Who Was Elsa Einstein?
Cousins Albert and Elsa Einstein became romantically involved during the scientist's first marriage, and wed in 1919. Elsa was invaluable to her brilliant husband's career in physics, managing his day-to-day life, nursing him in poor health, and keeping interlopers at bay. When the Nazi movement forced them to leave Germany, Elsa and Albert moved to Princeton, NJ, where Elsa died in 1936.
Elsa Löwenthal was born on January 18, 1876, in Ulm, Germany. She married Max Löwenthal in 1896 and together they had three children, daughters Ilse and Margot, and a son, who died as an infant. She and her husband divorced in 1908. From the 1910s until her death, Elsa Einstein was an invaluable aide and trusted companion to her famous physicist husband Albert. She and Albert were cousins and had known each other growing up.
Relationship with Albert Einstein
Elsa and Albert pair became especially close around 1912. Even though he was married to Mileva Maric at the time, Albert had a romantic correspondence with Elsa and moved to Berlin where she lived in 1914.
When Albert became seriously ill in 1917, Elsa nursed him back to health. Throughout their time together, she would become known for her devotion to him. Two years later, shortly after his divorce was finalized, the couple wed on June 2, 1919. Although Albert had became a father figure to her children, it came to light that he also had an infatuation with Ilse, who had assisted him as a secretary. In his Collected Papers of Albert Einstein left to Princeton University after his death, a letter emerged describing a proposal to Ilse prior to his marriage with Elsa.
As Albert became the first celebrity scientist, Elsa accompanied him during his many trips to give lectures and talks. They went to the United States together in 1921 where he was helping to raise funds for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. That same year, he also won the Nobel Prize for Physics in recognition of his earlier work. Elsa played a supporting role in his career, helping to manage his day-to-day business affairs until 1928. Even after Helen Dukas was hired as his secretary that year, Elsa remained his tireless protector, keeping unwanted visitors away.
Move to the United States
After the rise of the Nazi Party in the early 1930s, it became increasingly difficult for the Einsteins in Germany. Einstein was outspoken in his opposition to the Nazis because of their anti-Semitic policies. In 1933, he was traveling with Elsa when he learned that their summer home had been searched by the government. Their property was then seized. Realizing that they could not return to Germany, the Einsteins eventually sought asylum in the United States.
Elsa and Albert arrived in the United States in October 1933. He became a professor of theoretical physics at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study in New Jersey. Barely settled in her new home, she learned that her daughter Ilse had cancer the next year. Elsa traveled to Paris to be with her in her final days. Eventually her other daughter Margot moved to the United States to be with her mother.
Not long after Ilse's death, Elsa faced her own health challenges. She had heart and liver problems. On December 20, 1936, Elsa died in the Einsteins' Princeton home.
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