If you think getting a college education is tough today, try earning a degree in Russian-controlled Poland in the late 19th century. If you were a man, you couldn’t be taught anything at university outside of the state-sanctioned curriculum, which was bad enough, but if you were a woman, you weren’t allowed to attend at all.
That’s where the Flying University, which produced Marie Curie and thousands of other students, came in.
By the middle of the 1860s, Poland had been parceled up between Russian, Prussian, and Austrian powers. One of the first things the country’s new rulers did was set out to limit and control Polish education. Like so many colonizing powers before and since, they knew that the first step in stamping out that pesky nationalism was to take it out of the history books. The Germanization and Russification efforts (depending on what political power controlled the part of Poland where you lived) aimed at higher education made it nearly impossible for the citizenry to take part in a curriculum that wasn’t in some way working to erase Polish culture. Even the teaching of Catholicism among a largely-Catholic population was taboo.