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Marie Curie: Discovery of Radium, 1909

In Search of Education

Maria Sklodowska was born on November 7, 1867, in Warsaw, Poland, which was then part of the Russian Empire. The Polish nationalist sympathies of Maria's parents caused employment difficulties for her father, a teacher, and the family of seven had financial troubles.

Maria completed her high school studies in the state system by the age of fifteen but then experienced a setback because the University of Warsaw did not admit women. Instead, Maria and her older sister, Bronya, joined a group of students in clandestine studies in which each student shared their specialty with the others.

It became obvious that further education would only be available elsewhere in Europe and the sisters agreed that Maria would find work and income to support Bronya, who moved to Paris to study medicine. During the next five years Maria worked as a private teacher and then as a governess while contributing to Bronya's benefit. With time available in her isolated working location, Maria continued to study a variety of topics, eventually settling on physics and mathematics as her favorites. Through the help of a cousin, Maria found instruction in chemistry together with some practical laboratory experience. A good turn in her father's finances made it possible for Maria to move to Paris, and so in the fall of 1891 at the age of twenty-four she enrolled at the Sorbonne.