In looking at the history of Mileva’s academic career and thinking about what motivated her after she became pregnant with Einstein’s child, I ask myself that question.
Prior to July 1900, she had never failed an exam. That month was the first time she took the tests. Her failure makes sense, given she had not only taken a semester off to go to study in Heidelberg, but also had taken up with Albert at the Cafe Metropole, discussing contemporary physicists rather than attending class. Prior to this, according to her friends at Plattenstrasse 50, she had stayed up all night, reading and studying, followed by an hour of sleep before attending class. That said, after July 1900’s failure, she spent a year mostly without Albert (who graduated in 1900) where she could go back to her former habits, where she had exclusive use of Marcel Grossmann’s meticulous notes from classes she missed, plus was working with Weber on her doctoral thesis and studying to retake the tests. She wasn’t pregnant until May 5, 1901 when she went with Albert to Lake Como, so I’m to think she spent that entire school year doing nothing? It hardly sounds like her.
I’m asking myself what she really wanted when she went to take those tests the second time. Here’s my speculation:
She wanted Albert. She wanted them to be together, to work together, to raise their baby together. She needed to read what he was reading, which was not the same as taking a degree. She saw the cradle beside the table where her foot might rock it while they were working. She saw the coffee pot perking on a little stove, a pot of soup simmering, Albert’s pipe in a rack, the laundry drying beside the stove. Beyond this room was a little bed, made up in a patched quilt, where they would spend the nights keeping each other warm.
Was passing her exams the best way to get that? Hmmm.