Einstein married his classmate, Mileva Maric, the only woman in theoretical physics to enter Zurich Polytechnical Institute the same year. She was four years his elder and a disciplined student, having worked very hard to gain entrance to boys/men’s institutions in order to study physics. Here’s where the controversy enters: How much credit should she be given for the theory of relativity? PBS did a documentary on her, Einstein’s Wife, http://www.pbs.org/opb/einsteinswife/science/mquest.htm that met with a firestorm of criticism http://www.pbs.org/ombudsman/2006/12/einsteins_wife_the_relative_motion_of_facts.html such that the website was later changed, though, to my eye, no one on the program was giving her credit, but rather pointing to the possibility that she had worked on it. One biographer, a Serbian woman writing in Russian, Desanka Trbuhovic-Gjuric, claims that Mileva’s name was on one submission of the manuscript, which she had seen on microfilm. And then there’s the unlikely fact of Einstein having produced four papers in 1905, all on radically different subjects, when heretofore he had not demonstrated himself a particularly diligent worker. One of those papers contained content on the motion of molecules that can only be traced to Mileva’s work with Phillip Lenard at Heidelberg University the semester she fled from what she perceived as a threat in her growing intimacy with Einstein. (Indeed, a threat it turned out to be! But that’s for a later post.) This is not conclusive evidence, surely, for it’s known that Einstein always needed a sounding board and it’s logical that Mileva would have served that role without the ideas being hers. Nonetheless, in the love letters Einstein wrote to Mileva before their marriage, he made repeated reference to “our work” and there’s that peculiar fact that in the divorce settlement, he offered her all the proceeds from the Nobel Prize he later won. Why that settlement? He had other sources of income. Their son, Hans Albert, also reports seeing his parents working together at the table, discussing, writing, reading. But he was still a child and the content was beyond his understanding.
After she failed to pass her exams at the Polytechnic and was not granted a degree–she had taken that one semester in Heidelberg and was three months pregnant with Einstein’s illegitimate daughter–it might be argued that his would be the name they would put on the manuscripts, similar to the way Zelda Fitzgerald sold some short stories under F. Scott’s name to garner more money.
But that’s a speculation. Having just finished a novelization of the Darwin’s family life, I’m aware that much work done by the women of the household (all the editing, for example) went unacknowledged. It was difficult to be an accomplished woman in that era.
Here is an article that examines each piece of evidence, claiming that the Maric contribution is revisionist history. https://webspace.utexas.edu/aam829/1/m/Maric_files/EvidenceMaric.pdf .