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Marie Curie And Anna Ladd, Two Marvelous Women Helping The Victims Of World War I

World War I, such an impactful event in mankind's molding. It was also called the Great War because it would be the war to end all wars. The war started from countries growing restless, amassing armies, forming alliances, and increasing in nationalistic elements. Some of these countries were trying to get the war started, but the chance only appeared in 1914. On 28 June 1914, the archduke of Austria Franz Ferdinand was assassinated and his death was used as an excuse to declare war. Two fronts formed, with one being the Central Powers: Germany, Austro-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire as the leaders, while on the other side the Allied Forces were composed of France, Britain, and Russia. The U.S.A joined the Allied Forces much later, in April of 1917. The war ended on 11 November 1918, when Germany resigned after their emperor abdicated the throne. But that was just the beginning of so many issues of the individuals, who served as soldiers on both sides. It is estimated that over 8,5 million soldiers perished, either from wounds received on the battlefield or from diseases that came upon them. Their wounds were inflicted by artillery shrapnel, small arms, poison gas, and bayonets strapped to rifles. Indeed the war finished but the beginning of the reintegration of many soldiers was just starting. Amid all this chaos, two different women rose and tried to make sense and make amends to these poor men, that fought in horrible conditions and saw their friends lose their lives. These two marvelous women were Marie Curie and Anna Ladd.

Marie Curie was a Polish scientist born in 1867. She is better known for her Nobel Prizes and especially for her work on the element of radium. In 1903, Marie and her husband won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their research in radioactivity. They studied radioactive substances and their properties.

Pierre, her husband took the stand and explained their work, as the Institute was sexist and they did not accept women to be allowed as lecturers. A significant discovery of theirs was that the uranium ore contained much more radioactivity than could be explained by just the presence of uranium itself. Marie had the idea that the emission of rays was an atomic property of the element of uranium. This hypothesis stirred the scientists at the time, for it was believed that the atom was the smallest particle, and being so it could not be divided. Although, the discovery of electrons around this time, started raising some doubt on this belief. Yet, there was still time to fully grasp the complex inner structure or the energy stored inside the atoms. Together, Marie and Pierre were armed with their idea and started searching the source of radioactivity in uranium. Their results were the discovery of radium and polonium, two highly radioactive elements. But, all the closeness to these materials caused health issues. Marie went through a miscarriage in 1903 and Pierre experienced an agonizing period of sickness linked directly to radioactivity, as Marie's miscarriage was. Pierre's suffering ended in 1906 when a car hitting him head-on, took his life. Marie continued her work, and in 1911, she received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, for isolating radium and studying its properties. Three years later, she helped in founding the Radium Institute in Paris and became its first director.

You would think that after being awarded two Nobel Prizes and having two new elements being placed in the Periodic Table, Marie would finally rest. But World War I just broke out and Marie thought of helping soldiers. As she was saddened to hear about the trauma caused by the war and she wanted to help out however she could. In times of need, people of this caliber truly show their strength. She created field x-rays and trained female attendants to aid the soldiers on the battlefield (Figure 1). Marie obtained vans to convert them into mobile x-ray units and worked with x-ray manufacturers to get suitable machines. From working with electrical manufacturers, she got portable electric generators. Combining these materials, Marie produced effective field units.

She invested herself head-on. Marie directed the work in the field. Also, constant improvements to the equipment and procedures, as well as training people on how to use them, were provided by none other than Marie herself. It is estimated that around twenty mobile radiological units and nearly two hundred permanent posts were built by Marie. In the timespan between 1917 and 1918, all these facilities made more than 1 million x-rays. Having x-rays on the battlefield, helped doctors in saving more lives. They could locate bullets and shrapnels, also they could identify the source of the wounds faster. Her work is exemplary, both in the field of Chemistry and Physics, as well as reducing the number of casualties produced by the horrendous war.

The other important female figure was Anna Coleman Ladd, who was born on 15 July 1878. She was an American sculptor from Pennsylvania. She got her education in the Boston Museum School under the tutelage of Bela Pratt. The latter was an important figure of the school. He had many works done, with a touch of finesse in the air around them. One of Anna's pieces was placed in Boston's Public Garden. Anna crafted with her careful hands, Triton Babies, a fountain and sculpture, depicting a small boy and girl. The whole statue is made from bronze and rests on a granite base. She created more works with mythological characters and these pieces are still being found to this day and sold in auctions.

Interestingly, she tried her hands at writing books too. Her efforts produced two books, one regarding medieval romance and the other was about Boston's society at the time.

Anna met Francis Wood, who was a British sculptor, who could not enlist for the war, so he helped in another way. He volunteered in hospitals, where he saw firsthand the injuries caused to soldiers. This war, with modern guns and shells, had left behind some gruesome sights. Witnessing all that, Francis decided to open a special department regarding facial masks for injured soldiers. Each mask required a lot of work and time. They had to take a plaster of the victim's face, but first, all the injuries should be healed and the surgeries had to be finished. Together they improved the technique required to create the masks. She received permission to go to France with the American Red Cross.

She would welcome soldiers in her studio and had a cast made from their faces. Their features would also be sculpted with clay, to be more visible. This form would then be used to produce the prosthetic mask made from copper. The metal was painted with a kind of varnish that resembled the person's skin tone. Anna also used real hair for the eyelashes, eyebrows, and mustache. Then the mask would be attached through strings or sometimes even eyeglasses. Many soldiers were grateful for her help, as we can see in the pictures below (Figure 2, Figure 3). Then, she founded a special studio for portrait-masks, to provide cosmetic masks for men who had been disfigured during World War I. For her efforts, she was awarded the Légion d'Honneur Croix de Chevalier. Her work helped in the founding of Anaplastology, which is the art of restoring malformed anatomy through artificial means. Today, this particular science helps many people, including civilians and even soldiers from the Iraq War.

Dr. Joseph Rosen, a plastic surgeon who has worked with soldiers injured in Iraq states:

"When I looked at his 25 cases of facial injuries from World War II and I look at the cases today, the cases today are of an order of magnitude substantially worse. Between World War I and World War II, the change wasn't that much, but in the change to this present war with the blast injuries, we shifted from high-energy transfer to massive-energy transfer."

Another clinical anaplastologist, Erin Donaldson for Living Skin, works for a company specializing in lifelike prostheses. Most of her clients are civilians who have suffered burns, or facial cancer, or were born with congenital effects. She says:

"Generally, they choose facial prostheses not so much as a mask, but because they want to wear glasses, or sunglasses, and they need a nose."

Immovable forces of nature that is the term to describe these two great women. Although, riddled by radiation Marie helped lessen drastically the numbers of soldiers killed in action with the invention of field x-rays. Marie is thought to have been a Valkyrie, disguised as a human being. As she just would not allow soldiers to meet their untimely end, caused by this brutal war. Her demise in 1934, at the age of 67 was from leukemia, most likely caused by her exposure to radiation. Additionally, Anna Coleman Ladd was a miracle worker for many soldiers. They had struggled with everything till they met her. Their problems stemmed from their physical appearance, their disfigurement caused by the war. It was not their fault, to begin with, but the issue of their visage remained. It kept them from their families, relatives, or even friends. Some of them could not even dare to see themselves in the mirror. The First World War, otherwise named the Great War, because it would be the war to end all wars, did not help its participants. It left them feeling in pieces, broken and alone. Sources of light through the dark helped them. These lights were named Marie and Anna. They paved the way for future similar problems and more importantly one helped soldiers survive their injuries during the war, while the other helped the soldiers regain their own sense of identity after the fighting had long ceased. So we thank these extraordinary women for their hard work, and we hope other individuals will follow in their footsteps.

Source of the featured image:

  • Disfigured WWI Veteran’s Mask Gets Finishing Touches. (1918). [Photograph].

  • Maria Skłodowska-Curie visiting the hospital, by the X-ray machine. (1915). [Photograph].,iId,1032753,iAId,73123


  • Bela Lyon Pratt | Biography. (2016, March 16). Web Archive.

  • A Finding Aid to the Anna Coleman Ladd papers, 1881–1950 | Digitized Collection | Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. (2021, May 7). Smithsonian Institution.

  • HTML Version of ProclaimHer. (2021, January 21). Web Archive.

  • Smithsonian Institution. (2020, June 30). Women in World War I. National Museum of American History.

  • Editors. (2021, April 8). World War I. HISTORY.

  • Royde-Smith, J. G. R.-S. (2000, January 12). Casualties of World War I. Facing History and Ourselves.

  • Davis, A. D. (2016, February 1). IEEESpectrum. IEEE Spectrum: Technology, Engineering, and Science News.

  • ETHW. (2015, September 15). Field X-Rays - Engineering and Technology History Wiki. Http://Ethw.Org/.

  • ETHW. (2016, February 4). Marie Curie - Engineering and Technology History Wiki. Http://Ethw.Org/.

  • Alexander, C. (2007, February 1). Rivaling Nature. Smithsonian Magazine.


  • Valkyrie - any of a group of maidens, who serve Odin and were sent by him to the battlefield to choose the slain who were worthy of a place in Valhalla.


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Albi Haxhiu

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