How did Albert Einstein earn his living

Mother of the theory of relativity

She was his mate. When he got the Nobel Prize, they were already separated, but he left all the prize money to her. He kept the honor. So what both knew only too well could be forgotten: The theory of relativity had a father - and a mother.

The most beautiful is the mysterious. This is exactly what a scientist, Desanka Trbuhovic-Gjuric, a Belgrade professor of mathematics, physics and astronomy, said to herself in the 1960s. Born in 1897, she was always interested in the life of her famous predecessors in science, women like Marie Curie and Sonja Kowalewskaja. Now, after her retirement, she finally had time to investigate a “secret”, a riddle that had preoccupied her for a long time: She wondered “why the gifted girl Mileva Maric did not get a corresponding position in science after such great success at school”.

Who was Mileva Maric? She was a compatriot of Desanka Trbuhovic-Gjuric, a Serb like her. Born a generation before her, in 1875, she was one of the first women in Europe to study physics and mathematics. Then she married a colleague who later became extremely famous - Albert Einstein. In arduous research, Trbuhovic-Gjuric found out: Mileva was his closest and most important colleague in Einstein's most scientifically fruitful period. She was the woman of whom the genius of the century himself said: “I need my wife. It solves all of my math problems. ”She was, what initiates always knew, the“ mother of the theory of relativity ”.

Every child knows who Albert Einstein is. He is the scholar with the flowing head of hair and the sticking out tongue, the symbol of unconventional genius. Albert Einstein - the symbol of spirit in modern times. And Mileva Einstein? She died lonely and unknown in a Zurich clinic in 1948.

The Belgrade professor of physics and mathematics, Desanka Trbuhovic-Gjuric, tried to fathom the secret of this woman's life 20 years after Mileva's death. Her pioneering work, the first and so far most comprehensive Mileva biography ("In the shadow of Albert Einstein"), was published in Cyrillic in Yugoslavia in 1969 and initially hardly noticed. When the German translation came out in 1983, its results were dismissed as “feminist exaggeration”.

For Einstein biographers, Mileva, Einstein's first wife, was only a dark chapter in his life for a long time: the “unattractive Slavic farmer's daughter”, limping, of “average intelligence”, “gloomy, taciturn and suspicious”, “not exactly a Swiss model housewife ", Which on top of everything also" attached too little importance to its appearance ".

Only since the 80s has the scientist Mileva Einstein-Maric finally been interested in the professional world. In 1990, the woman at Einstein's side was the focus of interest at a congress on "young Einstein" in New Orleans. The German linguist Prof. Senta Trömel-Plötz was also invited. “Why is Mileva Einstein-Maric being made invisible so persistently?” She asks. Trömel-Plötz ’lecture, in which she also relies on the correspondence between young Einstein and Mileva Maric, caused a sensation in the USA. “Was Einstein's first wife the real genius in the family?” Was the headline of newspapers in the early 1990s. The German era even sensed a new "historians' dispute".

The feminist got help from a man. The American Evan Harris-Walker, who followed Albert Einstein's intellectual development before and after his marriage to Mileva, claims unheard of in New Orleans, namely: “The years together brought Einstein his greatest successes. Back then, his physics was full of daring ideas. But after his marriage to Mileva ended, his physics became more conservative. He did not become the leading figure of a physical avant-garde, as was to be expected, but gradually became an outsider who resisted the new quantum mechanics. "Walker's conclusion:" I can therefore not help but assume that the background material, the literature research, the decisive Data and, above all, those fundamental, original ideas that were the linchpin of the theory of relativity came from Mileva. "

The published correspondence between Mileva and Albert is testimony to a student friendship that began in Zurich in October 1897. Mileva Maric and Albert Einstein are both studying physics and mathematics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), they are in their first semester. In the first few letters they say “you” to each other, then the tone becomes more familiar, friendship becomes love. He writes to his lover: "Without you I lack self-esteem, love of work, joie de vivre - in short, without you my life is no life." Albert calls her tenderly "my Doxerl", "my witch", "my street boy". At the same time, however, these letters serve the scientific exchange.
Mileva biographer Inge Stephan: “Immediately next to the passionate confessions of love, there are reflections on differential calculations, double integrals or electromagnetic light theory. For Einstein, science and love belonged inseparably together. ”Albert Einstein wrote to Mileva in September 1900 when he was on vacation in Serbia:“ That you wander around a lot and are really burned, that makes me happy - how do I want to eat my black girl! I'm also really looking forward to our new work. You have to continue your investigations now - how proud I will be if I even have a little doctor for my treasure & am still an ordinary person myself! ". And in the letter before that, the lover complained: “To investigate the Thomson effect, I resorted to another method that bears a certain resemblance to yours (...) and which also requires such an investigation. If only we could start tomorrow. "

On March 27, 1901, the billet doux deals with a different topic: the emerging theory of relativity. Albert to Mileva: “How happy and proud I will be when we both have successfully completed our work on the relative movement together! When I see other people like that, it really matters to me what is about you! "Both of us. Together. Victorious. 13 of the 43 letters that Einstein wrote to Mileva between 1897 and 1902 contain references to joint research.

In between, sometimes by her, sometimes by him, textbooks are sent from Zurich to Milan or from Schaffhausen to Novi Sad, depending on where the two of them are. Albert asks Mileva to research the literature, she solves mathematical equations for him. In fact, most of the joint research work mentioned in the letters will soon be “brought to a successful conclusion” and published in the “Annalen der Physik”. But only under one name, his: Albert Einstein. In 1905 alone, the later Nobel Prize winner published five major works, including “Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” (it contains the special theory of relativity) and “A Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Generation and Transformation of Light”. This work on the so-called “photoelectric effect” will bring Albert Einstein the Nobel Prize 16 years later.

But the year is still 1905. At that time Albert and Mileva have been married for two years; they live and research in Bern. The well-known Russian physicist Abraham Joffe claims that the works that appeared during this period were not only drawn with "Einstein" but with "Einstein-Maric" in the original. More precisely: with "Einstein-Marity"! Marity, that is the Hungarian transcription of Mileva's maiden name, is how the Serbian, born in Austria-Hungary, signed her letters; this is how her name appears on the marriage certificate and on her gravestone in Zurich.

The originals of the work of the Einstein couple from the “great year” of 1905 have been lost. Not even a $ 11.5 million reward offered by the Washington Library of Congress brought them to light. But Joffe's knowledge of the spelling “Marity” is enough evidence that he not only knew his colleague Einstein-Maric, but actually saw her signature on the manuscripts. If her name had been published at the time, there would be no doubt today that the theory of relativity not only has a father but also a mother. Her name: Mileva Einstein-Maric (Marity).

In the first year of marriage, 1903, Mileva had invented an invention alongside the housework and mathematical calculations she did for Albert. Together with her mutual friend Paul Habicht, she had constructed what is known as an “influenza machine” for measuring small electrical voltages. Albert Einstein, who at that time held a position as minor civil servant in the Bern patent office, had it patented under the name Einstein-Habicht and later published two papers on the method under his name. Habicht asked Mileva why she hadn't given her own name in the patent court. "What for?", She replied, "we are both just a stone."

This modesty, this submission that she displayed in her marriage to Albert Einstein, had not always been Mileva's way. As a student she had spoken very differently. “I believe that a woman can have a career like a man,” she said in an interview with friends. And: “I think that I would be just as good a physicist as my male colleagues.” In 1897, to demonstrate her independence, she even went to Heidelberg for a semester alone. Three years later she throws herself “enthusiastically” (as she writes to her friend Helene Savic) into the thesis with Professor Weber. Like Albert, she conducts research in the field of thermodynamics. The diploma thesis should become a doctoral thesis.

But soon she loses her footing. In the summer of 1900, she, the only woman among five candidates, failed her exams and achieved “only” an average grade of 4 (the best grade was 6). Einstein is just under 4.9. A year later, in the summer of 1901, she tried again; again to no avail. In August of the same year she breaks down all tents: she withdraws her diploma thesis, stops research, leaves the ETH Zurich, goes home to her parents in Novi Sad.

Why? The letters published in 1987 revealed that Mileva was pregnant that summer, 1901. She is expecting an illegitimate child from Albert Einstein. And nobody is allowed to know, not even Helene's best friend. Because Albert's parents, the German-Jewish entrepreneur Herrmann Einstein and his wealthy wife Pauline, are against the connection with “the Serbian”.

As early as the summer of 1900, when the son told her for the first time that he wanted to marry his fellow student, the mother made a huge scene for him: “Mom threw herself on her bed, hid her head in the pillow and cried like a child: 'You spoil your future and block your path in life '. 'She can't go into any decent family'. 'If she has a child, you have the mess.' ”Although Albert rejects such suspicions“ with all the energy ”, his mother continues to grumble:“ She is a book like you - but you should have a wife. ”-“ See you you're 30, she's an old witch. ”Mileva is three years older than Albert.

Mileva Maric flees to her home country. In January 1902 she gave birth to their child in Novi Sad. It is a girl, a "Lieserl", as she wanted it to be. Albert had dreamed of a "Hanserl". In 1903 the two married after all - against the wishes of both parents. Albert has finally found a job at the patent office in Bern. His scientific career did not begin until the following years. In 1907 he became a private lecturer in Bern, in 1909 a professor in Zurich, in 1911 he was given a professorship in Prague, and in 1912 he returned to Zurich. Mileva follows him everywhere, she has two more children, Hans and Eduard, and raises her sons.

There is no longer any talk of the “Lieserl”. The plan to bring the child to Bern is abandoned. Mileva probably gave up the daughter for adoption in her homeland. What became of her is completely unknown.

Although the marriage seems happy at first, Mileva's mood continues to darken. Only now, after the marriage, does she become so "gloomy, taciturn and suspicious" as the Einstein biographers describe her. Her Zurich friends and fellow student Albert knew the "street boy" very differently, funny, carefree. And only now, as a wife, does the once ambitious physics student seem to have completely buried her passion for research.

Her further, depressing life can be read in the biography of Trbuhovic-Gjuric. The marriage fails. In 1914 Einstein went to Berlin and left Mileva with her two sons in Zurich. He only sends money irregularly. The two divorced in 1919. Einstein remarries, his cousin Elsa in Berlin. She's also older than him, five years even. But she is a woman who accepts his family, an elegant lady with no scientific ambitions. “I'm glad my second wife doesn't understand anything about physics,” Einstein will say one day. "It was my first one."

In 1921 Albert Einstein received the Nobel Prize. To the amazement of the people around him, he gives all of the money to Mileva, his first wife, who can buy three houses. As it turns out only in 1987, the Nobel Prize winner did this by no means voluntarily. As early as 1919 he had guaranteed Mileva this money in writing in the divorce contract. Obviously, both of them were counting on the price back then. And just as obviously he had no choice but to at least make this concession to her: he the fame, she the money.

The abandoned Mileva and her sons still get visits from their ex-husband and father from time to time in Zurich. Albert Einstein likes to consult with Mileva, just like before. The thread between them only breaks when Albert Einstein fled the Nazis to America in 1930. In the USA, the German researcher is welcomed with open arms. With a letter to the President in 1939, he initiated the construction of the atomic bomb (and later publicly regretted it). His fame increases. Albert Einstein becomes a legend.

And Mileva? She stays in Zurich, earns a living with mathematics and piano lessons, and brings up her sons. The younger, Eduard, fell ill with schizophrenia as a high school graduate in 1929. The mother cared for the difficult, aggressive son for 19 years. In 1948 she died of a stroke. The only surviving comment from Albert Einstein on the death of his former life and work companion: "Only a life lived for others is worth living."

The article first appeared in EMMA October 1990.

Continue reading
Desanka Trbuhovi´c-Gjuri´c: In the shadow of Albert Einstein (Paul Haupt); Einstein / Mari´c: On Sunday I will kiss you orally (Piper); Michele Zackheim: Einstein's daughter (List); Milan Popovi´c: In Alberts Shadow (Johns Hopkins University Press).