Marie Curie voted most influential woman in history

Double Nobel Prize winner in physics and chemistry tops list of 100 women in UK poll

LONDON • Nobel Prize-winning scientist Marie Curie was the most influential woman in history, Britain's BBC found in a poll on Thursday, highlighting her role in curing cancer.

Readers of BBC History magazine ranked Polish-born Madam Curie at the top of a list of 100 women who changed the world, for becoming the first person to win two Nobel Prizes and for her research into radioactivity - a word that she coined.

"It's so important that we highlight the work of great thinkers like Marie Curie," Ms Heenali Patel, a spokesman for the Fawcett Society, Britain's leading women's rights charity, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in e-mailed comments.

"It's vital we celebrate the rich and varied histories they have left us - and use their stories to inspire future generations of women innovators."

Madam Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in physics, the first female professor at the Sorbonne in France and the first person to win a second Nobel Prize, awarded for chemistry in 1911, eight years after her first. She remains the only person to hold Nobel Prizes in two sciences.

"The odds were always stacked against her," said Ms Patricia Fara, president of the British Society for the History of Science, who nominated the scientist. "In Poland, her patriotic family suffered under a Russian regime. In France, she was regarded with suspicion as a foreigner - and of course, wherever she went, she was discriminated against as a woman," Ms Fara said.

The poll comes amid efforts to boost the representation of women in Britain and debate about the gender pay gap, as the country marks the centenary of women winning the vote.

The National Trust charity plans to double the number of statues of everyday women, as only about a sixth of Britain's 925 public statues represent women.


This list is a testament to women in history who have struggled against the odds to achieve incredible feats.

MS HEENALI PATEL, a spokesman for the Fawcett Society, Britain's leading women's rights charity.

The US civil rights activist Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat on a bus for a white person, came second in the poll, followed by leader of the British suffragette movement Emmeline Pankhurst, who helped women win the right to vote.

Scientists featured prominently in the list, with the early computer programmer Ada Lovelace in fourth place, and British chemist Rosalind Franklin - who contributed to the understanding of DNA - coming in fifth.

There are relatively few scientific role models for young girls to look up to, as only 13 per cent of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics workforce in Britain is female, the Fawcett Society said.

Others who made the list were Britain's first female prime minister, Mrs Margaret Thatcher, philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts, writer-philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft, military nurse Florence Nightingale and birth control advocate Marie Stopes.

"This list is a testament to women in history who have struggled against the odds to achieve incredible feats," Ms Patel said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 11, 2018, with the headline 'Marie Curie voted most influential woman in history'. Subscribe