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Science: Distaff Succession

2 minute read

The world is used to heroes illustriously sired. “A chip of the old block,” folk say of Pitt, the son of Pitt, of Dumas fils, of the young Adams, the young Hammond, the young Rockefeller. “Just like his father, only more so,” said the ancients when Philip’s son, Alexander, became tearful with success. But who was Cleopatra’s daughter? What heroine did Dido mother? Joan of Arc, Queen Bess, Florence Nightingale, Jane Addams are all ineligible by hypothesis; and it is not recorded that Sarah Bernhardt had a daughter. But what of Portia and other married celebrities? The distaff side seems never to have been illustrious twice running, possibly for the reason that most women acquire fame by being either too “good” or too “bad” to have a domestic side.

It was distinctly unusual when a dark slip of a girl in her mid-twenties stood before the medical faculty of the Sorbonne, last week, for her degree as doctor of science. She read a thesis alleged by those who heard it to have been thoroughly able and predictive of a distinguished scientific career. The degree was swiftly conferred. Female doctors of science are by no means common at the Sorbonne, but this particular one had elaborated upon an important discovery made by her mother. It was Mlle. Irene Curie, of Paris, continuing the radiological research of her mother, Mme. Curie, joint discoverer of radium. Mlle. Irene’s thesis was on the alpha rays of polonium.

Science, being beyond, or apart from,

“good” and “evil,” was perhaps an obvious realm to watch for this rare mother-to-daughter succession. Yet Science is nearly as exacting of one’s time and attention as is sainthood, high intrigue or artistic self-expression. Hear Mlle. Curie: “Some women [scientists] do not realize that they must abandon all social obligations in favor of Science. The duties of a family can be accepted, but they are a heavy additional burden. As for myself, I consider Science my essential interest in life.”

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