March is the month of the woman! As you know, the 8th of March is the Women’s Day, so we are going to discover three stories of exceptional women who changed things. We will start by the smart and famous Marie Curie followed by Amelia Earhart, the adventurer that sexism has not stopped, and finish by the courageous activist of the 21th century, Malala Yousafzai.
Maria Sklodowska, better known as Marie Curie, was born in Warsaw, in modern-day Poland, on November 7, in 1867. Both her parents were teachers, and she was the youngest of five children, with the following siblings Zosia, Józef, Bronya and Hela. As a child, Curie took after her father, Wladyslaw, a math and physics instructor. She had a bright and curious mind and excelled at school. However, tragedy struck early, and when she was only 10 years old, Curie lost her mother, Bronislawa, from tuberculosis.
A top student in her secondary school, Curie could not attend the men-only University of Warsaw. Instead, she continued her education in Warsaw’s “floating university”, a set of underground, informal classes held in secret. Both Curie and her sister Bronya dreamed of going abroad to earn an official degree, but they lacked the financial resources to pay for more schooling. Undeterred, Curie framed a deal with her sister. She would work to support Bronya while she is at school and Bronya would return the favor after she has finished her studies.
In 1891, Curie finally made her way to Paris where she enrolled at the Sorbonne in Paris. Curie completed her master’s degree in physics in 1893 and earned another degree in mathematics the following year. Around this time, she received a commission to do a study on different types of steel and their magnetic properties. Curie needed a lab to work in, and a colleague introduced her to the French physicist Pierre Curie. A romance developed between the brilliant pair, and they became a scientific dynamic duo. The pair married on July 26, 1895.
This revolutionary idea created the field of atomic physics and Curie herself coined the word radioactivity to describe the phenomena. Marie and Pierre had a daughter, Irène, in 1897, but their work didn’t slow down.
Pierre put aside his own work to help Marie with her exploration of radioactivity.
Marie Curie made history in 1903 when she became the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in physics. She won the prestigious honor along with her husband and Henri Becquerel, for their work on radioactivity. With winning the Nobel Prize, the Curies developed an international reputation for their scientific efforts, and they used their prize’s money to continue their research. They welcomed a second child, their daughter Eve, the following year.
In 1906, Marie suffered a tremendous loss. Her husband Pierre was killed in Paris after he accidentally stepped in front of a horse-drawn wagon. Despite her tremendous grief, she took over his teaching post at the Sorbonne, becoming in that way the institution’s first female professor.
Curie received another great honor in 1911, winning her second Nobel Prize, this time in chemistry. She was awarded for her discovery of radium and polonium, and became the first scientist to have won two Nobel Prizes.
When World War I broke out in 1914, Curie devoted her time and resources to helping the cause. She championed the use of portable X-ray machines in the field, and these medical vehicles earned the nickname “Little Curies”. After the war, Curie used her notoriety to advance her research. She traveled to the United States twice, in 1921 and in 1929, in order to raise funds to buy radium and to establish a radium research institute in Warsaw.
All of her years spent on working with radioactive materials took a toll on Curie’s health. She died there on July 4, 1934, of aplastic anemia, which can be caused by a prolonged exposure to radiation.
Marie Curie made many breakthroughs during her lifetime. She is the most famous female scientist of all time, and has received numerous posthumous honors. In 1995, hers’ and her husband’s remains were interred in the Panthéon in Paris, the final resting place of France’s greatest minds. Curie became the first and only woman to be laid to rest there.
Curie also passed down her love of science to the next generation. Her daughter Irène Joliot-Curie followed her mother’s footsteps, winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935. Joliot-Curie shared the honor with her husband Frédéric Joliot, received for their work on the synthesis of new radioactive elements.
You do know this name, right? Don’t worry Amelia Earhart is not a part of famous women, but she is the incarnation of the ambitious, adventurer, pioneer women but also free! Amelia is the first women to cross the Atlantic Ocean in 1928. But she didn’t stop there, she is the first women to cross the Pacific Ocean from Honolulu and the first women to have received the National Geographic Society Honorary Medal.
Amelia’s childhood was unconventional, her dad, who was a lawyer, didn’t want to educate his two girls in the traditional way of that time, like true nice girls to become housewife. Amelia and her sister grew up free and curious to discover their neighborhood, climb trees and hunt animals.
In her childhood, Amelia wasn’t passionate about planes and flying, so when she saw a plane for the first time it wasn’t an extraordinary experience for her. It was a little later, at the age of 19, that she developed a real interest for science. An avid reader who was already fascinated by the exploits and feminine prowess of the time, she failed at the University, not really able to concentrate on her studies. In 1917, she enlisted as a nurse-volunteer in the Red Cross to treat the American soldiers returning from Europe.
In 1918, she was hit by the Spanish flu that she will escape, but that will weaken her health.
The passion for aviation came suddenly in 1920 after her first plane flight. Amelia has finally found her vocation. Flights and exploits followed as soon as she finishes her training. 1928 is the year of all dangers … One year after the first transatlantic solo flight of Charles Lindbergh, Amelia is called to try the flight, which was successful.
This is followed by a lot of others flights, including her solo cross of the Atlantic. Thereafter, Amelia continues to promote aviation, and the opening up of traditionally male’s jobs to women. Unfortunately, her attempt to do a world tour was her last flight. In 1937 she tried this exploit in twin-engine. The last signals of her plane were noticed of New Guinea.
Despite the efforts of the American President who sent a naval and air fleet in the search of her, her body, her co-pilot and the debris of the plane, they were never found. The circumstances of her death remain mysterious and many hypotheses, some sensible, others delirious, are diffused by the media.
Now, Amelia’s planes and exploits are exhibited at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC.
On July 12, 1997, Malala Yousafzai was born in Mingora, Pakistan, located in the country’s Swat Valley controlled by Taliban.
Since her earliest age, she had been immersed in activism. Her father is himself a defender of the right to education.
In the early 2009, Yousafzai began blogging for the BBC about living under the Taliban’s threats to deny her an education. In order to hide her identity, she used the name Gul Makai. However, she was disclosed to be the BBC blogger in December that year.
With a growing public platform, Yousafzai continued to speak out about her right, and the right of all women, to an education. Her activism resulted in a nomination for the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2011. That same year, she was awarded Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize.
In parallel to her commitment, Malala is threatened with death several times. On October 9, 2012, Malala is targeted by an attack. On October 9, 2012, when the 15-year-old Malala was riding on a bus on their way home from school, a Taliban masked gunman boarded the bus and demanded to know which girl was Malala and fired at her, hitting Malala in the head. The shooting left Malala in a critical condition. In situation of coma died, the teenager is transferred to a British hospital. As by a miracle, her brain is not touched but her recovery will last four months.
With the media coverage of her story, the adolescent became a heroine and an icon of the fight for the right to education.
Since 2011, she received lots of prizes for her commitment: the International Prize for Children for Peace, the Simone de Beauvoir Prize for Women’s Freedom, the Anna Politkovskaya Prize and the Sakharov Prize of the European Parliament. In April 2014, the American weekly magazine Time included Malala in its list of the hundred most influential personalities in the world.
On July 12, 2013, the day of her 16th birthday, she launched a vibrant call for “education for all children” at the UN. “Our books and pens are our most powerful weapons – a teacher, a book, a pen can change the world.” She is warmly applauded by the whole assembly.
On October 10, 2014, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to Malala and Kailash Satyarthi “for their struggle against the oppression of children and youth and for the right of all children to education”.
Malala now aspires to a political career to “change the future” of Pakistan. “I am going to be a politician later. I want to change the future of my country and make education mandatory.”
By Laurene Duvert
Categories: Topic of the month