1948 March 19

French Nobel Prize Winner, Mme. Joliot-Curie, Detained at Ellis Island for 24 Hours


Nobel Prize winner Madame Irene Joliot-Curie was detained by U.S. authorities at Ellis Island for 24 hours, and released on this day. Joliot-Curie, who shared the 1935 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with her husband, Frederick for their discovery of artificial radioactivity.

She was clearly detained because of her activity in support of Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee (JAFRC), which had been labeled a subversive organization. The JAFRC raised funds to support Spanish refugees who had fought against the fascist Franco dictatorship in the Spanish Civil War. Mme. Joli0t-Curie met with Albert Einstein upon her release from detention, and was scheduled to leave to Portland, Oregon, the begin a national speaking tour.

Americans volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War as part of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (see December 26, 1936 for the first group’s sailing from New York). The Spanish Civil War was seen by many (correctly) as a prelude to  World War II, with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy supporting the Franco-led rebels. Left-wingers and anti-fascists supported the Republican government. The Soviet Union was the only country to support the Spanish government. The United States refused to do so. Because of the involvement of the Soviet Union and the American Communist Party, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade was attacked as a subversive organization, both during the civil war and in the Cold War. These attacks are what caused the U.. government to detain Mme. Joliot-Curie.

Learn more: Winifred Conkling, Radioactive! How Irene Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science (2015)

And more: Rachel Swaby, Headstrong!: 52 Women Who Changed Science and the World (2015)


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