FEMINISM very nearly won a great victory in the French Academy of Sciences on January 23rd, 1911, when, in the election of a successor to the deceased academician Gernez, Marie Sklodowska Curie was defeated by two votes. At a joint meeting of the five academies which compose the Institute de France, a majority had opposed the admission of women, as contrary to tradition, but each academy was left to decide the question for itself.
The Academy of Fine Arts had a few women members long ago but the Academy of Sciences has never admitted a woman. It was, perhaps, the opposition of the anti-feminists that induced Mme. Curie to apply as a candidate for the chair in the section of physics left vacant by Gernez, and formerly occupied by her husband and collaborator, Pierre Curie. In the preliminary grading of candidates Mme. Curie was placed alone, in the first grade, while her competitors, five eminent men of science, were assigned to the second grade. Mme. Curie, however, received only 28 of the 65 votes (the Academy consists of 66 members), while 30 votes were cast for Edouard Branly. There were good reasons for this choice, entirely apart from considerations of sex. Branly is a physicist of world-wide celebrity who, unlike Mme. Curie, has received few honors and emoluments. He invented the coherer for the detection of electric waves and to him Marconi's first wireless message was addressed. Many of the academicians naturally desired to recognize the very important part played by their compatriot in the development of wireless telegraphy. Moreover, Branly is sixty-four years old and this was his third candidacy, while Mme. Curie is only forty-three and had never before applied for admission. It is not customary to admit a candidate on the first application, and Mme. Curie's chance of living until the next vacancy shall occur is greater than Branly's.
Who is this remarkable woman who so nearly surmounted these formidable obstacles? The dry and formal account of herself and her work which she submitted with her application, according to custom, is perhaps more eloquent than an exhaustive biography. Marie Sklodowska was born in Warsaw November 7th, 1867. She became a student in the University of Paris where she attained the degrees of licentiate in physics in 1893 and licentiate in mathematics in 1894. In 1896 she received a certificate of fitness for the secondary instruction of girls, and in 1900 became lecturer in physics in the École normale supérieure de Sèvres. In 1903 she received the degree of doctor of physical science, in 1906 she became lecturer in general physics in the University of Paris, and in 1909 s he was promoted to the professorship of general physics, as successor to her lately deceased husband, Prof. Pierre Curie, to whom she was married in 1895.
She is an honorary or foreign member of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, the London Chemical Society, the American Philosophical Society, the American Chemical Society, the Imperial Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, the Royal Swedish Academy and other learned bodies, and has received the honorary title of Doctor from the universities of Geneva and Edinburgh. In 1898 Mme. Curie, then thirty-one years of age, received the Gegner prize from the French Academy of Sciences, nominally for her extensive researches relating to the magnetic properties of iron and steel, although the report of the awarding committee also alludes, in terms of the highest commendation, to the researches in radio-activity which she had already begun, in co-operation with her husband, and to their recent discovery of the radio-active element which Mme. Curie named Polonium, in honor of her native country.
The Gegner prize was awarded to Mme. Curie again in 1300, and a third time in 1902, together with the Berthelot medal. In 1903 the Nobel prize for physical science was awarded, half to Mons. and Mme. Curie and half to Henri Becquerel, whose discovery of the spontaneous radio-activity of uranium ore formed the basis of all subsequent researches in radio-activity. Only a few days ago we heard the news that Mme. Curie has been honored with the Nobel prize a second time, on this occasion in the division of chemistry. The list of medals and prizes which have been awarded to Mme. Curie in foreign countries is too long to quote. In addition to the numerous researches in radioactivity which she made in collaboration with her husband, Mme. Curie has published a great many independent papers, and a volume, “Investigations of Radio-active Substances,” in which the results of their co-operative researches, including the epoch-making discovery of radium, are set forth. Radium and polonium are not the only fruits of this ideal marriage, which was blessed by the birth of MARIE SKLODOWSKA CURIE Immortalized by her researches on radium. two children who already give evidence of inheriting the genius of their parents. After the shocking and untimely death of Pierre Curie, who was killed by a truck on a Paris bridge, in 1906, at the age of fifty-seven, a large majority of his colleagues recommended to the ministry of public instruction the appointment of his widow and coadjutor as his successor. The result is that this gifted woman, the only one of her sex who has ever received this high honor, is now a full professor in the venerable Sorbonne.
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