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From Warsaw to Paris (1867-1891)

Family and childhood

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Wladyslaw and Bronislawa Sklodowski, parents of Marie Curie, surrounded by their boarders, 16, rue Freta in Warsaw, Poland, 1860. Source: Musée Curie; coll. ACJC / MCP3 call number

Maria Sklodowska was born on November 7, 1867 at 16, rue Freta, in Warsaw, capital of the Kingdom of Poland then annexed by Russia. Her father, Wladyslaw Sklodowski (1832-1902) was a professor of mathematics and physics, and her mother, Bronislawa, née Boguska (1836-1878), ran one of the city's most recognized boarding houses.

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The Sklodowski children: from left to right Sophia, Helena, Maria, Joseph and Bronislawa, 1872. Source: Musée Curie; coll. ACJC / MCP 5

Young Maria grows up surrounded by her elders: she has three sisters (Sophia, Bronislawa and Helena) and a brother (Josef). The youngest, Maria had a happy childhood until January 1876, when her older sister Sophia died of typhus. Two years later, on May 9, 1878, she also lost her mother, who had tuberculosis. The girl turns away from religion.

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Bronislawa Boguska-Sklodowska (1836-1878), mother of Maria, 1860. Photo E. Koch. Source: Musée Curie; coll. ACJC / MCP1 symbol
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Wladyslaw Sklodowski, father of Maria, 1890. Source: Musée Curie; coll. ACJC / Call number MCP34

An exemplary education

Encouraged by her parents, themselves teachers, the young Maria followed a classical education, first at the Sikorska boarding house, between 1877 and 1882, then at the gymnasium (the equivalent of high school in France).

The results of Maria, a brilliant student, are excellent in all subjects. She even won the gold medal for her high school diploma in 1883, like all her siblings.

Wishing to use her knowledge to help fight against the Russification of society, she engages in clandestine courses organized in apartments, in order, in particular, to educate young Polish girls: it is the "Flying University".

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Maria Sklodowska in 1883. Source: Musée Curie; coll. ACJC / Call number MCP25

Maria then intends to continue her higher education by entering a real university. Unfortunately, in Warsaw, then under Russian domination, it is impossible for a young girl.

Speaking French (as well as German and Russian), she dreams of joining the Sorbonne in Paris, since it accepts young women who have obtained their baccalaureate, or its Polish equivalent.

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Extract from the diary of Maria Sklodowska. The sketch represents Lancet, the pointer dog, much loved by young Sklodowski, circa 1886. Source: Musée Curie; coll. ACJC / Call number MCP37

The pact of the Sklodowska sisters

The departure for Paris desired by Maria comes at a significant cost, which Maria's father cannot bear alone, especially as Bronislawa also wants to go to Paris to study at the Faculty of Medicine.

The two sisters make a pact: Maria engages as governess and saves money to finance her sister's studies in France. In return, once Bronislawa becomes a doctor, she will pay for her younger daughter's studies. 

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Maria Sklodowska and her sister Bronislawa in 1886. Source: Musée Curie; coll. ACJC / Call number MCP42

Maria thus began to give private lessons to children of bourgeois families in Warsaw.

She even became a permanent tutor for the children of the Zorawski family in Szczuki between 1886 and 1889.

During this long stay away from her family, she falls in love with the eldest child, Kazimierz Zorawski, a future brilliant mathematician, one year older. Unfortunately, the difference in social condition is such that the Zorawski family opposes the marriage.

Maria then returns to her father's house, and continues to give private lessons. A cousin allows her to come and do some experiments in a laboratory at the University of Warsaw, in order to apply the scientific knowledge that she has continued to accumulate.

Maria is nevertheless in the process of giving up her dream of studying to devote herself to her family. It was then that his sister Broniswlawa intervened, who encouraged him to join her in Paris and start a new life.

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Wladyslaw Sklodowski and his daughters in 1890 (from left to right: Maria, Bronislawa and Helena), 1890. Source: Musée Curie / Call number MCP53 / Rights: Maria Sklodowska-Curie Museum in Warsaw

A New Parisian Life
        (1891-1896)

The Polish student

Maria Sklodowska, then aged 24, arrived in Paris, at the Gare du Nord, at the end of October 1891. She first settled in rue d'Allemagne (now avenue Jean Jaurès), with her sister and her brother-in-law, Casimir Dluski, Polish exile whom Bronislawa met during his studies.

She then moved to rue Flatters, in the Latin Quarter, in March 1892, in order to be closer to the Sorbonne. She enrolled in the Faculty of Sciences on November 3, 1891, determined to carry out scientific studies to become

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Drawing representing Marie Sklodowska, made in Paris, in 1892. Source: Musée Curie; coll. ACJC / Call number MCP61

secondary school teacher in Poland. On the university benches, alongside Maria, there were only 2% of students.

On her registration form at the University, Maria francizes her first name and becomes Marie. Studious and quite poor financially, she works continuously to get up to speed.

Not confident in her scientific knowledge, she chose not to take her bachelor's degree in the summer of 1892 but to do a first year again.

This allows her to be received first in the license of Physics in July 1893. The following year, she passes the license of Mathematics and is received third. 

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Marie Sklodowska on the balcony of the Dluski, in 1892. Source: Musée Curie; coll. ACJC / MCP Rating58.01
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