On December 19, 1875, Mileva Marić was born into a wealthy family in Titel in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy (today Serbia) as the eldest of three children of Miloš Marić (1846–1922) and Marija Ružić - Marić (1847–1935). Shortly after her birth, her father ended his military career and took a job at the court in Ruma and later in Zagreb.
She began her secondary education in 1886 at a high school for girls in Novi Sad, but changed the following year to a high school in Sremska Mitrovica. Beginning in 1890, she attended The Royal Serbian Grammar School in Šabac. In 1891 her father obtained special permission to enroll Marić as a private student at the all male Royal Classical High School in Zagreb.
She passed the entrance exam and entered the tenth grade in 1892. She won special permission to attend physics lectures in February 1894 and passed the final exams in September 1894. Her grades in mathematics and physics were the highest awarded. That year she fell seriously ill and decided to move to Switzerland, where on the 14th November she started at the "Girls High School" in Zurich. In 1896, Marić passed her Matura-Exam, and started studying medicine at the University of Zurich for one semester. In the autumn of 1896, Marić switched to the Zurich Polytechnic (later Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH)), having passed the mathematics entrance examination with an average grade of 4.25 (scale 1-6). She enrolled for the diploma course to teach physics and mathematics in secondary schools (section VIA) at the same time as Albert Einstein. She was the only woman in her group of six students, and only the fifth woman to enter that section. She and Einstein became close friends quite soon.
In October Marić went to Heidelberg to study at Heidelberg University for the winter semester 1897/98, attending physics and mathematics lectures as an auditor. She rejoined the Zurich Polytechnic in April 1898, where her studies included the following courses: differential and integral calculus, descriptive and projective geometry, mechanics, theoretical physics, applied physics, experimental physics, and astronomy. Marić sat the intermediate diploma examinations in 1899, one year later than the other students in her group. Her grade average of 5.05 (scale 1-6) placed her fifth out of the six students taking the examinations that year. (Einstein had come top of the previous year's candidates with a grade average of 5.7. Marić's grade in physics was 5.5, the same as Einstein's.) In 1900 Marić failed the final teaching diploma examinations with a grade average of 4.00, having obtained only grade 2.5 in the mathematics component (theory of functions). Einstein passed the exam in fourth place with a grade average of 4.91.
Marić's academic career was disrupted in 1901 when she became pregnant by Einstein. When three months pregnant, she resat the diploma examination, but failed for the second time without improving her grade. She also discontinued work on her diploma dissertation that she had hoped to develop into a Ph.D. thesis under the supervision of the physics professor Heinrich Weber. She went to Novi Sad, where her daughter, referred to as Lieserl, was born in 1902, probably in January. Her fate is unknown: she may have died in late summer 1903, or been given up for adoption.
Center: the Einsteinhaus Kramgasse 49 in Bern. On the second floor: the flat where Albert and Mileva Einstein lived from 1903 to 1905
In 1903 Marić and Einstein married in Bern, Switzerland, where Einstein had found a job at the Federal Office for Intellectual Property. In 1904 their first son Hans Albert was born. The Einsteins lived in Bern until 1909, when Einstein got a teaching position at the University of Zürich. In 1910 their second son Eduard was born. In 1911 they moved to Prague, where Einstein held a teaching position at the Charles University. A year later, they returned to Zurich, as Einstein had accepted a professorship at his alma mater. In July 1913 Max Planck and Walther Nernst asked Einstein to accept to come to Berlin, which he did, but which caused Marić distress. In August the Einsteins took a walking holiday with their son Hans Albert, Marie Curie and her two daughters, but Marić was delayed temporarily due to Eduard's illness. In September the Einsteins visited Marić's parents near Novi Sad, and on the day they were to leave for Vienna Marić had her sons baptised as Orthodox Christians. After Vienna Einstein visited relatives in Germany while Marić returned to Zurich. After Christmas she traveled to Berlin to stay with Fritz Haber who helped her look for accommodation for the Einsteins' impending move in April 1914. The Einsteins both left Zurich for Berlin in late March, on the way Einstein visited an uncle in Antwerp and then Ehrenfest and Lorentz in Leiden while Marić took a holiday with the children in Locarno, arriving in Berlin in mid-April.
The marriage had been in difficulties since 1912, in the spring of which Einstein became reacquainted with his cousin Elsa Löwenthal (née Einstein), following which they began a regular correspondence. Marić, who had never wanted to go to Berlin, became increasingly unhappy in the city. Soon after settling in Berlin, Einstein insisted on harsh terms if she were to remain with him. In the summer of 1914, Marić took the boys back to Zurich, a move that was to become permanent. Einstein made a commitment, drawn up by a lawyer, to send her an annual maintenance of 5600 Reichsmarks in quarterly instalments, just under half of his salary. The couple divorced on February 14, 1919. They had negotiated a settlement whereby the Nobel Prize money that Einstein anticipated he would soon receive was to be placed in trust for their two boys, while Marić would be able to draw on the interest, but have no authority over the capital without Einstein's permission, After Einstein married his second wife in June, he returned to Zurich to talk to Marić about the children's future, taking Hans Albert on Lake Constance and Eduard to Arosa for convalescence.
In 1922, Einstein received news that he had won the Nobel Prize in November and the money was transferred to Marić in 1923. The money was used to buy three houses in Zurich: Marić lived in one, a five story house at Huttenstrasse 62, the other two were investments. The family of Georg Busch, later to become Professor at the ETH, was one of her tenants. In the late 1930s the costs of Eduard's care—he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and institutionalized at the University of Zurich psychiatric clinic "Burghölzli"—overwhelmed Marić and resulted in the forced sale of two of the houses. In 1939 Marić agreed to transfer ownership of the Huttenstrasse house to Einstein in order to prevent its loss as well, with Marić retaining power of attorney. Einstein also made regular cash transfers to Marić for Eduard's and her own livelihood.
Marić died at the age of 72 on August 4, 1948 in Zurich, and was buried at Nordheim-Cemetery.
Role in physics
Albert and Mileva Einstein, 1912
The question whether (and if so, to what extent) Marić contributed to Einstein's early work, and to the Annus Mirabilis Papers in particular, has been the subject of some debate. However, the overwhelming consensus among professional historians of physics is that she made no significant scientific contribution. A few academics, outside the consensus among historians, have argued that she may have played some role.
The case which has been presented for Marić as a co-author of some of Einstein's early work, putatively culminating in the 1905 papers, mostly depends on the following evidence:
The testimony of the well known Russian physicist Abram Joffe, who gave the name of the author of the three Annus Mirabilis Papers as Einstein-Marity, erroneously attributing the addition of the name Marity, Marić's official name, to a non-existing Swiss custom. However, in the paragraph in question, in which Joffe stated that Einstein's entrance into the arena of science in 1905 was "unforgettable", he described the author (singular) of the 1905 papers as "a bureaucrat at the Patent Office in Bern", i.e., Albert Einstein.
An alleged comment from Mileva to a Serbian friend, which, referring to 1905, said "we finished some important work that will make my husband world famous", although such reminiscences have been described as "hometown folklore."
Letters in which Einstein referred to "our" theory and "our" work. John Stachel points out, that these letters were written in their student days, at least four years before the 1905 papers, and some of the instances in which Einstein used "our" in relation to scientific work refer to their diploma dissertations, for which they both chose the same topic (experimental studies of heat conduction), and that Einstein used "our" in rather general statements, while he invariably used "I" and "my" when he recounted specific ideas he was working on: "the letters to Marić show Einstein referring to his studies, his work on the electrodynamics of moving bodies over a dozen times... as compared to one reference to our work on the problem of relative motion." In two cases where there are surviving letters from Marić in direct reply to ones from Einstein in which he had recounted his latest ideas, she gives no response at all. Her letters, in contrast to Einstein's, contain only personal matters, or comments related to her Polytechnic coursework. Stachel writes: "In her case we have no published papers, no letters with a serious scientific content, either to Einstein nor to anyone else; nor any objective evidence of her supposed creative talents. We do not even have hearsay accounts of conversations she had with anyone else that have a specific, scientific content, let alone claiming to report her ideas."
The divorce agreement in which Einstein promised her his Nobel Prize money. However, Einstein made this proposal to persuade a reluctant Marić to agree to divorce him, and under the terms of the agreement the money was to be held in trust for their two boys, while she was able to draw on the interest. Based on newly released letters (sealed by Einstein's stepgranddaughter Margot Einstein until 20 years after her death), Walter Isaacson reported that Marić eventually invested the Nobel Prize money in three apartment buildings in Zurich.
There are no strong arguments to support the idea that Marić helped Einstein to develop his theories. Other Nobel winners, besides Einstein, have shared their prize money with their ex-wives as a part of their divorce settlements. The couple's own son, Hans Albert, stated that on marrying Einstein, his mother gave up her scientific ambitions. Einstein remained an extremely fruitful scientist well into the 1920s, producing work of the greatest importance long after separating from Marić in 1914. She, on the other hand, never published anything, and Marić was never mentioned as having been involved with his work by the friends and colleagues of Einstein, who engaged in countless discussions of his ideas with him. And perhaps most notably, Marić herself never claimed that she had ever played any role in Einstein's scientific work, nor even hinted at any such role in personal letters to her closest friend Helene Savić.