*The rarity of a woman pursuing this field of study at this time in history
The lure of writing about Mileva Maric, the first wife of Albert Einstein and a physicist herself, was not simply the notion of sharing a fresh perspective on the life of the famous scientist. The deeper I got into the research surrounding Mileva the more I realized I wanted to tell the astonishing story of a young Serbian woman who ascended from the remote regions of the Austro-Hungarian empire where it was illegal for her to attend high school to the physics classrooms of a competitive European university. Mileva’s narrative was all too rare in fin-de-siecle Europe, making Mileva’s climb all the more spectacular.
What were the odds that a young woman like Mileva could become a physics student at a European university? Disregarding the hurdle that girls in Mileva’s region could not even attend high school, prior to the middle of the nineteenth century, European universities were almost entirely closed to women, particularly in Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Switzerland, France, and Central Europe. The rare exceptions of women studying at a higher education institution in Europe during this time involved the receipt of special permission from the administration, and even then, women were typically allowed only to audit classes, not receive degrees. Mileva herself experienced this treatment when she spent a semester at Heidelberg University in Germany, and she attended physics classes but received no credit for them. In the late 1880s and early 1900s, certain European
When placed in this context, the story of Mileva Maric’s climb — the foundation upon which THE OTHER EINSTEIN sits — is breathtaking. The odds against her sitting beside Albert Einstein in a physics class at the Swiss Federal Polytechnical University were staggeringly high. Consequently, the tale of her descent from this hard-won height makes THE OTHER EINSTEIN all the more tragic — and all the more important.