Reply to Alana Cash

This is a response to Alana Cash's reply to my criticism of her film posted on the WMST-L listserv, with full documentation here:

Cash's comments are either addressed implicitly in the following paragraphs, or in some cases quoted in bold type.


It is not the case that Einstein did less well at non-scientific subjects at school because "he couldn't grasp" them. For instance, he always achieved the second highest, or occasionally highest, grade in Latin and Greek. (Fölsing 1997, pp. 18-19)

The actual facts about Einstein's leaving the Munich Luitpold Gymnasium when he was fifteen are as follows: His parents had emigrated to Italy when his father's electrical company folded, leaving Einstein to continue his schooling. Not liking the regimented methods at the school, and no doubt missing his parents, he asked a doctor (brother of the medical student Max Talmey who used to visit the Einsteins) to provide a certificate saying he was suffering from "neurasthetic exhaustion" to give him a pretext for joining his parents. (At the same time his mathematics teacher gave him a letter testifying that he had already achieved university entrance level in mathematics.) (Fölsing 1997, pp. 30, all documented.)

After some nine months without formal education, Einstein attended the cantonal school in Aarau, Switzerland, to bring his non-science subjects up to the level necessary for entrance to Zurich Polytechnic. Although at least a year younger than the other students in his class, in the Matura (university entrance level exam) at the end of that year he obtained the highest grade average of the nine students who entered for the exam.

There is no evidence that "Mileva made straight "A's" throughout her academic career" in all her subjects – it is certainly not the case for the diploma course at Zurich Polytechnic (1896-1900). In her biography Trbuhović-Gjurić (1993) only reports on her excellent two years at a Gymnasium in Zagreb where she gained the highest grades in physics and mathematics for her final year (1894), but she gives no information about her end-of-year grades for the academic year 1895-1896 Marić spent at the Lycée in Switzerland or for Matura which she passed in 1896. Later that year she had to take the Zurich Polytechnic mathematics entrance exam, and received a rather moderate grade average of 4.25 on a scale 1 to 6. (Trbuhović-Gjurić 1993, p. 60)

Cash writes: While Esterson points out Marić's grades were lower than Einstein's, there is some discrepancy of source for his information.  I visited Swiss Poly and looked at the grade reports myself.

Cash is here conflating the Polytechnic coursework grades with what I reported, the intermediate and final diploma exam grades. Marić's grade placed her fifth out of six students for the intermediate diploma exams (Einstein came top), and last of the remaining five students in the final diploma exam. (Albert Einstein Collected Papers, vol. 1, docs. 42, 67; Trbuhović-Gjurić 1993, p. 63)

If we compare the end-of-semester coursework grades, of the nine subjects that they took in common, Einstein achieved higher grades in five, in two they achieved equal grades, and Marić achieved higher grades in two. (One of the latter was Geographical Locations, the other was Physics Practical for Beginners, for which Einstein received the lowest possible grade 1 as he was frequently absent from the class, for which he received an official reprimand.)

Esterson dismisses that Marić felt intimidated by her instructors at Swiss Poly some of whom did not want women in their classes.

I wrote specifically in response to Cash's assertion about one instructor, Prof. Fiedler, and said that there is "no evidence" that he intimidated Marić (e.g., in Marić's letters to Einstein and to her close friend Helene Kaufler). Nor is there any documented evidence that some of her instructors did not want women in their classes. (There had, incidentally, been several female students in the department for intending teachers of science and mathematics in the years immediately before Marić enrolled.)

Cash's assertions, including that women were graded differently from men, are of the "it must have been so" variety, without any actual evidence in the case of Marić. (Several women graduated among the larger group of science students at the Polytechnic during the time Marić was there. [Stachel 2002, p. 30])

I didn't mention that Marić was three months pregnant when she retook the diploma exam in 1901 in my online critique of Cash's film because I was responding to a statement about her first failed attempt in 1900.

It wasn't the case that Einstein "refused to marry her", he was in no position to marry her – without regular paid employment and no immediate prospect of one. He didn't marry Marić "out of guilt", he did so some six months after he found secure employment at the Bern Patent Office.

It is not "very clear that he did not want" baby Lieserl: On the contrary, on 12 December 1901 he wrote to Marić about "how to keep our Lieserl with us; I wouldn't want to have to give her up." Cash writes that "he asked Marić to give the baby away". I fear this typifies so many of the contentions on this topic. This is an assertion totally without evidence.

Cash asks if it "is remotely conceivable that with her intellect and education that after they married Marić spent her time creating new recipes for stew or doing needlepoint?" I don't know precisely how Marić spent her time when she was bringing up the infant Hans Albert, but there is no evidence that she worked on advanced physics. Even when offered an assistantship at the Polytechnic provisional on her passing her diploma, she told Helene Kaufler that she didn't want to accept it, preferring a position as librarian at the Polytechnic. (Popović  2003, p. 61). After twice failing the diploma exam for teaching mathematics and physics in secondary school, and the devastating loss of the infant Lieserl (whether she died or was adopted is not known), she "gave up all her [scientific] ambitions", according to Hans Albert. (Whitrow 1967, p. 19)

She was reading physics journals and investigating the photoelectric effect and when Einstein returned home from his job at the patent office, they discussed what she had been able to read and research during the day.

There is not a scrap of evidence for any of this. For instance, there is no evidence that she had any particular interest in the photoelectric effect. Contrast this lack of evidence with Einstein's first coming across it: "I just read a wonderful paper by Lenard on the generation of cathode rays by ultraviolet light. Under the influence of this beautiful piece I am filled with such happiness and joy that I absolutely must share some of it with you." (Letter, 28 May 1901). In contrast to the frequent comments by Einstein about advanced physics in his letters to Marić in this period, her letters are devoid of any such material, even where we have letters directly replying to ones by Einstein in which he has written excitedly about his own ideas.

I read 30+ biographies about him. In total, there might have been a handful of sentences about Mileva Marić.

I don't know what Cash means by "biographies"; I'm sure there are nowhere near 30+ biographies, rather than general books about Einstein. She evidently failed to consult the biographer Ronald Clark's *Einstein: The Life and Times* (1971), which contains some fourteen references to Marić. Or the more recent biographies by Roger Highfield and Paul Carter (1993, around 50 references) or Denis Brian (1996, more than 50 references). Even the first of these (when much less was known about her than in recent times) contains considerably more sentences on Marić than Cash says is the total in the "biographies" she read.

Why did she have to be hidden [historically]?

Marić wasn't hidden. She was at least mentioned in virtually all the biographies of Einstein, but there wasn't a lot to say as little was known about her before the interest stirred by the discovery of the Einstein/Marić "love letters" (in the possession of the Hans Albert family) in 1987.

The reason that Mileva and the children were hidden is that Einstein abandoned them to have affairs and enjoy the aggrandizement of his reputation.

Einstein didn't have any affairs when married to Marić before the one with his cousin Elsa, starting by correspondence around 1913 when his marriage to Marić was already reaching breaking point. When he embarked on the other well-known affairs much later when married to Elsa he was separated from his children (already at least well into their teens), but was keen to see them (now in Switzerland with their mother) whenever possible, so he didn't "abandon" them. 

The most telling evidence of Marić's involvement in writing the famous "Einstein" papers are 1) they fought because he no longer wanted to share his work with her.

There is not a scrap of evidence that this was the case. (I must say that that's a new one to me, and I've read just about everything on the subject in the public domain.)

2) he never sent a penny of child support to her after they separated in Berlin…

This is simply not true. He had already been sending her regular sums of money before the divorce. By the terms of the 1919 divorce agreement he deposited in trust in a Swiss bank 40,000 Marks, the interest on which was to go to Marić. (AE Collected Papers, vol. 8, doc. 449) The situation in regard to the Nobel Prize money that he anticipated he would obtain within the next few years is more complicated. In the event of his receiving it, the money was also to be deposited in a Swiss bank and the interest on the capital was to go to Marić. Letters placed under embargo by Hans Albert Einstein's step-daughter until 25 years after her death, released in 2006, revealed that Einstein actually invested the Nobel money in bond investments on Wall Street and lost much of it. However, Prof Hanoch Gutfreund, responsible for the Einstein bequest at Hebrew University, said Einstein made amends: "Over the course of his life he sent Mileva and the boys regular sums of cash, much more than if he had only given them his Nobel Prize award."

3) he never published another important paper after they separated.  Never came up with another theory. Zero. He just put his name on other people's work.

If anything illustrates that so much of the story about Marić's alleged collaboration is based on ignorance, this (unfortunately) familiar contention does. Einstein separated from Marić in 1914, by which time they had barely been on speaking terms for the previous two years. In the period 1912-1915 he worked continuously on his general theory of relativity, and after publication of his 1915 paper he continued to publish on the subject, and also made important contributions to quantum theory and statistical physics well into the 1920s. His correspondence during these years is filled with exchanges on dauntingly advanced topics in physics with a range of eminent physicists. Does Cash really think he would be held in the highest regard by eminent physicists of the calibre of Planck, Lorentz, Bohr, Curie, Born, de Broglie, Sommerfeld, von Laue, and Wien if he "just put his name on other people's work"?

Einstein was undisciplined.  Mileva was the disciplined partner. Together they were something.

I suspect Cash gets this from the "popular" book on Einstein by Peter Michelmore, whom she quotes in the film concerning Marić's alleged brilliance at mathematics. Michelmore writes in the above terms in one of his highly imaginative sections with invented scenarios. (Michelmore 1963, pp. 31-33) In fact few people have the ability to focus with extraordinary intensity in the way Einstein did on his work on theoretical physics, as is evident during the most productive periods of his life.

I note that Cash scarcely addressed my specific rebuttals to her factual claims that I made in my post on the WMST-L listserv, and even less so in regard to the major factual errors in her film cited in my critique here:


Allen Esterson

March 2010
Modified December 2011