Marie Curie tops poll of women who changed world

Marie Curie has been voted the woman who has made the most significant impact on world history.
Marie Curie was the first person to win two Nobel prizes  for physics and chemistryMarie Curie was the first person to win two Nobel prizes  for physics and chemistry
Marie Curie was the first person to win two Nobel prizes  for physics and chemistry

In a reader poll conducted by BBC History Magazine of the 100 women who changed the world, the pioneering scientist came out on top, above the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Diana, Princess of Wales, Emmeline Pankhurst and the Virgin Mary.

The Polish-born French scientist, who became the first person to win two Nobel prizes – one for physics and one for chemistry – carried out important research into radioactivity, a term that she coined.

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Her discoveries launched effective cures for cancer and helped in the development of X-rays in surgery.

The magazine asked experts in ten different fields of human endeavour to each nominate ten women they believe had the biggest impact, to create the list of 100 women for readers to choose from.

Curie’s nominee, Patricia Fara, president of the British Society for the History of Science, said: “She (Curie) was the first woman to win a Nobel prize in physics, first female professor at the University of Paris, and the first person – note the use of person there, not woman– to win a second Nobel prize.

“The odds were always stacked against her.

“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.”

The top 100 women were chosen for their achievements in areas including politics, science, sport, technology and literature, and saw the likes of BBC Radio 4’s Dame Jenni Murray and historians Suzannah Lipscomb and Tom Holland among those putting together the shortlist.

In second place was Rosa Parks, an activist in the civil rights movement who protested against racial segregation in America,

On 1 December, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks refused to obey bus driver James F. Blake’s order to give up her seat in the “colored section” to a white passenger after the whites-only section was filled. The leader of the British suffragette movement, Emmeline Pankhurst, came third. The UK’s first female Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher, is in sixth place, while Diana, Princess of Wales, is at number 15.

Other names in the top 20 include writers Mary Wollstonecraft and Jane Austen, aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart and queens Victoria and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

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BBC History Magazine deputy editor Charlotte Hodgman said: “The poll has shone a light on some truly extraordinary women from history, many of whose achievements and talents were overlooked in their own lifetimes.

“It is fitting, in a year that has seen the 100th anniversary of the parliamentary Act that gave the vote to many British women, suffrage campaigners Emmeline Pankhurst and Josephine Butler have been voted into the top 20.