Marie Curie, the Edinburgh Fringe, and the Women of America

Playing now at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the final instalment in Tangram Theatre’s ‘Scientrilogy’ – a series of three one-man plays about the lives of great scientists. Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein have debuted in previous years; 2015 has marked the appearance of the great female scientist, Marie Curie. If you have the opportunity to see it, do – it is a vibrant, funny, informative and slightly irreverent (but also profoundly serious) production, and you will be singing about radium all the way home … (yes, really).

There is much in the life of Marie Curie that was remarkable, not least her scientific prowess and her commitment – with her husband – to making her findings publicly available, so that she did not become rich on the outcomes of her research, but rather contributed astonishingly to the development of medical science in the 20th century. One particular part of her story, however, caught my attention.

In 1920, an American journalist – Marie Mattingley Meloney, who was also a pioneer in her field, succeeded in obtaining an interview with the notably reticent Marie Curie in Paris. During the course of their discussions, Mrs Meloney realised that all Marie Curie’s philanthropic efforts had taken their toll on her store of radium, which had dwindled to the point of zero. What Marie Curie wanted more than anything at that point was more radium, so that she could continue her research, and Mrs Meloney decided that she would help her achieve this.

Raising the $100,000 needed to purchase a single gram of radium was never going to be an easy task, but Mrs Meloney set about it with vigour, and put out a call to the ‘Women of America’, asking for their help in female solidarity. The women of America responded, and contributed funds in varying amounts; amazingly, in an early example of successful crowd-funding, the sum was raised and Marie Curie’s visit to collect her new gram of radium from the President in 1921 was triumphant.

History tells us who we are, if only we let it, and sometimes the forgotten moments of history can be the most telling. Female solidarity is an immensely powerful movement. The Marie Curies of the future should take note – they need only reach out, and they may be both humbled and surprised by the help they will find.

It is good to remind ourselves of the potential of humanity to do good, to share, and to help others. Oh, and – if you are free and have an hour spare in Edinburgh – do see the show!


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