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Mrs. Einstein: Serbian physicist Mileva Maric

Serbian Mileva Maric is Albert Einstein’s first wife. And one of the first women to study mathematics and physics. What is known about her relationship with the great physicist and did she contribute to his scientific triumph?

Mileva Maric, born in 1875 in Serbia, was one of the first women to study mathematics and physics. She was the first wife of the great physicist Albert Einstein, whom he met at the Zurich Polytechnic.

It is known from Einstein’s letters that he was impressed by the intellect of the slightly lame Serbian woman. But Einstein’s family is strongly opposed to marrying a non-Jew, even though Maric has already given birth to an illegitimate daughter, who is believed to have been adopted in Serbia immediately after birth.

From the lives of Einstein and Maric

Einstein’s mother is of the opinion that Mileva is “too old and too intellectual.” However, in 1903 the two married. They had two more children, Hans Albert and Edward. Carl Zelig, Einstein’s first biographer, wrote the following about Mileva:

“She was capable, but she didn’t have a mathematical gift. It was difficult for her to study with this closed character, she would hardly have been able to cope without Einstein’s help. She did not pay any attention to her appearance and was very jealous. Einstein’s parents were definitely not fascinated by such a daughter-in-law. “

In 1912, the great physicist already had a new lover – Elsa, his future second wife, to whom he was no more faithful. Mileva suffers, and Einstein arranges their cohabitation with the following written order:

“You are responsible for keeping my clothes and underwear in order, for bringing food to my room three times a day, for my bedroom and office to be dismantled, especially the desk.”

It goes on to say: “You undertake to comply with the following: refusal of all personal contacts with me, unless their maintenance is inevitably necessary in certain social circumstances.”

Around 1921 Albert Einstein with his second wife Elsa in Egypt (Photo: Getty Images)

These were the conditions under which the marriage could continue. But only because of the children. Eventually, Einstein was exported.

Although they separated in 1914, the divorce did not take place until 1919. It is alleged that Einstein “bought” Mileva’s consent to the divorce with the promise that if she won the Nobel Prize, the money would be for her. When he actually won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922, Einstein transferred the entire amount to Mileva Maric.

Much of this money goes to treat their young son, who suffers from schizophrenia. Maric herself died in loneliness and poverty in 1948. She was buried in the “Yugoslav tomb” of the Zurich cemetery “Nordheim”.

“Our job”

Scientists still debate the question of Mileva Maric’s contribution to Einstein’s scientific achievements – and especially the one of 1905, called the “miracle year”, when the great physicist presented his theory of relativity.

Various feminist organizations have also criticized Maric’s belittling merits, demanding that she be listed at least as a co-author.

Proponents of this thesis refer mainly to the Russian physicist Abram Joffe, who worked as an assistant to Röntgen. In addition, Einstein’s letters contain sentences about “our work.” And Mileva Maric herself had told her Serbian friend the following:

“We have completed an important job that will bring world fame to my husband.”

However, many experts describe such memories as “urban folklore”.

Moreover, Mileva Maric has not published a single scientific paper – neither during her marriage to Einstein, nor after. And none of Einstein’s friends and colleagues mentioned that Maric was in any way connected with his work. She herself has never claimed to have played an important role in his scientific work.

Source: Deutsche Welle / DW