1896, Zurich. A young woman sits in a cafe, her dark hair pulled back as she leans over research papers, awaiting the arrival of her favorite companion. He finally arrives, and she looks up to see young Albert Einstein settling in the seat across from her. The two will work late into the night, discussing contemporary physics and pouring over research papers.
Albert Einstein is arguably the most influential scientist of the 20th Century. His general theory of relativity changed our understanding of space and time, and his breakthroughs were so revolutionary that his electrified frazzle of white hair and pensive expression have become synonymous with genius.
But there is one person that we seem to forget, who got lost somewhere in the research papers: Einstein’s first wife.
Mileva Marić was born in 1875 Titel, Serbia to wealthy parents. She was apprehensive as a child; demure as a woman. After gaining admission and graduating from a selectively male school, she attended the Polytechnic Institute in Zurich in 1896, where she studied with the young Albert Einstein. Classmates describe her as brilliant, particularly in physics. Quickly, the pair became inseparable. In many ways they were each other’s opposites: Mileva strictly methodical and systematic while Albert was content to skip lectures in preference to his own studying. She excelled in experimental work; Albert struggled.
True to the trends of the time, only Albert acquired his degree after a professor failed Mileva on an oral exam, preventing her from graduating, though suspicions around the professor’s decision remain. That same year, the couple submitted an article about capillarity signed exclusively under Albert’s name. This was decided because at the time, a publication containing the name of a woman carried far less weight.
Mileva stayed in Zurich, working in a lab. She prepared to retake her tests. In 1900, she discovered she was pregnant. She failed her exams again and subsequently retired to domestic life. However, a cousin of Mileva’s father noticed that Mileva wrote and worked with Albert all throughout this time. Albert writes about their work using the words ``we” and “us”. The original manuscript for the “Theory of Relativity '' was signed Einstein-Marity; Marity for Maric. A translated quote from Albert in 1905 commemorates, “For everything that I achieved in my life, I must thank Mileva. She is my genius inspirer, my protector against the hardships of life and science. Without her, my work would never have been started nor finished.”
The consequences for choosing a path that hardly any women in the late 19th Century took were becoming visible. She contributed; she did not create. Albert would be revolutionary; she would have to settle for being recognized.
In 1912, Albert began to have an affair with a woman named Elsa Löwenthal. This eventually led to the end of the marriage and divorce in 1919, under the agreement that if Albert ever received a Nobel Peace prize, she would get a share of the money for her extensive contributions.
In 1922, this came true. Albert had finally received the Nobel Peace prize for his groundbreaking work. Three years later, he wrote in his will that the money from the award would be part of his inheritance to his sons. Mileva was furious at his broken promise, and threatened to reveal her contributions to his work. Albert responded in his letters stating that, “nobody would ever pay attention to you if the man you talked about had not accomplished something important.”
As the anniversary of her birth rolls around on the 19th of December, hopefully her legacy will be remembered as more than just “the other Einstein”.
Stella Straub is a freshman at Manchester Essex Regional High School and a resident of Manchester.