of the Red Cross in 1882, The Red Cross in Peace and War in 1899, and The Story of My Childhood in 1907.

Without Clara Barton, many victims of natural disasters and war would have lost their lives. Thank you, Nurse Barton, for all that you have done for women and the world.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

written by Junior Neildha Blanc

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born on March 15, 1933 to a Jewish family and was raised in Brooklyn. Her mother, Cecilia Bader, had a major influence on her life and taught her the value of education at a young age. She continued to excel in her studies at James Madison High School. The day before her high school graduation, her mother passed away of cancer. Ginsburg went on to graduate first in her class from Cornell University in 1954. This is also where she met, and later married, Martin D. Ginsburg. Soon after, they had their first child, and Ginsburg enrolled in Harvard. She was one out of only nine women in a class of 500 students.

Ginsburg eventually became the first woman to be on both the Harvard Law Review and the Columbian Law Review. Despite graduating at the top of her class and having an impressive academic record, Ruth still faced gender discrimination when looking for a job. Not a single law firm in the city of New York was willing to hire her in the 1960s, because at the time women were mostly hired as secretaries in law firms. However, one of her professors advocated on her behalf, and she was finally able to get a clerkship with district Judge Edmund Palmieri. She went on to teach at Rutgers Law School and Columbia.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was appointed in 1980 to the U.S Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. She became heavily involved in women’s rights, and in the 1970s she directed the Woman’s Rights Projects of the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). Ginsburg argued six landmark cases on gender equality before the U.S. Supreme Court, and won five of them. In 1993, she became the second woman to be appointed to the U.S Supreme Court. She was later awarded with the American Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall Award for her contributions to gender equality and civil rights.Throughout her life she has been a strong advocate for gender equality and a pioneer for Women’s rights. Despite battling cancer three times, Ginsburg choses to continue work, and remains the oldest female supreme court justice.