4th August 1948 the Death of Mileva Maric

Mileva Maric

On this day in 1948, Mileva Maric died alone and unknown in Zurich aged seventy-two. “Few stories in the history of science are as heartbreaking [as hers],” claimed the New Scientist. A brilliant woman born in the late 19th century, her aspiration to be a physicist was always going to the thwarted by gender discrimination. But she had the added misfortune of falling in love with the most celebrated genius of the modern era, Albert Einstein. In the beginning, theirs was a relationship of shared studies, experiments, ideas and mutual inspiration. But as Albert ascended into the scientific stratosphere, Mileva was relegated to domestic duties. Increasingly lonely and isolated, she became prey to her own crippling insecurities, which plunged her into the deepest depressions. It was a tragic fate for a woman who was not only a genius in her own right but who also may very well have contributed to the theory of relativity.

In 1896, twenty-one-year-old Mileva Maric began studying physics at the exclusive Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. Only the fifth female student to pass through its venerated portals, it was here that she met 17-year-old Albert Einstein. The two studied together, achieved similar grades and, in 1898, became a couple. Einstein graduated in 1900, while Maric tried twice to obtain a diploma – but her efforts were disrupted when she fell pregnant in 1901. They married in 1903 and had two more children.

Evidence in the form of letters suggests that during these momentous years, when Einstein was composing his epoch-making theories, Maric played a significant contributory role. She is known to have worked with her husband to patent an instrument for measuring small electrical voltages – although, tellingly, her name does not appear as co-author. She also corrected the proofs of several of his papers. Einstein repeatedly referred to “our work”, “our investigation” and “our theory”. In one letter he wrote, “How happy and proud I will be when the two of us together will have brought our work on the relative motion to a victorious conclusion!” A colleague, Russian physicist Abraham F. Joffe, even claimed that the legendary quartet of brilliant papers – among them “Special Relativity” – bore both Einstein’s and Maric’s names.

After the publication of  the “Annus Mirabilis” papers in 1905 – heralding the birth of modern physics that would change the course of history – Einstein’s fame was on the ascent. With it came a new coterie with whom he could discuss atoms, and Maric’s intellectual and inspirational capacities were no longer required. He would, however, for ten more years continue to rely on her for the humbler duties of running his household and mothering his children. They separated acrimoniously in 1914 and divorced two years later. As part of the settlement, Einstein promised Mileva his future Nobel Prize money which she duly received.

In 1919, observations of a solar eclipse proved the General Theory of Relativity. Soon after, Einstein moved to America with his new wife, Elsa, and was feted forever after. Maric – who collapsed and had to be hospitalized when Einstein demanded a divorce –retreated into obscurity, loneliness, financial insecurity and blackness. Robbed of her impetus, she never authored a scientific paper.

Two things have brought Mileva’s story to the forefront: the discovery in 1986 of correspondence between Einstein and Maric (published as The Love Letters); and, in 2003, a somewhat spurious documentary, Einstein’s Wife. In its efforts to unearth Maric as a lost heroine, the film backfired with its needless mythologising and, worse, factual inaccuracies. The venomous response from the science community, however, corroborated the documentary’s underlying message that biographers and Einsteinists have portrayed the indisputably brilliant Mileva Maric as little more than a “shoddy housekeeper” who “hoodwinked the great man out of his Nobel Prize money.”

In 1904, Albert Einstein was alleged to have written about Maric: “Without her I would never have started my work.” His genius cannot be disputed. But, at the very least, her role blurs our existing notions of Einstein’s heroic solo efforts. Albert Einstein would never again produce physics on a par with the work of 1905.

Finally, it is worth noting that only three women have the distinction of winning the Nobel Prize in Physics, awarded annually since 1901.

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36 Responses to 4th August 1948 – the Death of Mileva Maric

  1. Jo Dean says:

    Wow, what a beautiful woman she was.

    • An observer says:

      I noticed the same thing. I might add she looks intelligent too.

      • Anonymous says:

        I feel very, very. sad for Mr.A.Einstein’s 1st wife,as she could not get proper justice.Mr.A should not torture her in this manner,what ever the reason might have. Because the earth is meaning less without a woman.

  2. harryrag says:

    As the saying goes Behind every successful man , there is a woman (who usually goes uncredited – or is ridiculed for stepping out of the shadows).
    if it was 1948 that she passed it would be 62 years ago (w/o considering the effects of felativity)

    • Tim Symonds says:

      Publication date January 2014

      In his later years Albert Einstein came to be considered a secular saint for proclamations like “Nothing that I can do will change the structure of the universe. But maybe, by raising my voice, I can help in the greatest of all causes – goodwill among men and peace on earth.” His younger years were different.

      Sherlock Holmes And The Mystery of Einstein’s Daughter

      In late 1903 Albert Einstein’s illegitimate daughter ‘Lieserl’ disappears without trace in Serbia aged around 21 months. As Holmes exclaims in ‘the Mystery of Einstein’s Daughter’, ‘the most ruthless effort has been made by public officials, priests, monks, friends, relatives and relatives by marriage to seek out and destroy every document with Lieserl’s name on it. The question is – why?’

      ‘Lieserl’s fate shadows the Einstein legend like some unsolved equation’ Frederic Golden Time Magazine

      Sherlock Holmes And The Mystery of Einstein’s Daughter is available at http://www.mxpublishing.co.uk/engine/shop/product/9781780925721 (re. review copies contact Steve Emecz at mxpublishing@btinternet.com) or http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sherlock-Holmes-Mystery-Einsteins-Daughter/dp/1780925727

  3. harryrag says:

    uh, that should be relativity

  4. vittorio says:

    grazie mileva

  5. Gyrus says:

    Never heard this story before. Many thanks.

    @harryrag, I kind of like “felativity” – is it the basis of Afrofuturist cosmology? 😉

  6. Ian says:

    Interesting stuff Dorian…….One of the most ‘must find out more’ yet.

  7. Pingback: Linkblogging For 05/08/11 « Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

  8. Zoran says:

    Geniegirl from the shadow!

  9. Anonymous says:

    a jewish lover and lover of israel: i am non-jewish but think the world shows jewish people are some of the most intelligent people in the world. they have been done so unjustl
    i would loved to have known mileva i feel so sorry for her even though she is gone. i hold her so high!

  10. Anonymous says:

    Mileva is Serbian women.I am glad that someone has finally mentioned her as someone who contributed to Ainstain’s work. It truly is a sad story, I wish she was stronger mentally and financially. But she was left with no support from her husband to take care of their kids.That was very difficult situation.
    Her relative a young female student at Novi Sad University is the best student ever on this University.She has many outstanding academic achievements.
    Rest in piece Mileva, you will not be forgotten.

  11. MK Majumdar says:

    Its really heart-rending that Mileva, being wife and mother , had to suffer so much and sacrificed her own ambitions for the sake of the family. Perhaps, Albert never enquired about his younger schizophrenic son and Mileva bore the pain without emotional support.

  12. Furienna says:

    She really seems to have lived a rough life, being treated like crap by someone, who instead went on to become so famous and admired. And even sixtyfive years after her death, some people are adamant to give her as little credit as possible. Considering how tough it must have been for a woman to get accepted to an Institute of Technology in 1896, she must have been really intelligent. But still, these people want her to remain a nobody. To quote a PBS site about her:

    “In the absence of hard evidence, speculating on Maric’s precise contributions to Einstein’s work is not very fruitful. What is more important is that Mileva’s life – and frustrated ambitions – serve as a metaphor for the struggle and prejudice that women in science encountered well into the 20th century.”

    That’s right. Even if Mileva didn’t play a big role in Albert’s work, she was still treated really badly. He called her “uncommonly ugly” and “an employee, which I can not fire”, while cheating on her with his cousin! To whom he later got married, but he ended up treating her badly and cheating on her too. And also, after he got divorced from Mileva, Albert did everything to keep her unknown and obscure, a mere footnote in the biography of his life.

    This story is so sad, that I can’t begin to describe it. I feel so sorry for Mileva, whose own career had to end before it started, while Albert exchanged her for another woman and rised to superstardom. It also feels terrible that even an intelligent and supposedly liberal and open-minded man like Albert Einstein could keep treating women like crap.

    And yet, that part of his life hardly ever comes up. To quote the PBS article again:
    “Traditionally, Einstein has been portrayed as something of a scientific saint. There are now letters that indicate that Albert treated his wife and sons shabbily, raising the suspicion that he viewed Mileva’s aspirations with equal disregard. ”
    Yeah, we only hear about how brilliant he was, while Mileva is kept in the background. Wow… There are many people out there, who are more fierce about feminism than I, but this gets even my blood boiling with anger,

    • Philippa says:

      Furienna..first i disliked the idea of answering you,because your contribution is more emotional than constructive or underbuild,and yeah,rather feministic.
      Albert Einstein did not behelded women as crap like you deposit here so surely.He just did not understand always what was going on in ‘m,equal with the fact that he found the human mind even the greatest mystery that he ever met,even above the misteries of the universe.He was not selfish,he just could not-a typical genius characteristic feature-resist the calling from above,as we could say,to solve this boundary misteries and secrets from the universe.It is right when you declare that Maeva’s fate was not justice to her,i surely agree with that.But how exactly things were going in those times?He was very talented and completely driven to solve these misteries of the matter and perhaps he should have looked for a solution concearning the caretaking of the children,so that Maeva could have had the time and space to finish her own studies.But i wonder what kind of i.d she had herself of the situation being married,in those times..there was no nothing like contraceptives nor preservatives like we have them now,so they automatically would have children after they had intercourse.That was how it went in that time,they could not choose the planning of the conception of their children.That was in other more ordinary marriages not an issue since the wifes mostly didn’t tended courses at universty or high technical schools,but in the case of Maeva&Einstein..In the beginning Albert’s mother helped them at home,but she despiced Maeva’cause she wasn’t jewish but instead Slavian;Cervic,and in those times these ethnics were seen by the pitty bourgeois as ‘wild’..He was not like most man in those time(and still..)who mostly kept a wife at home mainly for their own domestic maintenance and to produce their offspring.He wanted to be with a women that could be a friend above other issues,someone he could discuss the nature of the world&universe with,rather than just a wife indoors to take care of a typical male’s ‘kingdom’.That’s the rreason why he did not went on with his previous fiancé,the much more female and charming daughter of that other jewish family,the Wendelers if am right.Maeva was also a quite jealous and hotheaded woman.Even a slight or brief contact with other intelligent women at these congresses he had to tend,like Marie Curie for example.She got into a rage he barely could cope with;he was also a high sensitive person as we call it today.Maeva,more jealous for the drain of her own carreer opportunities than for these other women,exposed more and more a frenzy fury.That was the main reason why he started to arrive home later and later,just to avoid that;he became afraid of her.As i said,he was a high sensitive person and could just not cope with his wife’s ruthlessness in aproaching the situation.And so things went from bad to worse.She was smart,but her emotional i.q was far below Albert’s one.Her quick temper had to do with the suffering she expierenced during her childhood;grown up with a fysical handicap,cripleness,and being laughed at for,She tried to put up the childred aganst him;by lying for example about the real cause of a small housefire when the kids were very small,wich happened when she was alone at home with them.She told the second son later on when he was grown up,that it was Albert’s fault,knowing that the children would not remember precise facts about that event anymore(she hadn’tpayed attention of the kids activities during an unfortunate moment,as they took advantage of that by taking a box of matches and putted fire to the curtains).Another sharp spirit,Jung,called her hysterical.From the moment,many years later,their son,Eduard,find out the truth about it,he wanted to restore the contact with his father immediately.Okay there were,later on,more women in his life,but i’m sure that this was not out of opportunism,but by a deep sense of lonelyness.Sure,he was not perfect;probably he didn’t took much effort after a time to explain these women why he left’m&followed another one,he was looking for his twin soul,like we all deep in ourselves dream of..

      • Furienna says:

        But it seems to me, like so many other posters in these comments have pointed out, that Albert had only used Mileva while he needed her, until he started to cheat on her with his cousin. Sure, it is true that Mileva must have had her flaws too. But it turned out that she had every right to doubt Albert’s fidelity. And in the end, she is the more sympathetic party to me in this case.

  13. Subramanian A says:

    My impression is that, being the wife of Einstein, her contributions could be only natural. We need not have any speculations and arguments over that. Maric is considered to be a brilliant physicist also. Regarding their personal relationship, let us not speculate now. Life has its own voice. Individuals have their own blemishes. Let us regard them as class scientists who had deep insight to unravel the mysteries of the universe. Let us try to see them from a nobler angle.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Screw you Albert

  15. Philippa says:

    Apologiges for the error of Mileva Maric’s first’s name.I just had red a book wherein a certain Maeva played a headrole.

  16. Jay says:

    Yeah i feel aorry for her how things turned out for her.

    Im hooked on that new show Einstein it sheds some light on there relationship.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I believe Albert just used Mileva for sex and her intelligence when they were young I don’t think he would have married her if she had not became pregnant with the first child. Also he did nothing to help her with her loneliness.

  18. Marty says:

    Albert did nothing to help Milvea with her loneliness, ignored her at parties and I believe when they first met he only used her for sex and her intelligence. He was all about Albert!

  19. Marty says:

    Correction spelling Mileva, not Milvea. BTW, ALBERT left his own children for another woman, now that says allot about the man.

  20. Oskar Eitelstein says:

    Since Einstein’s first wife failed her final exams twice, it seems absurd to try to imagine she made some great contribution to Einstein’s work, as modern feminists do for political reasons. Politics often gets in the way of physics, such as when Newton had to pretend to believe in the trinity to be confirmed as professor of physics at Cambridge, or when the rise of ‘German physics’ in the 1930s led to Einstein and other Jewish physicists being unfairly denigrated. Let’s not warp the history of science again because of current political obsessions. Women did not face an insurmountable barrier to success in physics when Einstein’s first wife was trying to do this, since she was not the first but the fifth woman to study at the Zurich polytechnic, since Marie Currie had managed to rise to prominence before her, and since her friend, Clara Immerwahr, the wife of Fritz Haber, was able to gain in chemistry. When Maleva failed as a physicist, it was because of her own shortcomings in the field, not because prejudice against women blocked her path.

    • Furienna says:

      If you believe that Mileva’s failure to get a degree has nothing to do with her being a woman in a “men’s area” in the early 1900’s, then I have to correct you. It is true that a few women managed to beat the odds even back then. But for the majority, they had to settle for a place in a man’s shadow. Back in those days, professors were also more likely to help a male student than a female one. If a young man was close to failing, he would get enough help to pass. Because otherwise, his life would be ruined. But a young woman in the same position didn’t get that extra help, because she could get married and live off a husband, or find a less prestigious job than what her male class mates would settle for.

  21. Merabe says:

    Mileva and Albert were uniquely talented but this did not make them more than humans,like all of us,they had their own shortcomings. Who are we to judge them?

  22. Maneesha says:

    A. Einsteins ‘ mother knew that it was not going to be a perfect match before there marriage and even suggested A and M not to get married . Poor Mileva 🙁

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