The First 10 Women to Win the Nobel Prize
The Nobel Prize recognizes advancements made by individuals or organizations in a variety of sectors, including academics, culture, and science. Alfred Bernhard Nobel, who was a prominent Swedish scientist and inventor, left a will that founded the noble award to be bequeathed annually without discrimination of nationality. The first ever Nobel Prize in history was given out in 1901.
The following article discusses the first ten female Nobel Prize winners in history. These Nobel laureates are forever respected for the positive impact they made, and serve as an inspiration for many young women.
1. Marie Curie
Before becoming one of the most well-known female scientists in history, Marie Sklodowska Curie was the daughter of two teachers: Bronislawa and Wladyslaw Sklodowski. Her birthday was 7 November 1867.
As Marie grew up, her parents made a poor investment that caused them to lose a huge portion of their wealth. In addition, at age ten, Bronislawa (Marie’s mother) passed away after a battle with tuberculosis in 1878. Marie’s eldest sister, Zofia, had met her demise about three years earlier to typhus.
After going through many financial struggles, in 1893 Marie earned a master’s degree in physics. In the following year, she got another degree in mathematics. Pierre Curie took Marie as his wife on 26 July 1895, and their union gave birth to two daughters: Irene and Eve.
Together with Henri Becquerel, the couple received a 1903 Physics Nobel Prize. In 1911, Marie won another Nobel Prize, but it was for Chemistry the second time around. Through the awards, Marie retained the title of the first female Nobel laureate and first human being to win a Chemistry Nobel prize. Sadly, her work with radiation led to a disease called Aplastic anemia, which killed her in 1934 in Passy, France.
2. Bertha von Suttner
Barroness Bertha von Suttner was born on 9 June 1843 in Prague. Her parents, Lieutenant general Franz de Paula Josef Graf Kinsky von Wchinitz and Sophie Wilhelmine von Korner had a 50-year age difference.
Bertha never saw her father as he met his death before her birth. The demise left Sophie Wilhelmine von Korner with limited funds for raising the family. Despite the modest financial resources, Bertha was still educated by governesses in French, English and music.
Bertha worked as the secretary and housekeeper for Alfred Nobel (the founding father of the Nobel Prize). Later on, she became a music and languages instructor after she eloped with Arthur von Suttner.
Her husband’s success in writing successful articles inspired Bertha to write. She became a successful author with acclaimed works, such as “Lay Down Your Arms”, “Daniela Dormes” and “Das Maschinenzeitalter: Zukunftsvorlesungen uber unsere Zeit”. The Nobel Prize for Peace was granted to Bertha in 1905, giving her the title of first female Nobel Peace Prize laureate. She died on 21 June 1914 due to stomach cancer.
3. Selma Lagerlof
Selma Ottilia Lovis Lagerlof was born on 20 November 1858 in Marbacka, Varmaland, Sweden. She was Eric Gustaf and Louise Lagerlof’s fifth child, and was born with a hip injury. A sickness during the age of three left Selma lame in both legs, but she recovered in later life.
Selma was raised on a small estate owned by Elisabet Maria Wennervik, her father’s mother. From a young age, Selma loved to read, and started to publish her own works in 1890.
Her writings had lofty idealism, lucid imagination and spiritualism, which resulted in a Literature Nobel Prize on 10 December 1909. From the award, Selma made history as the first Literature Nobel Laureate. It is reported that she used the award earnings to buy back her late dad’s estate, and lived there until her death on 16 March 1940.
4. Grazia Deledda
Grazia Deledda was born on 27 September 1871 in Nuoro, Sardinia, Italy to Giovanni Antonio Deledda and Francesca Cambosu. She received formal schooling for just four years, but was also taught by a private tutor.
Grazia had a passion for writing, and she started to publish stories and novels at a tender age in local papers through the encouragement of her teacher. Palmiro Madesani wed Grazia in 1900, and they had two sons.
Her most famous works are novels and short stories, but she also composed poetry, essays, folklore as well as stage plays. Grazia gained the title of the first female from Italy to win a Literature Nobel Prize, when the award was given to her in 1926.
At the age of 64, she passed away because of breast cancer. Her final novel, “La chiesa della solitudine” depicts the life of a young Italian woman dealing with breast cancer. Grazia’s place of birth and childhood home is preserved as a museum: the Museo Delladdiano, which is made up of ten rooms.
5. Sigrid Undset
Sigrid Undset was born on 20 May 1882 in Kalundborg, Denmark as the first baby girl to Charlotte and Ingvald Martin Undset. While growing up in Oslo, Norway, her archaeologist father passed away from an enduring illness. She only 11 years old when the death occurred.
Sigrid started working at 16 years of age as a secretary in an engineering firm. At 25, she made her debut in literature with a short adultery novel. Anders Castus Svarstad tied the knot with Sigrid in 1912, and they sired three children. After several years of marriage, they divorced and Sigrid converted to Catholicism.
After her divorce, Sigrid continued to write novels, short stories and essays. Her most famous book is “Kristin Lavransdatter”, which she wrote after giving birth to her third child.
In 1928, Sigrid won a Literature Nobel Prize for a powerful narration of Middle Ages’ Northern life. She died in Lillehammer, Norway on 20 May 1882, and was buried in Mesnali, where two of her children, who died in battle, are also remembered.
6. Jane Addams
Jane Addams was born on 6 September 1860 in Cedarville, Illinois to Sarah and John H. Addams. She was the last child among a family of eight kids. Unfortunately, four of Jane’s siblings had passed away by the time she reached eight years of age.
Additionally, her mother had died while carrying her ninth pregnancy. At the time, the future Nobel laureate was just two years old. Jane was also attacked by Potts’s disease at age four, which brought a spine curvature and persistent health issues.
As an adult, Jane Addams worked as an author, social worker, public administrator, reformer, sociologist and community organizer. She also co-founded Hull House in Chicago, and played a role in the formation of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Jane won the Nobel Prize in 1931 in the Peace category, which made her the first American female to gain such an award in history. At the time of her death on 21 May 1935, she was a very famous USA female public figure.
7. Irene Curie
The famous Irene Joliot-Curie was born in the capital city of France to Marie and Pierre Curie on 12 September 1897. Both her parents won a 1903 Physics Nobel Prize, and her mom got an additional 1911 Chemistry Nobel Prize.
Irene was shy during her childhood years, and constantly competed with Marie and Pierre’s love for science. However, she was able to make friends with and gain critical knowledge from her grandfather, Eugene Curie, who came to live with them after his wife’s demise. Sadly, Pierre Curie passed away tragically when he was struck by a horse wagon. Irene was only eight when her father met his death.
Following in her mother’s shoes, Irene became a scientist. Alongside Frederic Joliot-Curie (her husband) Irene made the discovery of artificial radioactivity, and this led to their 1935 Chemisty Nobel Prize win.
The award winning-scientist had two children: Helene Langevin-Joliot and Pierre Joliot. She died on 17 March 1956 at age 58, because of Leukemia.
8. Pearl S. Buck
Pearl Sydenstricker Buck was born on 26 June 1892 in Hillsboro, West Virginia. While she was born in America, she was raised in China, because of her parents’ missionary work.
Pearl left China to study at the Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Virginia, and graduated in 1914. She went back after receiving news from her father (Absalom Sydenstricker) about her mother’s (Caroline Maude) severe illness.
Pearl is widely recognized for her novel titled “The Good Earth”, which was a best-seller in the USA for two years in a row. She was bestowed with the 1938 Literature Nobel Prize for impeccable narration of Chinese peasant life, and biographical masterpieces.
Through the award, she gained the title of the first female Nobel Laureate for Literature. She lived a long life and died on 6 March 1973 in Danby, Vermont.
9. Gabriela Mistral
Gabriela Mistral, also known as Lucila Godoy Alcayaga, was born on 7 April 1889 in Vicuna, Chile. Her father was Juan Geronimo Gody Villanueva while her mother was Petronila Alcayaga.
Mistral grew up in the Adean village of Montegrande, and she faced a lot of poverty. Her father went away before she turned three, and her mother worked as a seamstress and teacher’s aide.
Mistral faced many struggles during her life, but she still managed to become the first Latin American female to get a Literature Nobel Prize. The award was given to her in 1945 as an acknowledgement of her lyric poetry that left a mark in the Latin American world.
Her poetry drew its inspiration form powerful emotions, and some of the central themes were love, betrayal, sorrow, travel, and the identity of Latin Americans. Mistral came to her demise on 10 January 1957 at the age of 67.
10. Emily Greene Balch
Emily Green Balch was born on 8 January 1867 in Boston to Francis V. and Ellen Balch. Her father was a wealthy lawyer, who once served as secretary to the US Senator Charles Sumner.
Emily was able to attend private schools, and in 1889, she was able to graduate from Bryn Mawr College. She went to study at other tertiary institutions, such as the prestigious Harvard University.
Balch earned her living as a professor, economist and author. She was able to combine her academic career with a deep passion for social issues, like immigration, child labor and destitution. The humanitarian finally received the 1946 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her support for the Women’s International League for Peace and Federation.
Balch was a passionate humanitarian, as she chose to donate her portion of the award money to the League. After a long life, Balch died on 9 January 1961 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She lived for 94 years.
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© 2020 Alice Njambi