MILEVA MARIC, the Other Einstein

Alana Cash dropped me an email to say she enjoyed Doctor January (even though she wasn’t expecting to!). We got talking about women working in science and the reasons they often leave. It turned out that Alana knows a lot about the unsung heroines of science. She very kindly agreed to write  guest post on the subject. 

In researching the lives of Mileva Maric and her husband, Albert Einstein, for a documentary, I became very disappointed as I found that the kindly humanitarian Albert Einstein, the Albert Einstein of scientific brilliance-beyond-all-compare did not exist.  Einstein’s behavior in many ways was markedly self-interested and his character traits suppressed from the public in order to maintain a portrait of him that is skewed – most notably his treatment of Maric and their children as well as the fact that he consistently needed collaboration on his papers.

Mileva Maric, a Serbian, attended ETH in Zurich with Einstein.  With a history of brilliant accomplishments, meeting Einstein was to Maric’s detriment and her grades slipped.  She became pregnant shortly after her final year at ETH, and Einstein refused to marry her with the excuse that he didn’t have a job.  Einstein’s arrogance had alienated him from his professors, none of whom would give him a recommendation.  He had the exhibited the same arrogant behavior in high school and was expelled [he got a note from a doctor declaring Einstein’s first nervous breakdown and left school before the expulsion could be formalized].

Maric and Einstein

Maric’s father offered him employment, but Einstein avowed he couldn’t master the Serbian language.  Einstein also declared that he didn’t have his parents’ permission to marry.  He was 21 and of age to marry without permission.  Maric, of course, had no options for employment because of the child and faced a lifetime of being supported by her family.

They continued to correspond and some of Einstein’s letters to Maric were published ironically as The Love Letters edited by Jürgen Renn.  Einstein wrote how glad he would be when they were together again to work on “our theories” and more on their scientific collaborations.

When Maric and Einstein did finally marry in Bern, Switzerland in January 1903 [six months after he got his patent office job], their daughter was two years old and left behind in Serbia with Maric’s parents to prevent scandal for the newlyweds.  Eventually, the child was sent to live with distant relatives.  Einstein never attempted to meet her.  Maric and Einstein had two children after the marriage.  Hans Albert born in 1904 and Eduard born in 1910.

During the period 1900-1902, when Einstein was basically unemployed, his publishing career amounted to two flawed scientific papers.  With his marriage to Maric, his writings became more accurate, more important, and more frequent.  Two years after the marriage, in 1905, Annalen der Physik published the four papers that would make Einstein an icon.  The last important paper Einstein published was in 1913, the same year he separated from Maric.  After that, his papers were explanations of relativity.  He also put his name on other people’s papers.

After publication of the 1905 papers, hailed as a genius, Einstein began to get job offers.  Against Maric’s wishes, he accepted employment at the German University in Prague [1911] and the family moved there.  Einstein visited Berlin during that time and began an affair with his first cousin Elsa [and possibly with her daughter as well].  A year later, the Einstein/Maric family moved to Zurich where he taught at ETH and remained in touch with Elsa and her daughter.

This was the period of development of the paper on the general theory of relativity, and Maric argued with Einstein over the fact that he was collaborating with Marcel Grossman.  Maric was striving to be involved in the work, but the marriage was deteriorating rapidly. [When married to Elsa, Einstein would declare that he was glad Elsa knew nothing about science because, “my first wife did.”]

When Einstein was offered a position at Berlin University, he accepted.  Again the family moved, but not for long.  Just before WWI broke out, Einstein demoralized Maric with a note demanding that she not talk to him at home, no longer expect to have sexual relations with him, he barred her from involvement in his work – she was to do his laundry and make his meals.  Basically Maric was to be his domestic servant.  [Einstein gave that same note to Elsa after they married]. Maric left Einstein in Berlin and returned to Zurich.  Einstein had a breakdown.

During the WWI, Einstein made very little effort to support Maric and his children with the excuse that the mail was disrupted.  Maric relied on her family to send money from Serbia and the mail system seemed to work for them.  At the end of the war when Einstein sought a divorce, Maric had a heart attack and complete physical breakdown.  She had given up her daughter for a man who was now going to marry his cousin.

As part of the divorce settlement, Einstein agreed to give Maric all monies he received from the Nobel Prize which he expected to win because he had been nominated five times by that point.  One has to ask why would Maric receive all of the Nobel Prize money?  Why not simply a portion?  Why any at all?  This is a man who didn’t support his children financially.  Why would that man give his loathed ex-wife all the money for work that was supposedly completely his own?  And why are the Einstein-Maric divorce papers sealed?

When Maric & Einstein’s youngest son, Eduard, began having schizophrenic episodes in 1930, Einstein blamed the unstable nature of the Maric family.  He pointed the finger at Maric’s breakdown during the time of their divorce, neglecting to acknowledge his own several nervous breakdowns.  He pointed to Maric’s sister, Zosia, as further evidence of the Maric family instability.  Zosia was an alcoholic, but Einstein knew that she had been gang-raped as a teenager by Croatian soldiers.

Einstein left Europe for Princeton in 1933 and never saw Eduard again.  They did correspond, and during one of his stays at Burgholzli Clinic, Eduard sent his father a poem he had written.  Einstein critiqued the poem and returned it to his Eduard.

Maric paid for Eduard’s treatment at Burgholzli Clinic.  She had bought two houses with the Nobel Prize money, one to live in and one to rent.  Eventually, she sold the rental house to help with the medical expenses.  After electro-shock treatment Eduard was unable to recover.  Ultimately, Mileva needed to sell her own home in order to survive financially.  She made an agreement for Einstein to buy her house in Zurich and allow her to live in it for the rest of her life [she was 73].  Einstein bought the house, then immediately served Maric with an eviction notice.  She died of a stroke shortly thereafter.

Albert Einstein’s papers were sealed for 25 years after his death in 1955, while his intellectual and saintly reputation was not only protected, but expanded and solidified so that he is quoted by everyone from self-help gurus to plumbers.  Now that a portion of his papers have been released and his life has been scrutinized, his sainthood has been deeply tarnished and it is clear that Mileva Maric made unrecognized contributions to the theories that made her husband famous.

There are those who would argue against Maric’s involvement, wanting to represent that Einstein arrived in a scientific vacuum to publish the equation e=mc2. Einstein donated his brain to science because he was sure it was ordinary, but given that Einstein’s IQ has been estimated anywhere from 175 to 220, one has to ask why Einstein never took the Binet-Simon IQ test developed in 1905 to prove it?  Or maybe he did and the results were suppressed because the results weren’t as stellar as expected.  And why no more important papers after separating from Maric?

When a reporter once asked him the speed of sound, Einstein couldn’t give the answer, claiming he didn’t like to clutter up his mind with facts he could look up in a book.  In France, Paul Langevin came up with the algebraic equation e=mc2 at the very same time it was published under Einstein’s name, and since Langevin developed sonar radar, he also knew the speed of sound.

Why didn’t Maric insist on credit for the theories?  First of all, when one considers that she couldn’t even insist on Einstein marrying her when she was pregnant, insisting would have been futile.  But she did insist on the monies from the Nobel Prize and got it.  How that happened is sealed in the divorce papers.  More to the point, considering the turmoil Maric went through just getting into the marriage with Einstein, given her naturally shy nature and the secret of Liserl’s birth, Maric would have avoided the fame that her husband sought.

Thank you for that fascinating article, Alana. I’m off to look up Maric now.

Alana’s book, Saints In The Shadows is available now (and so is mine, obviously). You can find out more about her books and short films on her website  or on IMDB

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