Giving Credit Episode B

Mileva Marić was born in Serbia in 1875. Her family was wealthy, and her father was able to gain entrance for her at a technical institute which normally did not admit women. She hoped to become a teacher of physics and mathematics.

She wasn’t well received by either the faculty or her fellow male students, but she soon proved she belonged. One of the male students who had a spotty attendance record came to rely upon her for notes. This connection soon became more than a peer learning experience.

When her male classmate convinced her to take a short holiday trip with him, they consummated their relationship. The result was that Maria became pregnant. When she tried to complete her degree, she was overcome with morning sickness and failed.

Her male classmate had graduated but was unable to find a job. He refused to marry Mileva until he was employed. As a result, Mileva’s child was born out of wedlock. The baby’s father never saw her. The daughter came down with Scarlet fever and it is unknown if she died from it or was adopted, little is known of her father.

Mileva returned to her lover, and they became collaborators. He was a brilliant theoretical physicist and she provided mathematical backing to his theories. One of their collaborations ended up in a groundbreaking paper in physics. Unfortunately, Mileva’s name was not on the paper. At the time, she agreed to this so that her lover could secure an academic appointment, and they could be married.

Unfortunately, this lack of credit continued and Mileva’s contributions went unnoticed. As time went on, Mileva bore two more children, but she struggled with being a mother and housekeeper. She had so much more to offer.

As her husband’s fame grew, he became more and more distant to Mileva and her two sons. Eventually, they were divorced. As part of the divorce settlement, Mileva was to receive the prize money should her former husband win the Nobel Prize for physics. The interest on the prize was for Mileva’s living expenses while the principal was to be held in a trust for his two sons.

Mileva Marić Einstein died at the age of 72. Only after many years, did her contributions to her husband, Albert Einstein, become known. She is thought to have been the origin of Einstein’s work on special relativity.

Even to this day, we are unaware of the many innovations of those who do not fit our image of inventive geniuses. Why is it so hard to give credit to those who deserve it? That is a question that applies not only to innovations but also to all accomplishments.

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Mileva confided to Helene Savić: “He is now regarded as the best of the Germany-speaking physicists, and they give him a lot of honours. I am very happy for his success, because he fully deserves it; I only hope and wish that fame does not have a harmful effect on his humanity. With all this fame, he has little time for his wife. What is there to say, with notoriety, one gets the pearl, the other the shell.”– Mileva Einstein (from a letter to a friend)

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