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Black and white photograph of Marie Curie, with two daughters and Mrs. William Brown Meloney.
Marie Curie, with two daughters and Mrs. William Brown Meloney. Photograph by Underwood and Underwood, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection, no date.

Marie Curie: A Gift of Radium

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Today’s post is guest authored by Michelle Cadoree Bradley, a science reference specialist in the Science, Technology, and Business Division of the Library of Congress.  She is also the author of the blog posts George Washington Carver and Nature Study and Stumbled Upon in the Stacks, or the Chimp in my Office.  

On May 20, 1921 Mme. Marie Curie, who co-discovered the radium element with her husband in 1898, received from the American people an appropriate, but hazardous gift- a gram of radium.  In an interview with Mrs. W.B. (Marie) Meloney in May 1920, and later detailed The Delineator magazine in April 1921, Marie Curie disclosed that her lab had only a gram of radium to experiment with and that she needed more to continue researching. After learning about Curie’s predicament,  Mrs. Meloney formed the Marie Curie Radium Fund to raise money to purchase another gram of radium, worth $100,000 (in the 1920s),  for Mme Marie Curie.  In less than a year, the Marie Curie Radium Fund secured enough donations from American women to purchase a gram of radium for Mme. Curie.

In a White House ceremony in 1921 President Warren Harding assembled a group of distinguished scientists and diplomats from America, France and Poland to present Marie Curie the gift.

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 (*Remarks of the President in Presenting to Madam Curie a Gift of Radium from the American People, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1921).

Black and white photograph of Marie Sklodowska Curie holding arm of Pres Harding after she was presented a gram of radium on behalf of the women of America
Marie Sklodowska Curie, 1867-1934, holding arm of Pres Harding after she was presented a gram of radium on behalf of the women of America

You can research this event in history by using historic newspapers from the Library’s Chronicling America project (search Marie Curie Radium Fund). A great deal can be discovered about a particular time or event from news reports. Teachers and students will also find this primary resource helpful with the following:

  • The popularization of science in America.
  • The role of women’s organizations and groups in funding.
  • Information on radium’s use in medicine and other products.

If you wish to learn more about Marie Curie, take a look at the American Institute of Physics (AIP) Marie Curie and the Science of Radioactivity.  This site offers an in depth look into Curie’s personal and professional life, as well as the historical context of her time. The site contains textual information, which is accompanied by digitized images of photographs, illustrations, and other primary sources (for example, an original lab notebook). The information is presented in chronological fashion and is broken down into various phases of Marie Curie’s life.

* A copy of Remarks of the President in Presenting to Madam Curie a Gift of Radium from the American People was also published on page three of the Evening Star, (Washington D.C.) on May 21, 1921 “President Presenting Radium Lauds Work of Madame Curie”. You can read it here via from the Chronicling America website.


Note: this post was edited to clarify where to find the Meloney interview with Curie.

Comments (3)

  1. She is my favorite scientist ever!

  2. I heard about Marie Curie from the time I was a little girl in the 1950s. My grandfather was the Asst Purser on the RMS Olympic, the ship on which she sailed home to France with the gift of radium she received from a fundraiser by the women of the US. He told us how he was the person to whom she gave the radium and his job was to put it in the ship’s safe. He was mentioned in a published biography and he was quite proud of that. She was a heroine of the times and gave us so much with her discoveries.

  3. J ‘ aimerais savoir comment on peut déposer un document scientifique à la recherche du prix MARIE CURIE sur la radioactive du Radium. Quelles instances qui peuvent recevoir ce document.
    Mr Josue Isoph
    Mr.Emmanuel Isoph
    Chercheurs en Astrophysique et sur l ‘existence de l ‘ univers cosmétique avec des lois d ‘ attractions

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