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Ada Lovelace Day: A Visit from Marie Curie

Marie Curie and Martha Tracy in front of Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania. (The Legacy Center Archives and Special Collections)

In honor of Ada Lovelace Day, we look back at May 23, 1921, when the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania hosted a distinguished visitor – Marie Curie.

Dean Martha Tracy (herself a WMC alumna, class of 1904) spoke at the occasion:

"…it is singularly appropriate that the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, firm in its hard-won position in the first rank of American medical schools, should greet with profound sympathy and due reverence this woman citizen of a fellow-republic who has likewise won through years of self-sacrificing devotion to research her deserved position as the foremost of living scientists."

Curie was granted an honorary degree – but she herself was absent on that day due to illness (only the year before, she had begun to experience symptoms caused by exposure to radioactivity). In her place, her daughter Irène Curie accepted the honor; Mme. Curie recovered the next day, and a student took a photograph of her with Dr. Tracy to document her visit to the College.

Of course, the visit was not simply a social call – Mme. Curie was on a fundraising tour. Through a campaign organized by Marie 'Missy' Mattingly Meloney, editor of The Delineator, a popular women's magazine, more than $100,000 was 'raised by women' and Mme. Curie was presented with a gram of radium by President Harding 'on behalf of the women of America.'

The Medical Woman's Journal also < href="" title="Read more: Article in the Medical Womaan's Journal">documented the endeavor, describing the lack of radium in post-war France and Mme. Curie's financial position:

"Madame Curie is a teacher of science and she has a teacher's salary. She is one of the richest women in the world in scientific lore, but she has given the fruits of her labor to her laboratory. So she could not afford to travel westward."

In a later issue, Madame Curie's trip and the overall fundraising effort were described in an editorial as 'Women's Gift to a Woman for the Benefit of Mankind' - it went on to note that:

"Every progressive step taken by women has been secured by fighting against custom and prejudice; it has been a continual revolt against the established order. That is the reason women make such good revolutionists."

For thousands of other blog posts on women in science and technology, check out Finding Ada - and for more on the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania, follow us on Twitter. Thanks for visiting!