IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

As family legends go...

Arizona Historical Foundation

It's funny, Rachel remarked earlier to the staff about sidebar discoveries she'd made while researching tonight's Arizona material, and I've found a good one as well.

The lady above is Shannon Williams. Her grandfather is the former Arizona governor, Jack Williams, who Rachel mentioned briefly as having been known as One-Eyed Jack because he was missing an eye. In a special Arizona Storytellers series by the Arizona Republic, Ms. Williams tells the story of her grandfather's missing eye. A headache led to a diagnosis of a cancerous tumor that required the removal of the eye. This was 1914, when Jack Williams was only five years old.

The twist in the tale is that removing the eye did not defeat the cancer, but as it happened, a visiting physician to the Los Angeles hospital where he was being treated tried an experimental procedure of applying radium to the tumor, leaving it in the empty eye socket overnight. 

That visiting physician was Marie Curie.

The story is tricky to confirm. Radium treatment was indeed relatively new in 1914. They wouldn't have put it directly in his eye, more likely in a protective capsule tube*, but close enough. 

That time in Marie Curie's life was a little complicated but she did travel to England at the end of 1913, so maybe she took an overseas trip then, into the beginning of 1914. The Radium Institute in Paris was completed in August of 1914, so I'm guessing she would have been home (in Paris) for that, and a few months later she was designing the first mobile X-ray labs for use by military posts for treating war wounded.

Her American Institute of Physics biography has her working in 1915 on the same treatment Williams received:

"She sealed the radon in thin glass tubes about one centimeter long, which were delivered to military and civilian hospitals. There doctors encased the tubes in platinum needles and positioned them directly within patients' bodies, in the exact spot where the radiation would most effectively destroy diseased tissue."

Might she have made a delivery herself to a Los Angeles civilian hospital? I don't find anything that says otherwise, so I'm happy to accept the Williams family story.

Curie definitely came to the U.S. in 1921 (pdf), but I don't find anything that says it was her first visit, only that she was heralded and honored everywhere she went.** 


*I know this is a Wikipedia link, but it's well documented and several of the citations from the early 1900s are fully browsable in Google Books, which is amazing in itself.

** As long as I'm writing about secondary discoveries while doing research, here's what President Warren G. Harding had to say when he presented her with a gold key to unlock a case containing a gift of one gram of radium:

"As a nation whose womanhood has been exalted to fullest participation in citizenship, we are proud to honor in you a woman whose work has earned universal acclaim and attested woman's equality in every intellectual and spiritual activity. We greet you as foremost among scientists in the age of science, as leader among women in the generation which sees woman come tardily into her own."