Born in Poland where she educated herself in secret, Curie earned her doctorate in Paris a mere six months before winning, with her husband Pierre, the Nobel Prize in physics for their discovery of radium. It was Marie who coined the term “radioactivity” and her ongoing research into radioactive elements and their medical applications led to her founding the Curie Institutes in Paris and Warsaw. With her 1911 Nobel Prize in chemistry, Curie became the first person and only woman to win the prize twice as well as the first of two individuals (Linus Pauling being the other) to win a Nobel Prize in two different areas.
Marie and Pierre Curie had two children, Iréne, born in 1897, and Eve, born in 1904. In 1906, Pierre died tragically, when he slipped on a street and his skull was crushed under the wheel of a horse-drawn cart, an event from which Marie never fully recovered. She not only lost her husband, but also her closest collaborator and dearest friend. In mid-May 1906, barely a month after Pierre’s death, Marie was named his successor at the Sorbonne and, difficult though it was, resumed the work at which they had labored for more than a decade. Despite the demands of her career, Madame Curie addressed her daughters’ educational needs by drawing on a network of colleagues who taught Iréne and Eve along with nine other children. Curie taught physics of course, while another important physicist, Paul Langevin (with whom Marie had an affair in 1910), taught mathematics. Henri Mouton taught biology and sculptor Jean Magrou taught art. Curie’s friend, neighbor and colleague Jean Perrin, who would win the 1926 Nobel Prize in Physics for verifying Albert Einstein’s theory of the Brownian motion of atoms, taught chemistry and his wife, the recipient of our letter, instructed the children in French literature and history while leading trips to the Louvre.
Our letter congratulates Henriette on the birth of her granddaughter, Francoise Perrin (1933-?), the only daughter of Henriette’s son Françis Perrin (1901-1992), himself a notable physicist, and his wife Colette née Auger (1904-1997), sister to the important French physicist Pierre Victor Auger, discoverer of the Auger effect and a student of Jean Perrin. Françis earned a doctorate in mathematics after writing a thesis on the subject of Brownian motion, after which he joined the Collége de France where he worked on uranium fission, was chair of Atomic and Molecular Physics from 1946 to 1972 and, with Frédéric Joliot-Curie, Marie Curie’s former assistant and son-in-law, explored the possibilities of nuclear energy.
In addition to the two Nobel Prizes awarded to Marie, her daughter Iréne and son-in-law Joliot-Curie, both received Nobel Prizes as did their other son-in-law, Henry Labouisse, who accepted the 1965 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of that year’s winner, UNICEF. As such, the Curie family is the most lauded family in the history of the Nobel Prize. Our warm letter illustrates the interconnectedness of the French scientific community.
Marie Curie letters signed with her first name in full (she invariable wrote “M.” instead of “Marie”) as well as from this late date are of the utmost rarity. Folded with some wear including two closed fold tears and toning on the verso.