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About Polish women who changed the world– March as a month of women’s history

Womens History Month

It is broadly known that the celebration of World Women’s Day falls

every year on the 8th of March. Since 1987, the United States has also celebrated Women’s History Month, alegally declared celebration by Congress that honors women’s contributions to history, culture, politics, and science.

Women’s History Month grew out of Women’s History Week celebrated in Sonoma County, California since 1978. Although formally celebrated only in the United States of America, in practice it has a global dimension and enjoys recognition in more than 50 countries, including Poland. [1]

In the USA, inventors, astronauts, politicians, activists or actresses are commemorated. It is worth adding that this applies not only to American women. The history of women from all over the world is celebrated. It commemorates figures who are already gone, but also contemporary ones, such as the famous activist of Afghanorigin, Sonita Alizadeh (it is worth mentioning that in 1996 an entire museum dedicated to the history of women was established in Virginia.

In the transmitted knowledge and history, women’s achievements are often overlooked. For this reason, we decided to present three Polish women who have made their mark on the pages of history thanks to their outstanding achievements.

 Polish airplane pilot – Janina Lewandowska

Reference: Muzeum Lusowo IPN

Janina Antonina Lewandowska was a Polish glider and airplane pilot, a lieutenant pilot of the Polish Army of the Second Republic of Poland and the only female soldier killed in Katyń
as part of the Katyń crime. She was born on 22 of April 1908 in Kharkov. She studied at
the General Zamoyska’s Gymnasium in Poznań, and then at the State Conservatory of Music, where she perfected her piano skills. She planned to become a singer, but these plans were forgotten, probably because of her father’s objection. Later, she became an amateur musician. The woman also contributed to the community, among others in the Union of Veterans (later the Family of Wielkopolska Insurgents).

In the 1930s, her interest in aviation potentially began. Perhaps it was due to the aviation service of her brother Olgierd, or maybe they both got caught up in the fascination with the development of aviation under the influence of sporting achievements of polish aviators, who were certainly heavily propagandised by Liga Obrony Powietrznej i Przeciwgazowej. In the summer of 1937, Dowbor-Muśnicka (later on Lewandowska)  took a basic glider course at the glider field in Rzadków near Chodzieża and obtained the glider pilot category “A” and “B”. She combined her passion for aviation with her work at the post office. In 1939 she was appointed as a member of the Aero Club Audit Committee.

In May 1939 she took part in the second level parachute course organized by the Poznań Voivodship District LOPP. At the end of the course there were jumps carried out from the Bellanca plane, known from the Adamowicz brothers’ flight across the Atlantic. Janina Dowbor-Muśnicka was one of 21 participants in the paratroopers’ show. Some sources say she was the first woman in Europe to perform a parachute jump from a height of 5,000 meters. Perhaps due to the outbreak of war, it was not possible to confirm this information.

On 3 of September 1939 she joined Poznań AirBase No. 3, under the command of Captain Józef Sidor, and together with part of this detachment was imprisioned by the Soviet Union. She tried to conceal her identity by taking her father’s name Marian in the camp documents and changing her year of birth to 1914. With such data, she appeared on the export list
No 0401. On her 32nd birthday, she was murdered in Katyń Forest by NKWD officers.

Janina Lewandowska’s body was discovered during the German exhumation of the Katyń pits in 1943, but this information was not disclosed. In the exhumation document Amtliches Material zum Massenmord von Katyn (Berlin 1943), her remains were recorded at number 600 as “Fliegeroffizier“.By decision of the Minister of National Defence 439/MON of 5 October 2007, Janina Lewandowska was posthumously promoted to the rank of lieutenant. [4]

Maria Skłodowska-Curie

Maria Skłodowska-Curie (Fot. Wikimedia Commons)

Maria Skłodowska-Curie was a Polish physicist and chemist, a two-time Nobel Prize laureate, the discoverer of Polonium and Radium, and the author of the term“radioactivity”. She was born on 7 of November 1867 in Warsaw as the youngest child of Władysław Skłodowski (a teacher of mathematics and physics) and Bronisława de domo Boguska. In 1883 she graduated (with a gold medal) from the 3rd Women’s Gymnasium in Warsaw. She continued her education at the Uniwersytet Latający. She worked as a governess in Kraków and in Szczuki. The funds raised by her in this way were intended to help keep her older sister Bronka in Paris.

Bronisława, who married Kazimierz Dłuski in Paris, invited Maria to the French capital in 1880. A year later, Skłodowska moved to Paris, where she began her studies at the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences at the Sorbonne. After two years she earned a bachelor’s degree in physics and a year later a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. In 1895, she married French physicist Pierre Curie and took a French citizenship.

Maria Skłodowska-Curie’s first research paper concerned the magnetic properties of hardened steel – it met with considerable interest of the French scientific community. Later, together with her husband, she worked on the issue of radioactivity. In their research, the couple used many innovative methods, including the use of a different apparatus than before – an electrometer. The result of this work was a publication on the issue of uranium and thorium radiation. Skłodowska-Curie suggested that the tarblend contained previously unknown radioactive elements. One of them was named Polon after Poland. Together with Gustav Bémont, they discovered another element: Rad.

In 1903 she defended her doctoral thesis entitled “The Study of Radioactive Bodies” and also in the same year she and her husband Peter Curie received the Nobel Prize for research into the phenomenon of radioactivity. Maria Skłodowska-Curie was the first woman to receive the above-mentioned prize, and the first woman to work at a university as a researcher – after her husband’s tragic death in 1906, she took over the chair of physics at the Sorbonne in Paris. On 7 November 1911, she received the second Nobel Prize for her discovery of Polonium and Radium. [3]

So far, Maria Skłodowska-Curie is one of the four people who have been awarded this distinction twice. During World War I, she supported the French army by providing X-ray machines that helped diagnose injured soldiers in field conditions. Throughout her career, Skłodowska-Curie maintained contacts with Poland, primarily in the field of research – she published in Polish journals, hosted Polish scholarship holders, and gave lectures in Poland.

In 1934, she began to feel the effects of the prolonged exposure to ionizing radiation. Maria Skłodowska-Curie has died on 4 of July 1934 as a result of malignant anemia, a disease from the group of autoimmune diseases in which the immune system is directed against the structures of its own body. In 2018, she was named the top 100 most influential women in the world according to BBC History, alongside figures such as Margaret Thatcher and Princess Diana.

Regina Salomea from Rusiecki Pilsztynowa – the first Polish woman to maintain herself as a doctor

www.odb-office.eu, Wikimedia Commons

Regina Pilsztyn was an extraordinary woman – a Polish woman living in the 18th century, who spent part of her life on the lands of the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire, an extraordinarily colourful figure with a great ability to get into many troubles. She is the author of the diary “Proceder podróży i życia mego awantur”, in which, besides describing her own experiences, she included many details about traditions, customs and everyday life in places where she lived, such as Constantinople, St. Petersburg and Vienna. Pilsztynowa was remembered as the first woman in Polish History to officially fully support herself. She practised as a doctor mainly in Istanbul.

According to her own records, she was born in 1718 in Novgorod Province. Although many scholars have gone so far as to attribute her noble ancestry, she was more of a plebeian. The future doctor got married at the age of 14 to a much older Lutheran, Jakub Halpir, and it was he who made the decision to go to Istanbul, where he wanted to pursue a career as a doctor. After some time and improving her German skills, Regina Pilsztynowa also began to delve into the secrets of medicine, using only her husband’s experiences and notes. She soon opened her own small practice, which began to bring her income over time. Its success was due to the fact that women living in harems could not be studied by men. In her diary, she described, among other things, her surgery to remove cataracts from the eyes of a fourteen-year-old washerwoman. However, the successes in her professional life did not translate into her personal life. There were many quarrels between her and her first husband, and he soon died. Regina admitted to using his medical books, as well as a friend of his, an Italian doctor from Malta, who was supposed to teach her how to write prescriptions in Latin.

In the autumn of 1739, she married one of the prisoners of war she had bought from  captivity after the Battle of Banja Luka, whose family refused to pay the ransom. The marriage was also considered unsuccessful by the doctor. In the later years of her life, which were as turbulent as the previous ones, she traveled the world in search of employment, working among others at the court of Empress Anna Ivanova, again in Istanbul, as well as in Kamieniec Podolski, Vienna, Przemyśl and Lviv. What’s interesting a servant named Stephen was ordered by Joseph Fortunat to give her some sort of poison in pasta, after consuming it she was ill for a significant time and lost part of her teeth, hair and nails. Thanks to the discovery of the report of Alexander Nikiforov, the Russian consul in the Crimea, it was possible to determine the future fate of the Polish doctor. Pilsztynova planned to return to the Republic of Poland, but on the way she was stopped and brought by the Crimean Khanto Bakhchisraj, where she acted as a court ophthalmologist. She was a respected specialist there and enjoyed a great freedom. Her further fate, including the date of her death, at the moment, unfortunately, are not known. [2]


  1. „Miesiąc Historii Kobiet: 5 wspaniałych kobiet które trzeba znać”, U.S. Mission Poland, 7th march 2018 r. URL: https://pl.usembassy.gov/pl/kobiety_pl/
  2. „Proceder podróży i życia mego awantur”, Pilsztynowa S.R, red. I oprac. R. pollak, M. Pełczyński, Cracow 1957
  3. „Maria Skłodowska-Curie” , E. Walle, 2019 Bibliothèque nationale de France URL: https://heritage.bnf.fr/france-pologne/pl/maria-sklodowska-curie-art
  4. „Wojenne losy Janiny Lewandowskiej”, Bauer Piotr, „Skrzydlata Polska” 1989, nr 31 form July 30, p.7
Olga Brzezińska
Studentka prawa na Wydziale Prawa i Administracji Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego. Doświadczenie redakcyjne oraz literackie zdobywałam poprzez udział w licznych konkursach literackich oraz polonistycznych, których bywałam również laureatką
Written by:

Olga Brzezińska

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