You’ve probably never heard of Mileva Marić, but you might have heard of her former flame, Albert Einstein. Really who could blame you? She’s often left out of discussions about his theories. In fact her non-contribution to Albert’s work may be as well documented as her husband’s charm, wit, and intellect.
“She’s just Einstein’s ex-wife and baby momma. His sounding board.”
This narrative seems far-fetched. To believe this you have to possess an amazing and superhuman ability to ignore common sense.
Is it likely that two brilliant students in the same field of Theoretical Physics worked closely together during school, were married over a decade, and had no impact on each other’s work?
Banging Out Ideas
Mileva and Albert worked closely throughout their studies, so close Mileva became pregnant while still trying to pass her teaching exams. Now this folks, is where the story becomes hazy.
Marić never passed her teaching exams and discontinued work on her Ph.D. thesis. Some argue that her failure is proof that she wasn’t brilliant. This despite being the only woman among a handful of students and, at the time, one of the few women accepted by Zurich Polytechnic for that section. Ever.
They married a few years later, around the time Albert found a job with the patent office. It’s there, the legend is told, where Albert’s mind escaped the monotonous tasks. One man, alone with his thoughts, unravelling the deepest mysteries of time and space. Alone.
This wandering is praised as the catalyst for the discovery of his Theory of relativity (E=mc²) and most of his defining theories. Mileva? Eh, she just read through his papers. That’s the part of the story I have a hard time believing.
If Albert Einstein spent 15 years with a woman who almost completed her Ph.D. in Physics, before becoming unexpectedly pregnant, and just had her “check his work”, then he wasn’t really all that bright. Thankfully, a few historians believe otherwise.
It Takes Two to Science
History is littered with legendary colleagues, Nobel Prize teams, and power couples. There’s Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, with some help from Sabrina Spielrein. There’s also Marie and Pierre Curie and, ironically, their daughter who also won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry with her own husband.
“What suggests that Mileva was a major contributor to Albert’s work?”
First, much of his groundbreaking work came from his time in university, the golden year of 1905 at the patent office, and shortly after. Almost the entirety of their relationship. After they separated he mainly refined earlier work.
“That doesn’t mean she contributed!”
Okay. Second, he didn’t hire any assistants until after the two were separated. 15 years is long time for a genius to go without any kind of help, especially during their most promising years.
“That’s still speculative at best.”
Well, the real smoking gun is the physics discussions in their correspondence. Sadly there seem to be missing letters that could fill in all the details. What is there, are multiple references by Albert to “Our theories”.
That’s right “Our”. O. U. R. Our.
Just For the Record
I’m a history junkie, but I like to know Real History. The full story. The way things really happened. Like how Watson and Crick had help uncovering DNA’s structure from Rosalind Franklin’s work, who was left out of the Nobel prize team and most of the history books.
More than anything, this is about giving credit where credit is due. The possible Einstein-Marić Theory of Relativity may be just the tip of the iceberg.
Ultimately, If we don’t really know the truth about our past how can we honestly create a better future?
P.S. Watch this documentary if you’d like to learn more about the Einsteins’ work together.