Mother of the Theory of Relativity
By Meryl Ann Butler
Mileva Maric was born in Hungary on December 19, 1875. The few who know her story, marvel at it.
She was born with a displaced hip that would become a lifelong limp. But she was a gifted child, displaying brilliance in the arts and sciences, and her wealthy parents supported her intellectual growth with an outstanding education. She was admitted to an all-male high school, one of the first girls in her country to be accorded that privilege. Due to her handicap and plain looks, she did not generate interest from the boys, but that allowed her to focus on her studies, and she was awarded top grades in physics as well as mathematics.
Passionate about physics, she planned a career in a field that few women had ever even considered, enrolling in a prestigious polytechnic school, as the only woman enrolled at the time, and the 5th woman in the school’s history.
There she shone like a bright star, and a student several years her junior idolized her. Mileva seemed to him to be a kind of goddess of physics, and he worshipped the ground she stood on. She saw in him an extraordinary potential, and nurtured it.
The two became inseparable, studying the works of renowned physicists and philosophers as their relationship deepened. Mileva was soaring with the unbridled adulation of her young admirer. He was intoxicated with his muse. They were constant companions, colleagues, and confidantes. In affectionate letters during their times apart, they endearingly addressed each other as “Johnny” and “Dollie”, and wrote of science, philosophy and love.
When Dollie was accepted at the University of Zurich as a Ph.D candidate, Johnny followed her…or tried to. His grades were insufficient to get him into the doctoral program, but he was accepted to study there. Then Dollie received a coveted position as an assistant to a well-known and respected professor. Johnny was not much for attending lectures, but he wanted desperately to work in the lab with this scientist. Dollie pleaded, but was unable to convince the professor to accept the rather ordinary student as an assistant.
Then an unexpected pregnancy changed the course of the young couple’s lives. Johnny was unable to support them. Pregnant, unmarried and stressed, Dollie uncharacteristically failed her final exams. She left her studies and they struggled to find employment. Dollie’s parents thought her boyfriend was a ne’er-do-well, unable to support himself, let alone a wife and child. Johnny’s parents were appalled that Dollie was handicapped, was not Jewish, and most importantly, was far too intellectual for a woman. Johnny conveniently disappeared and Dollie went home to her parents.
He never came to see his baby. Distraught, disgraced and depressed, the 27-year old unwed mother reluctantly gave her daughter up for adoption.
With the child out of the picture, Johnny ventured back, and they reconciled. A friend helped him procure a simple job as a clerk, and they married in 1903, despite their families’ protests. Their newlywed times were idyllic. In their evenings together, they nestled by the fire, and fueled with the creativity of reignited love they explored the intellectual ecstasies of their innovative ideas, the very activities that had brought them together in the beginning.
In 1905, a paper with the theories they had developed, and with one name – Dollie’s – on it, was completed. But by the time the paper was published, her name was replaced by her husband’s. Maybe she agreed to it, surmising rightly for that day and age, that something so radical, if authored by a woman, would have been instantly dismissed.
As time passed, Dollie became a busy mother of two boys, making up as best as she could for the neglect they received from their father. The practicalities of daily life chipped away the pedestal that her husband had placed her on. And it was no secret that Johnny was straying from his family, spending time with other women, eventually falling madly in love with his cousin, and later with her eldest daughter.
One evening when Johnny arrived at a party alone, their friends, concerned, asked about Dollie. Not satisfied with Johnny’s evasive answer, they checked on her. They found Dollie at home crying, her face bruised and swollen, but refusing to explain what had happened. Shortly after, Johnny relocated his family to another country so that he could be closer to his lover-cousin. A listing of his many abuses of Dollie during this time, written in his own hand, remains in archives today.
As a result of Johnny’s insistence and relentless cruelty, Dollie finally agreed to a divorce. But only on the condition that any future prize monies that her ex-husband might make based on her theories, would be paid to her.
And that is why, when Albert Einstein won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1921, he quietly forwarded the check to his ex-wife, Mileva Maric, who used the money in her continuing, lifelong struggle to support herself and their children.
This article was first published on OpEdNews.com, on Jan 6, 2006.
Mileva died on 8/4/48 at the age of 72. Her obituary made no mention of her ex-husband. She was not mentioned in Einstein’s biographies, and her role as Einstein’s first wife and scientific collaborator was unknown to the public for decades.
Freida (Mileva and Albert’s daughter-in-law) wrote a book about their lives that quoted from their love letters. The fiercely protective co-trustees of Albert’s estate blocked its publication in 1958. In 1985, the Princeton Press initiated work on a 28-volume edition of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein. The editor discovered Albert and Mileva’s granddaughter, who provided him with her mother’s manuscript and the help needed to locate the love letters. Finally, when the first volume was published in 1987, it included 51 of the Einsteins’ letters and Mileva was no longer invisible.
But even today, Mileva often gets no mention in biographical accounts of her “Johnny.” Below are a few sites that offer more information on Mileva Maric aka Mileva Einstein-Marity.
The account given above is based on the information in the Einsteins’ love letters and readily available dates and historical accounts, woven together with an understanding of human emotions.
I was first introduced to Mileva Einstein through Jan Eliot’s syndicated comic strip Stone Soup, on 11/20/05. https://www.stonesoupcartoons.com/ Reprints are available at https://www.amureprints.com