21st Century Science & Technology

Marie Sklodowska Curie:
The Woman Who Opened The Nuclear Age

by Denise Ham

A new look at a revolutionary scientist’s passion for truth, and how she inspired a generation of Americans.

(Excerpted from 21st Century, Winter 2002–2003, pp. 30-68)
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In my quest to examine the life of Marie Curie, I had the good fortune to rediscover her life’s work, particularly her discovery of polonium and radium, and her great discovery concerning the nature of the atom. In this journey, I was happy to become intimately aware that discovery itself, is an issue of passion. It surprised me considerably that my understanding of her work grew enormously, because I simply loved trying to understand that which she discovered. Since my formal education is more than bereft, especially in science, I think that I am fortunate in being able to discover in myself that very passion for knowledge which drives the creative individual to make critical discoveries that transform the physical universe. I have many people to thank for helping me in this project, which took more than a year; foremost, I wish to thank Madame Marie Sklodowska Curie, and say that her life is an inspiration which I have loved.

Part I
A Commitment to Truth

Marie Curie
The year 2003 is the 100th anniversary of Madame Curie’s first Nobel Prize. In 1903, she, along with her husband, Pierre Curie, and the physicist Henri Becquerel, won the prestigious prize in physics for their joint work in radioactivity. It was only the third year that the prize had been given, and Marie was the first woman to receive it. Eight years later, Marie Curie received an unprecedented second Nobel Prize, this time in chemistry, for her work with radium.

The genius of Marie Curie can best be understood from the standpoint of her commitment to truth. Curie was a friend and colleague of the great Russian scientist Vladimir Vernadsky. Vernadsky spent a great deal of time working in the Paris Radium Institute, which she created in 1914, and ran until her death in 1934. Indeed, our biosphere had been transformed by the creative work of Curie, Vernadsky, Pasteur, and many others—a change imposed upon it via cognition.

Madame Curie’s discovery of the radioactive substances radium and polonium, her initial hypothesis on the nature of uranium being a radioactive substance (she was the first to use the term, “radioactivity”), and her correct insight into the power of uranium (and that of all radioactive substances) as derived from the atom itself, was revolutionary. Her hypothesis of the existence of other radioactive substances, and her relentless search for those substances in mountains of discarded pitchblende (a uranium ore), under the most deplorable and hazardous conditions, is the stuff legends are made of—but it is also true.

Marie and Pierre Curie’s discovery totally transformed the physical universe in which we live. Although it is true (and often repeated) that Marie and Pierre Curie’s work in radioactive substances took a toll on their physical well-being, they would not want to be remembered as “victims” or “martyrs” to the nuclear age. They were deeply committed scientists, who loved truth and beauty, who made significant discoveries that alleviated human suffering, and left a legacy to mankind to be cherished forever.

Marie Sklodowska Curie was not simply a great scientist; she was a magnificent human being, and her love of science and her commitment to truth were reflected in her personal character, which was beyond reproach. To understand her commitment to scientific truth, one must understand the passion behind it. A too often misused word, passion is really the emotional guiding principle behind creative discovery. Creativity without passion, does not exist.

Marie and Pierre Curie’s work in radioactivity revolutionized science in the late 19th Century. Marie Curie’s hypothesis that radiation was “an atomic property” transformed forever how man would view the atom. There are some biographers who have said that this, and only this, was Marie Curie’s great discovery, but that is not true. It was only the first step, which she boldly took, in her 36-year odyssey with radioactive substances. In discovering the nature of nuclear power, much of her work was intimately tied to medical research in particular the use of X-rays for diagnosis, and radioisotopes for cancer treatment. The later discoveries in fission, which would prove to be the next step in harnessing the power of the atom for energy production, were later accomplished by her admirer, another woman, Lise Meitner.

The attack against nuclear energy, and the fear of nuclear science by the population today, is an attack against all scientific progress. The irony is almost too funny: Nuclear science was created and developed by the fairer sex! The idea behind the discoveries was to better mankind, by creating new cures for disease, and producing cheap energy for the planet.

Another irony is the fact that the American population had a love affair with Marie Curie. She was invited to this country twice in the 1920s, and millions of women contributed money to buy her a supply of expensive and rare radium for her research. Radium, one of the most radioactive substances, was discovered by Marie back in 1898.

In discovering a new, renewable resource for mankind, progress could be attained. The world’s population could thrive. The zero-population growth movement’s ideology would be the laughingstock of future generations. The world needs this science, and it needs more scientists of the caliber of Marie Sklodowska Curie who said: “Nothing in life is to be feared—it is only to be understood.”

Manya Sklodowska: The Story of Marie Curie’s Youth

Author Denise Ham and engineer Paul Frelich, with a modern version of the quartz piezo-electrometer used by Pierre and Marie Curie. (Roger Ham)
Manya Sklodowska was the youngest of the five children of Vladyslow Sklodowski and Bronislawa (née Boguska) Sklodowska, born November 7, 1867, in Warsaw, Poland. Since 1795, Poland had been cut up and absorbed into three countries: To the east was Russia (including Warsaw); to the south was the Austrian Empire; and to the west was Prussia. Despite the fact that Poland was not listed on any map of the time, the national identity, language, and culture of Poland never died.

In the 19th Century, there were two uprisings against the Russian masters, the second one launched five years before Manya’s birth. During that revolution, thousands were killed, 10,000 Poles were sent to Siberia, and a minority grouping escaped to Paris. Both of Marie’s parents had brothers who were sent to Siberia, and one uncle went into exile to France.

Manya’s parents were also revolutionaries, but they believed in revolution through ideas. Members of the intelligentsia, the Sklodowskis believed that Poland could become free only through the development of the mind—science—and through much hard intellectual work. Twenty-five years before his youngest daughter’s birth, Vladyslow, a teacher of physics and chemistry, wrote a poem in which he exhorts his countrymen to achieve freedom, not by picking up arms, but by achieving freedom in the search for truth:

Separated, divided, we are individual and helpless, each looking into the future with apprehension, with fear, each preoccupied with his own small worries, each pursuing a fainthearted course on a narrow road.

Our hearts and minds are busy, our souls no longer house great emotion. All we are is cold, dark, silent, barren.

But suddenly, the storm roars, the thunder cracks. The foundation of the world shakes. Satan’s powers cringe, agonized, in fear. This is the end of the age of error and of treason.

Let us break this armor of ice that binds our chests Let us begin today, bring stones to build the temple of truth, the temple of freedom. Let our willpower cure our crippled souls. Let our hard work prove to the world, to God, to our country our worth. . . .

“To the future!” Let us lift our glasses, Dear Brother. Let us offer our pain and our lives to that future. Work, love, and live Brothers! [as cited in Quinn 1995]

Vladaslow recognized that an armed revolution against the much stronger Russia, would amount to defeat. Like many intellectuals in Poland, he thought that education of all Poles, armed with science and technology, must be the answer to achieving a secure nation-state. Unlike many European countries, the division of classes in Poland was not by “royal birth,” but was based on the educated versus the uneducated. The Sklodowskis and their children, knew that the only route to nationhood was through the elevation of the peasantry by education.

Vladaslow Sklodowski used his children’s playtime for pedagogy, educating them in science, mathematics, literature, and poetry. For example, Manya and her father exchanged letters, while she was working as a governess, in which he posed mathematical problems, and she sent her solutions in her answering letters. In nature trips to the Carpathian Mountains, Vladaslow sat with his children, and taught them the scientific phenomenon of sunsets.

More often, he would read poetry and literature to them in one of the five languages he knew, while simultaneously translating the work into Polish. In fact, for a while, Manya, the woman who would become one of the greatest scientists of the 20th Century, seriously contemplated the idea of becoming a writer, or a poet. As the youngest child, she quickly learned to read at the age of four, and entered school two years younger than her peers. She mastered Russian, which was the required tongue at school and in professional life in Warsaw.

The Russian authorities had decided to wipe out any trace of “Polish” identity, so all lessons were taught in Russian. Eve Curie describes in her biography of her mother, Madame Curie, how much the Polish children hated this system. There was a conscious conspiracy in Poland between the teachers and students. There were two sets of lessons, and two sets of books in the grammar schools. For example: A lesson in Polish history, spoken in Polish, would be given by a teacher, but if the Russian masters were to suddenly come into the school, a warning signal was communicated, and the “proper” books, would appear, and Russian would be spoken. The penalty for being caught teaching in Polish was a trip to Siberia.

At the age of 16, Manya graduated, receiving the gold medal for finishing first among girls in Warsaw. Her father decided that because of her hard school life, she needed a rest after graduation, and he sent her to the countryside to live with her cousins for a year.

Manya’s older brother, Josef, had studied medicine in Warsaw, but no higher education was offered for the young women in Poland, Therefore, when her oldest sister, Bronya, decided to study medicine, her choice was to go to St. Petersburg or France, both of which entailed financial concerns for the family. Years earlier, Father Sklodowski’s beliefs had enraged the Russian school bureaucrats, and he was moved from being one of Warsaw’s top teachers in high school, to ever lower-paying positions. Also, Mrs. Sklodowska had succumbed to tuberculosis years earlier, so the only paycheck in the household was far from enough to send young Bronya away from Poland to study medicine.

Although Manya Sklodowska also wished to further her studies, she gladly offered to go to work to help put Bronya through school in Paris, thus demonstrating one of the hallmarks of her character, her selflessness and her love of others. Although she was only 17 years old, she decided to work as a governess in a small Polish village, hundreds of miles from Warsaw. She earned 500 rubles a month, which was a hefty sum for a young girl, and her room and board were provided for, so that the bulk of her earnings could be sent to her sister.

Bronya promised Manya that she would take care of her when her turn came to study, and that promise was kept. Throughout their lives, each sister worked tirelessly on behalf of the other. Their devotion was mutual.

. . .

The significance of Becquerel’s discovery was not immediately acclaimed by many scientists. It was thought interesting, but did not generate much enthusiasm, because it was not understood. Marie and Pierre read Becquerel’s paper, and Marie decided to adopt the idea as the basis for her doctoral thesis. Meanwhile, Marie and Pierre had their first daughter, Irène, in September 1897. Irène would follow in her mother’s footsteps in science, and she and her husband, Frédéric Joliot, would discover artificial radioactivity, winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1935.

Marie began her experiments at Pierre’s teaching lab, the School of Physics and Chemistry, with the approval of the director, M. Schützenberger. Pierre had been at the school nearly 15 years, and the kindly director (who was called Papa Schutz) helped the Curies in countless ways.

Marie’s plan of attack, was to see whether this property of “radiation” existed in the other known elements on the Periodic Table. Pierre helped her by giving her complete access to his quartz piezo-electrometer, to measure the electrical charge that was known to be emitted from uranium salts. Marie’s experiment was to gather all the known elements she could beg from laboratories and university departments, and to put them all to the test. She would put her substance on a small metal plate, opposite another metal plate, which would operate as a condenser. She used the electrometer to see whether there was an electric current in the air between the plates.

She tested all the known elements and minerals, with complete thoroughness, over and over, and shortly found one other element, thorium, which generated electrical activity. Then, she used the electrometer to measure the intensity of the current, and using different compounds of uranium and thorium, she found that what mattered was the amount of uranium present, not whether it was wet or dry, powdered or solid. Marie wrote that radiation energy had a completely different genesis from chemical generation and must come from the atom itself. It was not the interaction of molecules, or new shapes of molecules as in a chemical reaction. In her experiments, she included two minerals, pitchblende and chalcolite, ores from which uranium is extracted.

When she measured pitchblende that was devoid of uranium, she discovered that the electrical conductivity was four times greater than that of uranium itself, and that the conductivity of chalcolite was twice as great. This was the paradox she confronted: How could this be possible, since there was no uranium, no thorium present? It is always at critical moments, such as these, that such paradoxes become most exciting for the creative mind. This is what drove Marie to leap boldly onto an hypothesis taking shape in her mind.

It therefore appeared probable that if pitchblende, chalcolite, and autunite possess so great a degree of activity, these substances contain a small quantity of a strongly radioactive body, differing from uranium and thorium and the simple bodies actually known. I thought that if this were indeed the case, I might hope to extract this substance from the ore by the ordinary methods of chemical analysis [Curie 1961 (1903), p. 16].

Pitchblende is composed of almost 30 elements, and present in this elemental curry, is an extremely powerful radioactive source in a very minute part. How little it actually was, however, would astonish not only the Curies but the whole world. Marie and Pierre initially thought that it could be about 1 percent of the pitchblende. At the end of almost four years, they found that it was less than 1/1,000,000th of 1 percent.

Marie Curie, the scientist, is unlike most any other of her time—and now. Her mind worked like a true Platonic scientist. She was an experimental scientist, who believed first in the primacy of ideas. In January 1904, just after she, Pierre, and Henri Becquerel had won the Nobel Prize for Physics in November 1903, the American Century Magazine published an article by her, which leaves no room for doubt of her genius for hypothesis formation, and her rigor for experimental proof.

The discovery of the phenomena of radioactivity adds a new group to the great number of invisible radiations now known, and once more we are forced to recognize how limited is our direct perception of the world which surrounds us, and how numerous and varied may be the phenomena which we pass without a suspicion of their existence until the day when a fortunate hazard reveals them. . . .

[Electromagnetic radiations] . . . are present in the space around us whenever an electric phenomenon is produced, especially a lightning discharge. Their presence may be established by the use of special apparatus, and here again the testimony of our senses appears only in an indirect manner. . . [Century Magazine, 1904, emphasis added].

Towards the end of the article, she presents the world with the fruits of their labor, which began in the winter of 1897, and continued unrelentingly to the day of the article. Although a few other scientists, namely Sir Ernest Rutherford, also knew and understood this newly discovered phenomenon, she would be the major spokesman, for her discoveries of radium, polonium, and actinium (the latter with the help of fellow scientist, André Debierne). All three elements were found in more than 4 tons of pitchblende.

If we assume that radium contains a supply of energy which it gives out little by little, we are led to believe that this body does not remain unchanged, as it appears to, but that it undergoes an extremely slow change. Several reasons speak in favor of this view. First, the emission of heat, which makes it seem probable that a chemical reaction is taking place in the radium. But this is no ordinary chemical reaction, affecting the combination of atoms in the molecule. No chemical reaction can explain the emission of heat due to radium. Furthermore, radioactivity is a property of the atom of radium; if, then, it is due to a transformation, this transformation must take place in the atom itself. Consequently, from this point of view, the atom of radium would be in a process of evolution, and we should be forced to abandon the theory of the invariability of atoms, which is the foundation of modern chemistry [M. Curie 1904].

In the years before this paper was written, Marie and Pierre had an enormous amount of work to do. First, they wrote to the mine that produced the most active pitchblende that they tested, which belonged to the Government of Austria at Joachimsthal in Bohemia. They were given their first ton of discarded material, and paid the cost of shipping.

. . .

Re-creating the Curie Experiment to Measure Radioactivity

“My understanding of Curie’s work grew enormously, because I simply ‘loved’ trying to understand that which she discovered.” Author Denise Ham with Paul Frelich, who helped her build this capacitor/electrometer hookup for measuring the radioactive emission from the americium in a smoke detector. (Roger Ham)

I asked Paul Frelich, a retired electrical engineer, to work with me to re-create the Curie experiment. Originally, I had hoped we could create the exact experiment used by the Curies, but we had to abandon this idea because of the high cost of quartz. Mr. Frelich was kind enough to think through the problem, and create his own version of the Curie experiment, which readers can try. Here is Paul’s summary:

The experiment requires the following equipment: (1) Sample holder, (2) Electrometer, (3) Radioactive source, and (4) Power supply.

(1) The sample holder is a neutralizing capacitor that is used in vacuum tube amplifiers. Two circular plates, each 23x16 inch in diameter, are held parallel to each other on ceramic insulators. They can be mounted with the plates either horizontally or vertically oriented, and the spacing between the plates can be varied. One plate is fixed in the assembly, and the other fixed to the end of a long screw, which allows the spacing to be varied from zero to 15x16 of an inch.

Closeup of the homemade neutralizing capacitor assembly built inside a coffee can. The sample is placed between the two parallel plates. (Roger Ham)

In the sample holder shown here, the plates are mounted horizontally. The fixed bottom plate holds the sample, and the upper plate, adjustable in spacing, goes to one pole of the electrometer. A variable potential is applied to the bottom plate.

This neutralizing capacitor assembly is mounted inside a large coffee can, 61x16 inch in diameter by 61x8 inch high. The can is fitted with a door so that samples can be placed on the bottom capacitor plate.

The purpose of the can is to act as a shield against power line hum, TV, and AM/FM stations, weather radars, and so on. The can is the zero potential reference.

(2) The electrometer is a commercial instrument, Keithley Model No. 260 B, capable of measuring very high resistances and very, very low currents. A shielded cable connects the top plate of the sample holder to the electrometer.

(3) Radioactive source. A smoke-detector was disassembled to obtain the americium, which is rated as a 10-microcurie source. It seems to be a very thin layer or film on a ring: 1x4 inch in diameter by 1x8 inch thick with a 1x8 inch hole in the center containing a rivet, which was used to hold it in the smoke detector. Only the top thin layer is radioactive; the other material is not.

I also selected some samples of granite from a gravel pile at a local construction site, and some samples from an unpaved roadway on a farm in Vermont. Some of these showed radioactivity, and some did not. One sample showed a strong pulsing activity.

(4) Power supply. We originally used a power supply that provided voltages of 0, 10, 25, 75, 300, and 460 volts DC, but this was too heavy to carry around and was dangerous to use at the higher potentials. So, I designed a battery supply that provided 0, and + or – 1.5, 4.5, 9.0, 13.5, and 22.5 volts.

On May 20, 1921, the East Room of the White House was filled with more than 100 important scientists and diplomats from Poland and France. U.S. President Warren Harding had the honor of presenting Marie Sklodowska Curie with a key inscribed with the following words: “From the Women of America” to Madame Marie Curie. The elaborate key was to open a ribbon-draped cabinet, which contained one gram of radium, worth more than $100,000, which was paid for by America’s women. His inspiring speech paid great homage to Madam Curie, and expressed profound respect for both her adopted nation, France, and the newly re-created nation of Poland, the land of her birth, which had finally become an independent nation again, after the war:

On behalf of the American nation, I greet you and welcome you to our country, in which you will everywhere find the most cordial possible reception. We welcome you as an adopted daughter of France, our earliest supporter among the great nations. We greet you as a native-born daughter of Poland; newest, as it is also among nations, and always bound by ties of closest sympathy to our own Republic. In you we see the representative of Poland restored and reinstated to its rightful place, of France valiantly maintained in the high estate which has ever been its right.

We greet you as foremost among scientists in the age of science, as leader among women in the generation which sees woman come tardily into her own. We greet you as an exemplar of liberty’s victories in the generation wherein liberty has won her crown of glory. In doing honor to you we testify anew our pride in the ancient friendships which have bound us to both the country of your adoption and that of your nativity.

It has been your fortune, Madam Curie, to accomplish an immortal work for humanity. We bring to you the meed of honor which is due to pre-eminence in science, scholarship, research, and humanitarianism. But with it all we bring something more. We lay at your feet the testimony of that love which all the generations of men have been wont to bestow upon the noble woman, the unselfish wife, the devoted mother. If, indeed, these simpler and commoner relations of life could not keep you from attainments in the realms of science and intellect, it is also true that the zeal, ambition and unswerving purpose of a lofty career could not bar you from splendidly doing all the plain but worthy tasks which fall to every woman’s lot.

A number of years ago, a reader of one of your earlier works on radioactive substances noted the observation that there was much divergence of opinion as to whether the energy of radioactive substances is created within those substances themselves, or is gathered to them from outside sources and then diffused from them. The question suggested an answer which is doubtless hopelessly unscientific. I have liked to believe in an analogy between the spiritual and the physical world. I have been very sure that that which I may call the radioactive soul, or spirit, or intellect—call it what you choose—must first gather to itself, from its surroundings, the power that it afterwards radiates in beneficence to those near it. I believe it is the sum of many inspirations, borne in on great souls, which enables them to warm, to scintillate, to radiate, to illumine, and serve those about them.

Let me press the analogy a little further. The world today is appealing to its statesmen, its sociologists, its humanitarians, and its religious leaders for solution of appalling problems. I want to hope that the power and universality of that appeal will inspire strong, devout, consecrated men and women to seek out the solution, and, in the light of their wisdom, to carry it to all mankind. I have faith to believe that precisely that will happen; and in your own career of fine achievement I find heartening justification for my faith.

In testimony of the affection of the American people, of their confidence in your scientific work, and of their earnest wish that your genius and energy may receive all encouragement to carry forward your efforts for the advance of science and conquest of disease, I have been commissioned to present to you this little phial of radium. To you we owe our knowledge and possession of it, and so to you we give it, confident that in your possession it will be the means further to unveil the fascinating secrets of nature, to widen the field of useful knowledge, to alleviate suffering among the children of man. It betokens the affection of one great people to another [The New York Times, May 21, 1921].

After President Harding’s speech, Madame Marie Sklodowska Curie responded:

I can not express to you the emotion which fills my heart in this moment. You, the chief of this great Republic of the United States, honor me as no woman has ever been honored in America before. The destiny of a nation whose women can do what your countrywomen do today through you, Mr. President, is sure and safe. It gives me confidence in the destiny of democracy. I accept this rare gift, Mr. President, with the hope that I may make it serve mankind. I thank your countrywomen in the name of France. I thank them in the name of humanity which we all wish so much to make happier. I love you all, my American friends, very much Science 1921, p. 497].

The trip to the United States was a momentous occasion, not only for Marie Curie, but for the American people themselves. The hospitality and generosity shown to Madam Curie went far beyond a simple fund-raising campaign. In each place she visited, from New York City, to Buffalo, to Chicago, and many other cities, the American people treated her with a respect and dignity usually reserved for heads of state. In some ways, the campaign to raise money to buy Marie Curie a gram of radium, was similar to the great fund-raising campaign in America to build a base for the Statue of Liberty, a gift given by the French nation.

The person responsible for orchestrating this “event,” which took Marie all over America to be honored, was an American editor of a popular woman’s magazine, The Delineator. The woman was a small, dynamic individual named Marie Mattingly Meloney, who wanted everyone to call her “Missy.”

Missy had a somewhat unique background. Her father was a doctor, and her mother, his third wife, taught newly freed black slaves in the South. The Delineator featured the latest women’s fashion, and articles on how to take care of home and family. Missy had tried unsuccessfully, for quite some time, to get a story on Marie Curie, but every time she sent a journalist to Paris, Marie refused to see him. Marie Curie had no use for the media, and had viewed them disdainfully ever since the early days of her discovery of new radioactive elements. Many had tried to penetrate the private life of Marie and Pierre. None had been permitted to speak with her.

In mid-1920, Missy travelled to Paris, determined to speak with Madam Curie herself. Missy was not one to take “no” for an answer, but that was the first answer she got. Undeterred, Missy visited the French author Henri-Pierre Roche (the author of the novel Jules et Jim), and asked him to intercede to get Marie to talk to her. Roche was impressed by Missy’s genuine enthusiasm, and thought that it would be important for Marie to meet her. Marie agreed to talk to her for a few minutes only, and that encounter led to their life-long friendship.

When Missy asked Marie what she could do to “help” her, Marie told her that she had no radium to experiment with. After the end of the war, France was depleted of both manpower and money. Although the Radium Institute was built, there was no money forthcoming to equip it properly. The radium which Marie had safe-guarded in Bordeaux during the war was all that France had—1 gram—and that was used, primarily, in the biological section to provide radon tubes for cancer therapy. Marie told Missy that the United States had the world’s most plentiful supply, 50 grams.

Missy immediately began to think about what a great good it would be for America to give one of those grams to Marie, and she calculated the cost at about $100,000 per gram (in 1920 dollars). She saw an opportunity before her: Instead of simply getting a “story” for her magazine, she would use her influence, contacts, and clout in a noble cause: The women of America would give Marie Curie a gram of radium. She wanted Marie’s plight to generate a response from the American people, and went back to the United States to start the campaign. Initially, however, she thought she might be able to raise $10,000 each from 10 women, but soon discovered that was impossible.

Missy herself became the chairman of the “Marie Curie Radium Fund,” and she contacted prominent medical people in New York to ask them to become part of the board. She discovered that she had no problem getting help from American doctors. Marie Curie’s name was highly respected among the medical profession in the United States. During the war, Marie had single-handedly educated scores of U.S. physicians at the Radium Institute in X-ray technology, and had enjoyed the Americans’ “brash” sense of “we can do anything” that Americans were so famous for at the time.

One of the doctors who immediately joined the board, Robert Abbe, had been experimenting, and using radium therapy for years. He had visited the Curies as early as 1902 in Paris, and had been the first American doctor to use radium in treating cancer and other diseases. Although radiation therapy was still in its infancy, by the year 1920, the year of Missy’s visit to Paris, it held out promising hopes to millions of people worldwide.

Other prominent men and women were recruited to sit on the board, including Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Mrs. Calvin Coolidge, Mrs Robert Mead (the founder of the American Society for the Control of Cancer), and other women with time and money. The advisory committee of scientists included the President of the American Medical Association, and leading representatives from the Rockefeller Foundation, and Harvard, Cornell, and Columbia universities.

Missy used the pages of The Delineator as the public solicitor to encourage American women to give what money they had. Young college women took up collections to give to the fund, as did little girls who found out about the campaign, sending in their nickels and dimes. Marie Curie had been receiving letters from all over America for many years from cancer sufferers, who had had their cancer “cured” by enterprising doctors, like Dr. Abbe. One woman, the first to be treated at the hospital in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, wrote to Marie about her radium treatment: “What it done for me none but God can tell.” Madam Curie received letters like this all the time; she was always moved by what people said to her, and she answered the letters when she could.

Perhaps the finest expression of appreciation to Marie Curie, however, was from the American doctors. Those on the board took it as their personal responsibility to ensure that the campaign to raise the $100,000 was more than a success. They wanted not only to buy the gram of radium, but also to ensure that Madam Curie had a modern, well-equipped laboratory. In each city where Marie Curie was to visit, a fund-raising quota-system was set up: New York had a quota of $10,000; Boston and Philadelphia each had a quota of $5,000. Each doctor on the board participated. Dr. Abbe, for example, wrote to Dr. John G. Clark of Philadelphia (both of them were members of the prestigious Philadelphia College of Physicians): “I have by personal appeal to my patients raised over 20,000 dollars myself. . . .”

. . .

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