Curie, Éve (b. 1904)
Curie, Éve (b. 1904)
French journalist who traveled more than 40,000 miles covering Allied action during World War II and wrote a prize-winning biography of her mother, famed scientist Marie Curie. Name variations: Eve. Born Éve Denise Curie in Paris, France, on December 6, 1904; daughter of Pierre and Marie (Sklodowska) Curie, both Nobel Prize-winning scientists; sister of Irène Joliot-Curie (1897–1956); received education by childhood governesses and a private school established by her mother for children of Sorbonne professors; graduated from Collège Sevigné; married Henry Labouisse (an American diplomat), on November 19, 1954; no children.
Had brief career as a concert pianist, then writer and critic of music, movies, and books for several French newspapers and journals; wrote biography of her mother, which won the American National Book Award for nonfiction (1937); awarded the Polonia Restitua and Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur for the book (1939); forced from France by the Nazi invasion, joining the Free French in London (1940); began travel as a journalist to Allied battlefields around the world (1941); published widely acclaimed writings from the military front (1943); awarded the croix de guerre for her wartime service to France (1944); was co-publisher of Paris-Presse (1945–49); made seven lecture tours to the U.S. (1939–49); served as special adviser to the secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (1952–54); posted in Beirut, Caracas, and other cities with her husband. Publications: Madame Curie (Doubleday, 1939); Journey Among Warriors (Doubleday, 1943).
Near the small Russian village of Mozhaisk, the temperature was 47° below zero as a car crept across the snowswept landscape amid gunfire and bursting shells. When it came to a stop, Éve Curie, the first Western reporter to reach the battlefield, emerged and carefully picked her way forward to avoid land mines, in order to inspect German tanks standing still in their tracks. The corpses of hundreds and hundreds of Germans, their uniforms stiff with frozen blood, littered the landscape, mingling with dead horses and shattered weapons. Careful not to touch bodies that might be booby-trapped, she noted that the soldiers' thin uniforms were no protection against the bitter Russian winter. Back in the car, she
moved on past burned-out villages and listened to Russian peasants tell about the 200 members of their village who had been rounded up by the soldiers and then dynamited inside the church. All around lay death, horror, and destruction; yet this was the scene of a great victory. For here at the village of Mozhaisk, the Soviet troops had stopped Hitler's armies in what would prove to be the turning point of World War II. When Éve Curie relayed news of the battle to the outside world, she was telling the Allies that Hitler's doom was ultimately sealed.
The upbringing of Éve Curie would hardly seem to have prepared her for this job. She had grown up surrounded by the insulated world of scientific research, the daughter of the famous scientists Pierre and Marie Curie . One year before Éve's birth, the Curies became world famous when they were awarded the Nobel Prize for their discovery of the radioactive element, radium. Born on December 6, 1904, Éve never really knew her father, who died in a traffic accident on April 19, 1906. Marie Curie had grown up in Poland in an academic family of slender means, and she kept her household uncomplicated so that maintenance would not rob her of time for her scientific research. Éve and her older sister, Irène (Joliot-Curie) , were brought up largely by their paternal grandfather, Dr. Eugène Curie, and a succession of governesses. Since the governesses were usually from Poland, the girls were fluent in French, Polish, and English and also excelled in science and mathematics. Because their mother believed women should be physically fit, they got daily exercise, especially in performing gymnastics, and both brought home prizes for their gymnastic achievements.
As a child, Éve did not know her mother well. "My mother was terribly occupied by her work and her lectures," wrote Éve; "my father had just died, and she had to carry a crushing load. It was not until my adolescence, and towards the end of her life that an intimacy grew up between us which enabled me to understand the grandeur, and the simplicity, of her character." Éve was very different from the Curies, whose lives were dominated by academic pursuits. Irène, seven years older than Éve, was shy, scholarly, and very much like her parents. Marie Curie and Irène never troubled about their appearance or surroundings; Éve, on the other hand, was born with a sense of style. She loved fashionable clothes and tasteful surroundings, and enjoyed discussing literature and the events of the day. But on holidays the three bicycled, swam and hiked together, and the mother encouraged a spirit of intellectual and physical independence in her younger daughter that allowed Éve to pursue her own interests with self-confidence.
She would not be the daughter of Marie [Curie] if she did not have an open and compassionate heart.
—Henry C. Wolfe
After attaining her degree at the Collège Sevigné, Éve Curie performed in France and Belgium as a concert pianist, then turned to writing as a music, theater, and movie critic for various French newspapers and periodicals. Once she earned her own income, she began to enjoy late nights out in Paris. In contrast to her mother and sister, who hated being in the public eye, Éve enjoyed the parties, banquets, and travel associated with fame, and was sometimes cast as Marie Curie's representative in public. Éve also took increasing care of her mother as Marie Curie's health began to be eroded by her years of exposure to radiation. Irène, now a physicist, took over her mother's work at the Radium Institute and was appointed director in 1932. Meanwhile, Éve stayed at her mother's side as she became progressively weaker. She was with her mother when she died on July 4, 1934.
Several publishers encouraged Éve to write her mother's biography, but she was not sure she was capable of the task. When she approached André Maurois for advice, he encouraged her to get on with the job. The manuscript was completed in two years. Extremely well written, the book became a classic of its kind. Documenting the difficulties of a young Polish woman determined to pursue a career in science, it describes the mutual love and respect Marie shared with Pierre Curie, as well as the poverty, interminable work, and fatigue they endured in their quest for the elusive radioactive element, radium. Madame Curie reads like a novel but is also scientifically meticulous. It won the National Book Award for nonfiction in the United States in 1937 and became a worldwide bestseller.
Two years after Irène and her husband were awarded a Nobel Prize in chemistry, Éve had established outstanding credentials in a very different field. Between 1939 and 1949, she made seven U.S. lecture tours. Easily mistaken for a model, she was pursued by journalists and appeared on the cover of Independent Woman and in magazines like Vogue. In 1939, her biography was awarded the Clement Cleveland Medal and the Polonia Restituta medal, and she was made a Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur.
In 1939, however, war clouds loomed over Europe. After the German invasion of Poland in September, Éve wrote many articles begging the nations of Europe to come to the aid of her mother's homeland. She was appointed director of women's activities for the Ministry of Information to rally French women in defense of their country, but crisis followed crisis, and, in May 1940, Germany invaded France. While Irène Joliot-Curie was considered a scientific asset to the German Reich and initially offered semi-official protection that was later withdrawn, Éve was regarded as a threat to the Nazis and fled to Spain in fear for her life. Boarding a crowded ship for England, she was forced to sleep in a chair on deck and watch as German planes dive bombed the ship. On her arrival in Britain, she learned that she had been deprived of her French citizenship by the German puppet Vichy government controlling France, and her biography of her mother was on the list of books to be burned.
From fashionable figure to stateless refugee, Éve Curie embarked after a few months on a 40,000-mile journey as a combat reporter covering the action of Allied troops. In November 1941, she boarded a transatlantic clipper in New York for the first leg of the trip that eventually carried her from Brazil to Nigeria, Cairo and the Libyan front, then Alexandria, Beirut, Damascus, Teheran, Kuibyshev, Moscow, Mozhaisk and back to Iran, then to Mandalay and Rangoon, up to Chunking and Chentu in China, and back to India, with stops in Calcutta and New Delhi. Her travels encompassed steamy jungles and subarctic battlefields, and the conditions were often appalling. Suffering malaria in Cairo and frostbite in Russia, she kept sending out her firsthand reports, and while it was true that her mother's name often allowed her access to the famous, there were also times she was the only one on the scene because she went where few dared to venture. Whether interviewing Chiang Kai-shek, Charles de Gaulle, Mohandas Gandhi, or German prisoners of war, she was a master of the art of storytelling, and exacting in all details. In 1943, her journalistic accounts were compiled in a book, Journey Among Warriors, gaining her even wider recognition. One critic wrote, "It is one of those rare reports on the war that keep you riveted to the sentence you are reading, fearful that you may miss a word, while at the same time straining to get on to the fascinating chapters that must lie ahead."
Returning eventually to Britain, Curie took up what she described as "the banal, unheroic, unglorious, unthrilling work which is the part of women in wars." Donning the khaki uniform of a private, she joined General Charles de Gaulle's Voluntaires Françaises (Fighting French Women's Corps), following a path similar to that of her mother, who drove an ambulance in World War I. In Éve's job there were no barracks at first, so she slept on a mattress on the floor of an empty house, which she and the other women transformed bit by bit into a headquarters.
In 1944, Curie was awarded France's medal, the croix de guerre, for her wartime service to her country. After the liberation, she returned to Paris and became co-publisher of the Paris-Presse from 1945 to 1949, while continuing to lecture worldwide. From 1952 to 1954, she was special adviser to the secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. At age 50, she married Henry Labouisse, a widower and native of New Orleans, who was an official of the U.S. State Department and the United Nations. The couple moved to Beirut, where Henry directed the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, a job complicated by negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Labouisse was highly regarded for his diplomacy, and the couple later moved to Venezuela, where he was chief of the Economic Survey and Development, before heading President John Kennedy's task force on foreign aid. In 1979, he oversaw UNICEF's relief efforts in Cambodia. Happily married, Curie enjoyed her life out of the limelight and the stepdaughter and grandson she had gained. "The only thing that matters to me is for us to live well—and together," she said. From time to time, she would reappear publicly, featured in a magazine as elegant and ever wise.
After the death of her husband in 1987, Curie continued to live in New York, as America had become her adopted country. Many children of famous parents flounder, but Éve Curie had become all her mother could have desired. If anything, her mother's shadow seemed an inspiration to her daughter.
Curie, Éve, Phillip Barrès, and Raoul de Roussy De Sales, eds. Journey Among Warriors. NY: Doubleday, 1943.
——. Madame Curie. NY: Doubleday, 1939.
——. They Speak for a Nation: Letters from France. NY: Doubleday, 1941.
Curie, Marie. Pierre Curie. NY: Macmillan, 1923.
Duffield, Marcus. "The Same World Only Different," in Commonweal. June 4, 1943, p. 173.
"Eve Curie Now," in Vogue. Vol. 138. August 15, 1961, pp. 92–93.
"Eve Curie Punished for Opposing Vichy," in The New York Times. May 4, 1941, p. 32.
Fadiman, Clifton. "Mlle. Curie Sees the World," in The New Yorker. May 8, 1943, pp. 81–82.
Giroud, Françoise. Marie Curie: A Life. NY: Holmes and Meier, 1986.
"In Exile," in The New York Times. June 23, 1940, sec. IV, p. 2.
Maurois, André. "Mademoiselle Eve Curie," in Vogue. Vol. 91. April 15, 1938, pp. 74–77, 172.
Pace, Eric. "Henry R. Labouisse Dies; Former Chief of Unicef," in The New York Times. March 27, 1987, sec. IV, p. 18.
"This Month's Cover—A Curie Carries On," in Independent Woman. Vol. 18, no. 5. May 1939.
Wolfe, Henry C. "The Compassionate Voyager," in Saturday Review of Literature. Vol 26, no. 19. May 8, 1943, p. 7.
Karin Haag , freelance writer, Athens, Georgia