The purpose of our blog is to discuss topical issues, stories, and situations, as well as to share what we are up to and new ways for you to get involved. We are always searching for possible answers to the question: Why is a girl's worth culturally and historically relative?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Women's History Month "C": Marie Curie, Women in the Civil War


1911 photo of Marie Curie for her second Nobel Prize.

Marie Curie is best known for being the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, and the first person (and only woman) to win two Nobel Prizes.  She was born Maria Skłodowska on November 7th 1867, in Warsaw Poland.  She was the youngest of the five children born to Władysław and Bronisława Skłodowski, both teachers.  Marie's early education came from the local schools, and she received additional education in both math and the sciences from her father, who taught math and physics.  At the age of ten, Marie began attending the boarding school that her mother ran, and ultimately graduated from school on June 12th, 1883, with highest honors.  Marie's mother and oldest sister both died by the time she was twelve; these deaths, along with her father's atheism, are probably what caused her to become agnostic.  

Because of her father's participation in the Polish nationalist movement (Poland was a part of Russia at that time), Marie and her siblings had to struggle to get ahead in life.  Marie made a pact with her sister because of this; she would support her sister Bronisława's medical studies in Paris, after which Bronisława would support Marie.  During this time, Marie worked as a governess for a few different families, before she eventually decided to join her sister in Paris in 1891, when she began studying mathematics and the sciences at the Sorbonne.  She earned her degree in physics in 1893, and in 1894 earned her degree in mathematics.  In 1894 she also met Pierre Curie, whom she married in July of 1895.  In 1903 she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, a joint award shared with her husband and Henri Becquerel.  She was again awarded the Nobel Prize in 1911, this time for Chemistry.


We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.
~Marie Curie, Scientist, Nobel Prize winner

When music fails to agree to the ear, to soothe the ear and the heart and the senses, then it has missed its point.
~Maria Callas, Soprano Opera Singer

A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don't necessarily want to go, but ought to be.
~Rosalynn Carter, Former First Lady, Mental Health Advocate 

Fashion has become a joke. The designers have forgotten that there are women inside the dresses. Most women dress for men and want to be admired. But they must also be able to move, to get into a car without bursting their seams! Clothes must have a natural shape.
~Coco Chanel, Fashion Designer

Why languish as a giantess when it is so much fun to be a myth?
~Julia Child, Chef, Author, TV Personality


Traditionally, the American Civil War is described as “when brother fought brother.”  However, women from all walks of life, from both the Union and the Confederacy, played important roles in the war.  Some were nurses, some were soldiers, and some were spies.  Even those women who stayed home and didn't get involved were involved, worrying about their loved ones and the fate of their nation.  The following is just a small sample of the role of women in the Civil War.

Although both the Union and the Confederacy forbade women from enlisting, women on both sides assumed masculine identities and served as soldiers.  Sarah Emma Edmonds disguised herself as a man and was known as Frank Thompson while she served in the Union Army.  She continued her masquerade for a year, and participated in several battles, including the First Battle of Bull Run/Manassas, Antietam, and Fredericksburg.  After the war she campaigned for a veteran pension (and received it in 1884) and in 1865 she published her (much embellished) story Nurse and Spy in the Union Army.

Harriet Tubman was a southern slave who escaped to the north, but returned at great personal risk to form the Underground Railroad.  She personally led over 300 slaves to freedom.  She also served in the Civil War as a nurse, a spy, and a cook for the Union.

Rose O'Neal Greenhow was a widow and popular hostess in Washington DC.  She was also a confederate spy, passing along information that she learned from Union guests.  This information included the movement timetable of the Union troops, allowing the South to gather sufficient troops before the First Battle of Bull Run/Manassas.  She was ultimately found out and imprisoned, but was able to continue passing information along.  She was ultimately returned to Richmond, where she received a heroine's welcome.

For a comprehensive look at women and their involvment in the American Civil War, visit the Women in the Civil War section of

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