In 1867, Maria Salomea Skoldowawska was born to a Polish family in Warsaw during the control of the Russian Empire. From a young age, Marie was taught strength and resilience in the face of adversity: her parents lost most of their money after being involved in patriotic uprisings against Russia, and under Russian rule, Marie was prevented from learning physics and chemistry because scientific lessons were banned from schools! It was her father’s defiance of state instructions that allowed Marie to discover her love for science when he set up a laboratory at their home.
Marie faced further battles because university education was limited to boys, forcing her and her sister to enrol at an underground university. When her sister wished to go to university in France, Marie offered to stay behind and work in order to fund her sister’s education. At the young age of 18, Marie selflessly put her own life on hold, working as a governess to help pay her sister's tuition fees. Her life as an adult had barely begun, yet already she had suffered prejudices and restrictions that could have prevented her from pursuing her true passion in science. Yet she carried on, and joined her sister in France once she could afford the fees in 1891. She enrolled at the University of Paris, and in 1893 she was awarded the first of her two science degrees.
A year later, Marie met her future husband, Pierre Curie. They bonded over their love for science, but she declined his first proposal of marriage because she still hoped to pursue a career in science in Poland. This, again, is the mark of an incredible woman - she could have settled down to become the classic housewife and mother that the majority of women would have been expected to be during this time, but instead set her sights high and worked hard for her dreams. She applied for a position at Warsaw University and was rejected because she was a woman. She was devastated by the fact that her gender was the only factor that made the university reject her, despite her extensive work in the field of science.
She was persuaded to return to Paris, and did end up marrying Pierre in 1895. Her marriage turned into a life long partnership, not only in love but in work too. They became partners in science and worked together on many projects. One of the most famous of these was her investigations of radiation inside a shed, which led to her discovering the elements polonium and radium. Pierre was nominated for the Nobel Prize for this, but Marie was not. It was only after he fought her case that the board gave in and Marie became the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903 alongside her husband.
Marie would come to experience tragedy when her husband died in a road accident in 1906, leaving her to continue their work alone. As well as becoming one of the first pioneering female scientists, she had also given birth to two children by 1904. She had become what is now known as a working mum, and once her husband died, she was a single working mum.