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Elsa Einstein: 10 Things you didn’t know about Einstein’s wife

Much is known about Albert Einstein. He has, after all, contributed tremendous influence to the scientific community and the entire world. His theory of relativity has changed the world of science forever.

However, very little is known about the woman behind the world’s greatest genius.

Curious? Who was she and how exactly did she play a role in our history?

Her name was Elsa Einstein. Let’s get to know her a little better.

1. Elsa was Einstein’s second wife.

Albert Einstein and his first wife, Mileva Marić. Credit: ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv

Albert Einstein was married twice. His first marriage was to Mileva Marić, a fellow physicist and university classmate.

Even less is known of Mileva. But recent research suggests that she may have contributed significantly to his groundbreaking scientific achievements. The marriage reportedly began as loving. The couple worked closely together professionally when Einstein was merely a budding scientist.

However, things changed when he began a romantic affair with Elsa in 1912. The marriage finally collapsed 2 years later. The divorce wasn’t finalized until 1919. And he immediately married Elsa.

2. She was Einstein’s first cousin.

Elsa Einstein. Credit: Bundesarchiv

Cousins marrying each other wasn’t frowned upon at that time. Interestingly enough, Elsa and Albert were cousins on both sides. Their fathers were cousins and their mothers were sisters. They both spent their childhood together, forming a strong friendship. She called him “Albertle” when they were young.

As adults, they reconnected when Albert moved to Berlin for work. Elsa was living there with her two daughters. She had been recently divorced from her first husband. Albert would visit often. The two began a romantic relationship. And the rest, as they say, is history.

3. She was a great cook and took care of Einstein well.

Elsa and Albert Einstein. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Personality-wise, the difference between Elsa and Mileva were day and night.

Mileva was brooding, with a scientific mind much like Albert’s. She liked to badger Albert about his work and always wanted to be involved. Elsa, however, was a happy person and rarely complained.

After Mileva and the children left, Albert grew sick. It was Elsa who nursed him back to health. She knew nothing about physics. And she was a great cook, which was apparently what Albert liked about her.

4. She deliberately scared people away from Albert Einstein.

Elsa and Albert Einstein. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

It’s widely known that Elsa acted as a gatekeeper of sorts for Albert. At the height of his fame, Albert was inundated with attention. He was ill-equipped to handle it, wanting to avoid unnecessary social interactions.

Elsa saw to it and shooed, even scared, visitors away often.

Albert’s friends were initially skeptical of Elsa. They viewed her as someone searching for fame and liking the attention. But soon she proved herself an able companion to Einstein.

5. She managed the business side of things.

Elsa and Albert Einstein. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Elsa had a practical and managerial mind.

This proved itself useful when it came to Albert’s business engagements.

Albert himself was the typical scientist, often absentminded of affairs that weren’t scientific. Elsa was the one who sorted our his schedule, handled the press, and made sure everything on the sidelines were a-okay.

She managed Albert’s finances and recognized early on that his correspondence and manuscripts would have monetary value in the future.

She was also often seen traveling with Albert and was his constant plus one during public appearances. She made Albert’s life easier by creating a nice working environment for him, all while keeping a smooth-running household.

Elsa was also the driving force behind the building process of their summer house in Caputh near Potsdam.

6. Albert Einstein wrote her letters almost every day.

From left to right: Elsa, Albert, and Robert Millikan. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

1,300 letters, which span from 1912 to Einstein’s death in 1955, were released in 2006. The collection belonged to Einstein’s stepdaughter, Margot, and was only released 20 years after her death.

The letters gave an insight to Albert’s personal life. Most of the letters were written to his wife, which he seemed to have done almost every day that he was away from them. In his letters, he would describe his experiences touring and lecturing in Europe.

In one postcard, he lamented about the downsides of his fame, saying:

“Soon I’ll be fed up with the (theory of) relativity. Even such a thing fades away when one is too involved with it.”

7. Albert was open to Elsa about his extramarital affairs.

Albert and Elsa Einstein with Ernst Lubitsch, Warren Pinney

It seems like Albert Einstein’s genius didn’t stretch to his personal life. The physicist received a lot of attention from women. And apparently, not all of them were unwelcome.

The same documents released in 2006 contained candid letters to Elsa, explaining his extramarital affairs. In one letter, after confronting him about having an affair with one of her close friends, Albert wrote:

“Mrs M definitely acted according to the best Christian-Jewish ethics: 1) one should do what one enjoys and what won’t harm anyone else; and 2) one should refrain from doing things one does not take delight in and which annoy another person. Because of 1) she came with me, and because of 2) she didn’t tell you a word.”

Among all the women mentioned throughout his correspondence were a Margarete, Estella, Toni, Ethel, and even his “Russian spy lover,” Margarita.

Did he regret his cheating ways?

Apparently, he was at least aware of his flaws. In one letter to a young gentleman, he wrote:

“What I admire in your father is that, for his whole life, he stayed with only one woman. This is a project in which I grossly failed, twice.”

8. Elsa accepted Albert, despite all his flaws.

Not much is clear about why Elsa stayed faithful and loyal to her husband. However, she seemed to have accepted him for his entirety, even his faults.

In one letter, she explained her views of him, quite poetically:

“Such a genius should be irreproachable in every respect. But nature does not behave this way, where she gives extravagantly, she takes away extravagantly.”

9. Albert considered breaking off his engagement to her, to propose to her daughter Ilse, instead.

From left to right: Heinrich Jacob Goldschmidt, Albert Einstein, Ole Colbjørnsen, Jørgen Vogt, and Ilse Einstein. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Another astonishing revelation from Albert’s tumultuous personal life is the fact that he almost broke off his engagement to Elsa and to propose to her daughter, Ilse, instead.

At the time, Ilse was working as his secretary at the time when he served as the director of Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Physics at the Prussian Academy of Sciences.

She wrote about her confusion in a revealing letter to a close friend, saying:

”Albert himself is refusing to take any decision; he is prepared to marry either Mama or me. I know that A. loves me very much, perhaps more than any other man ever will, he also told me so himself yesterday.”

Even more peculiar, is the fact that Elsa herself was willing to step aside if it would make Ilse happy. Ilse, however, did not feel the same way about her soon-to-be stepfather. She loved him, yes. But as a father.

She wrote:

“It will seem peculiar to you that I, a silly little thing of a 20-year-old, should have to decide on such a serious matter; I can hardly believe it myself and feel very unhappy doing so as well. Help me!”

Speculation about whether or not the relationship was ever consummated remains until today. Elsa and Albert married the next year after and stayed married until her death.

10. Albert Einstein mourned her death deeply.

Elsa and Albert in Japan. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Einstein was many things. Emotional doesn’t seem to be one of them. In fact, if you look at his personal life closely, you’ll notice a trend of emotional detachment.

Whether he loved Elsa deeply or valued her merely as a trusted companion, we’ll never know for sure. What we do know is that he mourned her death deeply.

Elsa fell ill with heart and kidney problems shortly after moving to the United States in 1935. Shortly before she died, she expressed to a friend about how her illness affected Albert, saying in astonishment:

“I never thought he loved me so much.”

Albert was reportedly caring and attentive during the last days of her life. She died on December 20, 1936.

He was genuinely heartbroken. His friend Peter Bucky commented that it was the first time he saw the physicist cry. In one letter, he wrote:

“I have got used extremely well to life here. I live like a bear in my den . . . This bearishness has been further enhanced by the death of my woman comrade, who was better with other people than I am.”

Now that you’ve read about Elsa Einstein, learn more about Albert Einstein’s forgotten son, Eduard Einstein.

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Written by Genefe Navilon

Genefe Navilon is a writer, poet, and blogger. She graduated with a degree in Mass Communications at the University of San Jose Recoletos. Her poetry blog, Letters To The Sea, currently has 18,000 followers. Her work has been published in different websites and poetry book anthologies. She divides her time between traveling, writing, and working on her debut poetry book.

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