The Early Years 1895-1902
Mileva Maric was born just before Christmas. Her parents doted on her and nicknamed her "Mitza." She limped because of a displaced hip, a birth defect unusually common in the region. As a youngster, she showed a gift for math and languages, painting and music. Mileva's family was well-to-do, and she received superior schooling.
When Mileva turned 15, her father got special permission for her to take classes at an all-male prep school. She kept to herself and earned the highest grades in both math and physics. To continue her education, Mileva went to Zurich, one of the few European cities, at the time, with a university that accepted women.
In the summer of 1896, she began studying medicine. By October, she had switched to the prestigious Zurich Polytechnic, which later became known as the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH). She was nearly 21, and only the fifth woman to be accepted by the ETH. One of her classmates was Albert Einstein. He was 17, a boy barely worth noticing. Her first two years were an academic success. She spent a semester in Heidelberg. Mileva and Albert exchanged letters while she was away. She described, in great detail, the satisfactions of her studies. In return, Albert called her a "little runaway," telling her to "come back soon." See Note 1
She returned and, by the spring of 1899, all formality was gone. He called her Dollie. She dubbed him Johnny. They embarked on a "modern" love affair. Her parents were tolerant, knowing that Mileva's marital prospects were few, due to her intelligence and disability. His parents opposed the relationship on every level. She was too old, too bookish, lame, a Serb, not Jewish.
The greater the opposition, the more the couple was drawn together. Mileva became fiercely protective of Albert; they were inseparable. But after a promising start to her academic studies, Mileva's performance began to falter. In the summer of 1900, she failed her final exams. Although the final grades for both Maric and Einstein fell below the 5 point average that was necessary to pass, Einstein's 4.9 was rounded up to a 5, so he squeaked by. Mileva's 4 was dragged down by a miserable 2.5 average in the theory of functions--though she had received high marks in physics. Einstein earned a diploma, but was one of the few graduates without a job waiting. He joined his family for a summer holiday. See Note 2
After failing her first round of exams, Maric stayed in Zurich, working as a lab assistant and preparing to retake her exams. In May, they rendezvoused at Lake Como for three or four days. Several weeks later, Mileva discovered that she was pregnant. In July, she failed her exams again. Now, more than ever, her hopes were tied to Albert. He could give her child a name, and provide an outlet for Mileva's scientific ability. That fall, Einstein, who secured a poorly paid job as a substitute teacher in Schaffhausen, 20 miles north of Zurich, began to make up excuses to avoid seeing her.
In late January 1902, Mileva gave birth to a daughter she named Lieserl, at home in Novi Sad. There is no record of Albert ever going to see the child.
As 1902 drew to a close, Mileva turned 27. In the petit bourgeois world of Habsburg Serbia from which she hailed, Mileva's academic failure and illegitimate child would have made her feel like something of a family disgrace. Albert, on the other hand, was 23 and by then an employee of the Swiss Patent Office in Bern. He was on the brink of his most productive scientific years.
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