A Student in Paris

Working Wife and Mother

JUGGLING HOUSEHOLD AND PROFESSIONAL responsibilities was something Marie had to learn from the outset of her married life. In addition to the two master's degrees she held by the time of her marriage, she decided to earn a certificate that would permit her to teach science to young women. Meanwhile, she continued to conduct her research on the magnetic properties of steel. The director of the Municipal School of Industrial Physics and Chemistry granted her permission to complete that work on the school premises, although even Pierre had no private laboratory there. The school did not help to subsidize her studies, but she received complimentary steel samples from several metallurgical firms. For the rest of her life she would continue this three-cornered arrangement of mutual assistance among research, industry, and the government's educational system.

After submitting the results of her research to the Society for the Encouragement of National Industry in the summer of 1897, she used part of her payment to return the scholarship money she had received four years earlier. She was not expected to do so, of course, but she wanted to contribute to the education of some other worthy Polish student.

“Having grown up in an atmosphere of patriotism kept alive by the oppression of Poland, I wished, like many other young people of my country, to contribute my effort toward the conservation of our national spirit.”
Curies in lab, 1896
The Curies in the laboratory in 1896. “At this time my husband was occupied with researches on crystals,” she later wrote, “while I undertook an investigation of the magnetic properties of steel.” (Photo ACJC)
PARENTHOOD SOON CHANGED the Curies' lives. In September 1897 their first child, Irčne, was born. Pierre's father, a physician, delivered the baby. Just as she had done with the household budget from the time of their marriage, Marie now began keeping records of every stage of her daughter's development with the same meticulous care that she used to keep track of her experimental work
Irene and Eve Curie as little girls

Irčne, age 8, and Eve, age 1. Pierre Curie had so much respect for his wife's scientific career that he never contemplated her abandoning it, even in 1904 after a second daughter was born. (Photo ACJC)

READ Curie's words

Only a few weeks after Irčne's birth Dr. Curie lost his wife to breast cancer, and he moved into a house at the edge of Paris with his son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter. With their expanded family the Curies had to hire a servant to tend to chores. Marie, who remained in charge of her child's care, found in Dr. Curie an ideal babysitter. She could carry out her lab work fully confident that Irčne was in excellent hands. Over the years grandfather and granddaughter would forge a very close bond.
“It became a serious problem how to take care of our little Irčne and of our home without giving up my scientific work. Such a renunciation would have been very painful to me, and my husband would not even think of it...So the close union of our family enabled me to meet my obligations.”

Work and Family

AS BUSY YOUNG PARENTS the Curies had time, money, and energy for only two commitments, work and family. They maintained warm ties with the family of Pierre's older brother, Jacques, who taught mineralogy at the University of Montpellier. They socialized infrequently, and then only with other scientists who gathered at the Curie home on the rue Kellerman or in its garden -- colleagues and students who shared their liberal views and intellectual interests. Despite the satisfaction Marie took in her busy and fulfilling life, she missed the Sklodowski family, particularly after Bronya and her husband returned to Poland. (The Dluskis opened a tuberculosis sanatorium in the Carpathians of Austrian Poland.)

“It was under this mode of quiet living, organized according to our desires, that we achieved the great work of our lives, work begun about the end of 1897 and lasting for many years.”

With her household in order and the results of her first research published, it was time for Marie to choose a topic for her doctoral research. Although an unmarried German woman's doctoral research in electrochemistry was at an advanced stage, no woman anywhere in the world had yet been awarded a doctorate in science.


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Research Breakthroughs


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