. In 1878 when Manya (Maria Sklodowska) was only 11 years old, she already lost her beloved mother and Zosia, her oldest sister. For Manya the death of mother, the most important person in every child's life, started the episodes of depression which were continuing on and off through her whole life. With the death of her beloved mother, Manya also lost some of her faith. She stopped believing in the benevolence of God, she could not comprehend why God could take away her mother. Read about Maria's childhood
Manya became withdrawn, spent lots of time at home not leaving her room and reading the books. In 1879 Madame Sikorska, the headmistress of Manya's school visited prof Sklodowski (Manya's father) cautioning him that although Manya is as always doing great at school, she is mentally fragile and became very sensitive. She was suggesting that Manya needs the rest from school and maybe a change of the environment. On the contrary, prof. Sklodowski decided to enroll Manya to the Russian gymnasium which offered good education finished with official diploma, but it was a very rigid school. The school policy was to russify any aspect of education and Polish language was not allowed there. Manya graduated as the first in her class with the golden medal at the age in 1883. She was just fifteen but since she was a woman this was the end of her official education in Poland occupied by Russia in that time. She was discriminated as a woman and a Pole. The rest of her career was to become a good wife and mother rather than any pursuit of professional career.
The years of pressure at school and a lack of hope for any future education or career caused another nervous collapse. Manya's father became alarmed with her state and sent her to the countryside where some of her aunts and uncles from extended family lived. Manya remember these times very well, especially a very exciting trip to the Carpathians where she was able not only to breathe with a good mountainous air and dance but also experience a kulig (winter sleigh ride party).
When at the age of sixteen Manya came back to Warsaw she was revitalized and eager to learn. The only opportunity of further education was so called "Floating University". This was the underground academy with over a thousand Polish women enrolled. The meetings, usually in small groups, were held in different places - private houses or meeting halls. Students were reading progressive literature in many languages and were learning Polish history.
Every Saturday evening prof. Sklodowski spent with his children: Joseph, the only son and the oldest child and three daughters (Helena, Bronya and Manya) in so called "pursuit of literature" Prof. Sklodowski recited the poetry or read loud - mainly Polish romantic literature of Mickiewicz, Sienkiewicz and Krasinski. This literature was full of patriotic felings and yearning for the times when Poland was a free country.
Everybody in Sklodowski's household (except Helena who was the second) finished a gymnasium with diploma and a golden medal but only Joseph could continue studies at the university in Warsaw and get the medical degree. Manya and Bronya, her older sister, developed a plan. Since they have to go abroad to study and they did not have enough money, they decided both to work to send at least one of them abroad and then the next one would follow. Only France was taken into account, since France became a main center of immigration for Poles who had to escape their Russian, Prussian or Austrian occupants. France symbolized for years the only really free and righteous country since it was not involved in partitions of Poland.It was also a center of world culture and art in that time.
Bronya and Manya started earning money by tutoring students at their home or in the students' houses around Warsaw. This was not an easy job and it did not pay much. Then Manya decided that she would become a governess in the countryside since only in this way she would be able to save enough money to help her sister to go studying abroad.
Manya went to the teach children of Zorawski's family in their estate Szczuki, in the countryside about 63 miles (100 km) to the north of Warsaw. She was paid 500 rubles per year and set aside a half of these money to help Bronya, her sister to go to France.
Thanks to Manya's sacrifice and to the support from their father, Bronya, who was already over 20 years old was able to go to Paris and start studying medicine at Sorbonne university in Paris.
Read about Maria Sklodowska life in Szczuki, her first romance and journey to France in the article next month.
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