Einstein’s Wife







Ran Sept 23 to Oct 16, 2022 at Atlas Performing Arts Center

A Conversation with Playwright Snezana Gnjidic


Q. How did you get interested in the relationship of Albert Einstein and Mileva Maric?

A. Twelve years ago, my friend Milena Garfield gave me Milan Popovic’s book entitled “In Albert’s Shadow: The Life and Letters of Mileva Maric”, Einstein’s first wife. That book, with previously unknown letters from Mileva to her friend Helena Kaufman Savic from the University in Zurich, claimed Mileva was a coauthor of Einstein’s theory of relativity. Mileva Maric was a remarkable woman by any measure. She was the fifth women in the world who studied physics at a European university, in Zurich during 1896. Together with Garfield, we decided to make a story of Mileva’s life and work. I researched Mileva’s and Albert’s life to write a play about their relationship, especially about Mileva’s struggles and her suffering for science and her family. The world did not know about this brave, smart woman and her brilliant mind.

Q. How did you research the play and what kind of information did you use?

A. For me, the question was whether Mileva deserves some credit for Albert’s work and what is the evidence for that sort of claim. I read a lot of books about Albert Einstein. There is no doubt Einstein was an outstanding physicist and a pure genius who created a formula that revolutionized modern physics. Einstein won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1922. He always thought he would win the award and promised years in advance to give Mileva the Nobel Prize money if he won. Albert still remains a mystery as he had many faces. It was very interesting for me exploring the story about him and Mileva. Here are some interesting letters about her contribution to the relativity theory. In September 1900, Albert wrote to Mileva: “I look forward to resume our new common work. You must now continue with your research – how proud I will be to have a doctor for my spouse when I’ll only be an ordinary man.“

They both came back to Zurich in October 1900 to resume their thesis work. The other three students all received assistant positions at the Institute, but Albert did not. He suspected that professor Weber was blocking him. Without a job, he refused to marry Mileva. On 13 December 1900, they submitted a first article on capillarity signed only under Albert’s name. Nevertheless, both referred to this article in letters as their common article. Mileva wrote to Helene Savic on December 20th,1900: “We will send a private copy to Boltzmann to see what he thinks and I hope he will answer us.” Likewise, Albert wrote to Mileva on 4 April 1901, saying that his friend Michele Besso “visited his uncle on my behalf, Prof. Jung, one of the most influential physicists in Italy and gave him a copy of our article.”

The decision to publish only under his name seems to have been taken jointly. Why? Radmila Milentijevic, a former history professor at City College in New York, who published the most comprehensive biography of Mileva in 2015 suggests she wanted to help Albert make a name for himself, such that he could find a job and marry her. Ðorde Krstic, a former physics professor at Ljubljana University, spent 50 years researching Mileva’s life. In his well-documented book, he suggests that given the prevalent bias against women at the time, a publication co-signed with a woman might have carried less weight. We will never know, but nobody made it clearer than Albert Einstein himself that they collaborated on special relativity when he wrote to Mileva on 27 March 1901: “How happy and proud I will be when the two of us together will have brought our work on relative motion to a victorious conclusion.”

Q. What does their relationship tell you about the plight of female scientists at that time?

A. Female scientists were not welcome in the male-dominant academic world of the early 20th century. However, there were exceptions. Marie Curie, for instance, worked at the same time as Albert and Mileva. In June 1903, Marie Curie was awarded her Ph.D. by the Sorbonne. Six months later, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics! Albert Einstein knew Marie personally and she was the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize. But that was because her husband insisted that she’d be awarded, not because the prize committee wanted to give the prize to a woman. Initially, the Nobel Committee intended to give the award to Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel. But Pierre Curie wouldn’t accept the prize if Marie wasn’t honored as well.

Later, in 1911, Marie won the second Nobel Prize in chemistry without her husband Pierre, who died in 1906. How many people know that Marie won two Nobel Prizes and in two different categories? She is the only woman with two Nobel Prizes and her daughter also won a Nobel. But even before this award was given to her, her love affair with a colleague almost cost her the Nobel. What a shame! Albert Einstein even wrote a letter of support for her expressing his anger against the “reptiles”.

Q. What do you want audiences to get out of the play?

A. I wrote about the relationship between Albert and Mileva and realized that it ultimately does not matter who wrote the theory of relativity. But for us, it is better to know about her than live in ignorance. Mileva loved Albert all her life and wanted the best for his work in science. But she was “only a woman” who should raise their children alone without Albert. She was also a shy, quiet person, and did not want any public attention. That’s why we have to be her voice – just to let the world know that she was brilliant! We have to encourage women in their own way, to be visible, to be strong and valued for their work.


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