Mileva Marić, the little known first wife of Einstein who claimed credit for the theory of Relativity

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While no part of the work of Einstein has been attributed to Mileva, the correspondence they exchanged, and the numerous testimonials submitted by acquaintances of the couple provide substantial evidence on the collaboration that remained from the moment they met to their separation.

Mileva Marić, la desconocida esposa de Einstein a la que le quitaron el mérito de la teoría de la Relatividad

Mileva Marić was born 1875 in Titel, Serbia. In 1892, her father, Miloš Marić, obtained the authorization of the Minister of Education so that she could attend physics classes reserved only for boys. She was a shy woman, introverted, but with an intelligence far above average, based on her analytical capacity to pose and solve complex mathematical problems.

She continued her basic studies at the Royal College of Zagreb, where she developed a taste for physics and chemistry, which served to introduce the examination and be approved at the Polytechnic Institute of Zurich, a huge accomplishment within a male-oriented society that revile the role of women in science, the arts or any area of thought.

Among the eleven students with whom she shared a class, was Einstein, a young, restless and creative genius he soon found in Mileva something more than a friend with whom to discuss ideas at any level and share their points of view.

Mileva Marić, la desconocida esposa de Einstein a la que le quitaron el mérito de la teoría de la Relatividad

When they finished their classes in 1900, Mileva and Albert got similar grades (up 4.7 and 4.6, respectively), except applied physics, where he obtained the maximum score of 5, while she, only a 1.

The family of Albert objected strongly to their relationship. His mother was inflexible. “When she is 30 years, will be an old witch.” Mileva was not Jewish nor German. She simply was too intellectual for the mother of Einstein, not to mention the prejudices which were prevalent at that time against foreigners. In addition, the father of Albert insisted that he find work before getting married.

The 13 of December 1900, he presented the first paper on capillarity signed only with the name of Albert. Both, however, refer to this article in letters, as their common article.

Mileva Marić, la desconocida esposa de Einstein a la que le quitaron el mérito de la teoría de la Relatividad

Mileva wrote to one of her best friends, Helene Savić, December 20, 1900: “We will send you a private copy to Boltzmann to see what he thinks. I hope that you respond to us”. In the same way, Albert wrote to Mileva on April 4, 1901, talking about his friend Michele Besso: “He visited his uncle in my name, professor Jung, one of the most influential physicists in Italy and gave a copy of our article“.

The decision to publish only under the name of Albert appears to have been a decision taken jointly. Radmila Milentijević, a former professor of history at the City College of New York, published in 2015, the most in-depth bio of Mileva that exists to date. It suggests that Mileva probably wanted to help Albert to make a name for himself so that he could find a job and so he could marry her.

On the other hand, Dord Krstić, a former professor of physics at the University of Ljubljana, spent 50 years researching the life of Mileva. In his book suggests that, given the prejudice that existed against women at that time, a publication jointly signed with a woman might have had less impact.

Mileva Marić, la desconocida esposa de Einstein a la que le quitaron el mérito de la teoría de la Relatividad

Despite the fact that we’ll never know, no one was more clear that they  collaborated in the formulation of the theory of special relativity than Albert Einstein himself when he wrote to Mileva on March 27, 1901: “How happy and proud I will be when the two of us together bring our work on relative motion to a victorious.” conclusion

Shortly after, the couple’s fate would change completely. Mileva became pregnant by accident. Still unemployed, Albert refused to marry her and did not want the baby.

Following the suspension of their second and last attempt for an oral exam in July 1901, Mileva was forced to abandon their studies. Then he returned to Serbia but not before traveling briefly to Zurich to try to persuade Albert to marry her. Months later she gave birth to a girl named Liserl in January of 1902, whom, it is presumed that she gave up for adoption.

Mileva Marić, la desconocida esposa de Einstein a la que le quitaron el mérito de la teoría de la Relatividad

No baby, Albert, and Mileva would end up getting married on the 6th of January 1903. Albert worked 8 hours a day, 6 days a week, in a Patent office in Bern while Mileva took over the household chores.

At night, the two worked together until well into the early hours. Both mentioned this to their friends, he to Hans Wohlwend, and she to Helene Savić. On may 14, 1904, their child named, Hans-Albert was born.

Despite the circumstances in which he lived, in 1905 it was known as the “miracle year” for Albert. During the same published five articles, one on the photoelectric effect (which led to the Nobel Prize in 1921), two on the Brownian motion, one about special relativity and the famous E = mc2.

He also participated in 21 scientific articles and presented his thesis on the dimensions of molecules. Much later, Albert told R. S. Shankland that the relativity had been his life for seven years, and the photoelectric effect, for five.

Mileva Marić, la desconocida esposa de Einstein a la que le quitaron el mérito de la teoría de la Relatividad

Peter Michelmore, one of his biographers, wrote that after having spent five weeks completing the article which contained the foundations of special relativity, Albert “went to bed for two weeks. Mileva reviewed the article again and again and then sent by e-mail.”

Desanka Trbuhović-Gjurić, who published the first biography of Mileva in Serbian in 1969, she wrote how during a meeting of intellectuals organized by the brother of Mileva, Albert would have declared: “I Need my wife. She solves all my mathematical problems“.

In 1908 the couple built with Conrad Habicht a voltmeter, ultrasensitive. Trbuhović-Gjurić attributed to this experimental work to Mileva and Conrad, and wrote: “When both were satisfied, they ceased to Albert the task of describing the apparatus, as he was an expert in patents.”

The device was registered under the patent of Einstein-Habicht. When Habicht questioned the decision of Mileva not to include her name, she replied: “Why? The two are one and the same entity“.

Mileva Marić, la desconocida esposa de Einstein a la que le quitaron el mérito de la teoría de la Relatividad

Their second son, Eduard, was born on the 28th of July 1910. But in 1912, Albert began an affair with his cousin, Elsa Löwenthal, while visiting his family, who had moved to Berlin.

This caused the collapse of his marriage. Mileva returned to Zurich with their two sons on July 29, 1914. In 1919, he agreed to a divorce, with a clause stating that if Albert received the Nobel Prize, she would get the money. When this was received, she purchased two small apartment buildings and survived on that income basis.

Their son Eduard developed schizophrenia and eventually had to be hospitalized. Due to medical expenses, Mileva was forced to deal with financial problems all her life and finally lost both buildings. She was barely able to survive by giving private lessons, and thanks to the alimony that Albert sent from time to time.

Mileva Marić, la desconocida esposa de Einstein a la que le quitaron el mérito de la teoría de la Relatividad

In 1925, Albert wrote in his will that the money of the Nobel Prize was the inheritance of his children. Mileva objected strongly, declaring that the money was hers. In this situation, the woman threatened Albert to disclose the contributions she had made to their work.

Radmila Milentijević makes reference to a letter that Albert sent on the 24th of October 1925 to Mileva. “You made me laugh when I reflect on what you said. Have you ever considered, even for a second, that someone would care? When someone is completely insignificant, there’s nothing you can do, just be modest and quiet. This is what I advise you to do.”

According to Krstić, Mileva spoke of her contributions with her mother and sister. She also wrote to their sponsors explaining how she had always collaborated with Albert, and how this had ruined her life. Her son, Hans-Albert, described the collaborations his parents made and how he remembered having seen them work at the same table every night”.

Mileva Marić, la desconocida esposa de Einstein a la que le quitaron el mérito de la teoría de la Relatividad

The first wife of Hans-Albert, Frieda, tried to publish the letters that Mileva and Albert had sent their children, but was stopped by Helen Dukas and Otto Nathan, in an attempt to preserve “the myth of Einstein“.

In July 1947, Albert wrote to Dr. Karl Zürcher, the lawyer who took his divorce: “When Mileva is no longer here, I can die in peace“.

His letters and the numerous testimonies show that Mileva Marić and Albert Einstein collaborated closely since they met in school until 1914. Their union was based on love and mutual respect, which allowed them to produce a work so rare.

Mileva was the first person to recognize his talent. Without it, he never would have had success. She had abandoned their own aspirations, happy to work with him and contribute to his success, feeling that they were a single entity.

Why Mileva stood in silence? To be reserved and sober, she did not seek honors, nor public attention. And as tends to happen with close partnerships, the individual contributions are almost impossible to unravel.

Did you even know that the life of this woman was so interesting?

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