MARIA SKŁODOWSKA- CURIE MUSEUM
was opened in 1967 at 16 Freta Street in Warsaw, in the place of birth of the Nobel Prize winner.
The idea of establishing a biographical museum in Warsaw devoted to Maria Skłodowska-Curie arose before World War II. At that time, it was planned to open a “Museum of Maria Skłodowska-Curie Memorabilia” at the Radium Institute in Warsaw at 15 Wawelska Street, based on the collections collected by the scientist’s sisters, Bronisława Dłuska and Helena Skłodowska-Szalay. We know the contents of the collection in general terms from the letter of the second sister, dated 27 November 1944, to Professor Stanisław Korwin-Pawłowski, the founder of the Polish-Asian Society and the first secretary general of the Eastern Institute in Warsaw.
The collections included, among others, the scientist’s correspondence, photos and family documents, notebooks with poems, translations and drawings by Maria Skłodowska, her notes from Adam Mahrburg’s lectures on psychology and ethics, diaries of Maria’s father, Władysław, and her brother, Józef, as well as portraits and a necklace of the Nobel Prize winner.
The idea of collecting and processing the memorabilia of the scientist was supported by Professor Stanisław Lorentz, the then director of the National Museum, with whom H. Skłodowska-Szalay collaborated in this field.
During World War II, the scientist’s sister attempted to save the collected collections. After the Warsaw Uprising, during which the occupiers entered the Radium Institute, H. Skłodowska-Szalay asked Professor Stanisław Korwin-Pawłowski for help, who was known to her and her family from the pre-war period. As she indicated in the memoirs sent to the National Library by a letter of 6 July 1951, the collections were lost during the uprising.
Professor S. Korwin-Pawłowski, delegated to Warsaw in 1945 by the plenipotentiaries of the Lublin government upon request of H. Skłodowska-Szalay in order to secure memorabilia of the Nobel Prize winner, pointed out that as a result of the robbery and destruction of the Radium Institute by the Germans, he found only a desk on the spot, as he assumed owned by then Miss Maria Skłodowska, and a few trifles of unconfirmed authenticity at the time. Due to the presence of some of the staff at the institute, the envoy limited his efforts to draw the conclusion mentioned above, seeing no need for intervention.
The content of the correspondence and poems lost during the war is known thanks to them being published before the war by the daughter of the Nobel Prize winner, Ewa Curie, in the biography “Madame Curie” (1937, 1st Polish edition, “Maria Curie”, 1938), as well as thanks to the publication of the first complete edition of the scientist’s biography in Polish in 2021 by W.A.B. Publishing House on the initiative of the Maria Skłodowska-Curie Museum in Warsaw.
Part of the versed legacy of the Skłodowski family was saved in the form of copies by H. Skłodowska-Szalay, who handed them over to the National Library.
In the 1950s, activities aimed at commemorating Maria Skłodowska-Curie were resumed in the scientist’s hometown.
In 1951, her older daughter, Irène Joliot-Curie, the second female Nobel Prize winner in the history of science, provided the National Museum in Warsaw with a substantial gift while requesting to make valuable memorabilia available to the widest possible number of people. It included, among others, instruments from the laboratory of Maria and Pierre Curie, the correspondence of the Nobel Prize winner with representatives of Polish science, documents, photographs, scientific works and personal items. The Ministry of Culture and Art was the keeper of the object at the National Museum.
7 October 1954, the day of the 20th anniversary of the scientist’s death, in the newly opened Maria Skłodowska-Curie Scientist House, located in a rebuilt tenement house at 16 Freta Street, witnessed an exhibition opened by Irène Joliot-Curie. The ceremony was also attended by her husband, Nobel Prize Winner Frédéric Joliot-Curie, Eugenia Cotton, a physicist, former student of Madame Curie, H. Skłodowska-Szalay and Maria Szancenbach, the scientist’s niece.
In 1956, the exhibition was moved to the Warsaw Museum of Technology. The collections deposited there at that time initiated the present collection of the Maria Skłodowska-Curie Museum in Warsaw, which included, among others, part of the gift donated in 1951 by Irène Joliot-Curie.
Efforts to establish a museum dedicated to the Nobel Prize winner, corresponding to its rank, were then undertaken by the Polish Chemical Society (PTChem), of which Maria Skłodowska-Curie became an honorary member in 1924. Special merits were made by Professor Józef Hurwic, the then President of PTChem, and Professor Alicja Dorabialska, a physicochemist, former scholarship holder at Madame Curie’s laboratory at the Radium Institute in Paris.
On 16 October 1967, the day of the hundredth anniversary of the birth of the Nobel Prize winner, thanks, for instance, to the financial support of the Polish Academy of Sciences, the Maria Skłodowska-Curie Museum of the Polish Chemical Society was opened in a tenement house at 16 Freta in Warsaw.
The ceremony was attended by the younger daughter of Maria and Piotr Curie, Eve Curie, accompanied by her husband, Henry Richardson Labouisse, and several Nobel Prize Winners from among those who participated in the scientific symposium that began the following day.
The first curator of the museum was Maria Wróblewska, PhD, a radiochemist from the University of Warsaw. After the institution was opened, its collections were enriched by gifts from private donors.
The Maria Skłodowska-Curie Museum in Warsaw, established on 1 August 2018 under the “Agreement to establish and run the Maria Skłodowska-Curie Museum in Warsaw as a joint cultural institution” and the resolution of the Warsaw City Council, continues the tradition of the Maria Skłodowska-Curie Museum of the Polish Chemical Society.
by Dominika Korzeniowska, PhD