Until the publication of the "love letters" of Albert Einstein and his first wife, Mileva Maric, the life of Mileva was little more than a footnote in the outsized biography of her famous husband. In the last two decades, newly discovered documents have offered tantalizing glimpses of a brilliant and ambitious woman who shared her husband's interest in science. Different interpretations of the evidence, however, have produced bitter debate.
Traditionally, Einstein has been portrayed as something of a scientific saint. There are now letters that indicate that Albert treated his wife and sons shabbily, raising the suspicion that he viewed Mileva's aspirations with equal disregard. A small coterie of researchers began to ask whether, in fact, Mileva had helped author Einstein's most famous papers—suggestions that were greeted with outrage by the scientific establishment. While there is little doubt that Mileva served as a sounding board and occasional assistant to her husband, there is no evidence to suggest that she made substantive contributions to his work. Rather, as the jigsaw puzzle that was Mileva's life is pieced together, an image emerges of a young woman whose great scientific promise ran up against the formidable institutional and social barriers that kept all but the most resilient women, at the turn of the twentieth century, at the margins of science or out of the lab entirely. In the following brief investigation of the facts, Mileva's life story is divided into three periods, each defined by her changing relationship with Albert. The epilogue reviews the events leading to her rediscovery in the late 1980s.
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