Some historians believe that Albert Einstein’s wife made a big contribution to the development of the relativity theory because she was also a mathematician. And for some reason, her involvement was not documented and there is no way to prove this fact. But there have been cases of unfair treatment of women that have been documented. American artist Margaret Keane had to sue her husband who took credit for all of her work, and astrophysicist Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell didn’t receive the award for her contribution to the discovery of pulsars until several decades later.
Bright Side reviewed the biographies of some famous scientists and creative people whose achievements were either underestimated or even completely ignored and stolen away from them.
20-year-old Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette got married to a writer who was known as Willy. Over the course of 8 years, Colette wrote 4 novels that were published under her husband’s name and made him popular.
She couldn’t handle doing this any longer, so she got divorced, and started her own writing career. Her biggest professional achievement was getting a Nobel Prize nomination in 1948. She was also the first woman member of the Goncourt Academy.
The Broadway musical Gigi was directed based on one of Colette’s books and Audrey Hepburn, who was not yet famous at the time, was chosen to play a part in it.
Several movies have been made about the life of the writer. The latest one was released in 2018, and Keira Knightley played the main role in it. The actress said in one of the interviews, “It would be great to get an Oscar for Colette.”
Artist Margaret Keane
When Margaret Keane found out that her husband Walter had sold her works under his name, she was furious. But her husband convinced her that it was easier to earn money this way. They spent a year arguing, but then she agreed that her husband would sell her works as his for the next 13 years.
Walter became one of the most popular and commercially successful artists of the 1960s. During the peak of his popularity, Margaret sometimes worked 16 hours per day. Her husband threatened to kill her if she told anyone the truth.
It was only when she decided to divorce her husband that she sued him. In order to prove that it was her who painted the pictures, the judge suggested that they should draw a painting with big eyes during the trial. Walter refused and said he had shoulder pain. Margaret did it in an hour and won.
Tim Burton’s Big Eyes is a movie about this story. Amy Adams and Christoph Walts played the main characters. Amy Adams even won a Golden Globe for it.
Astrophysicist Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell
Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell was the first person who noticed the unusual movement of the celestial bodies that were later named pulsars. And 7 years later, 2 of her colleagues, Antony Hewish and Martin Ryle received the Nobel Prize for discovering pulsars. Burnell’s role in the discovery that made a revolution in physics was not even mentioned.
It wasn’t until 50 years later that Burnell got a special award in fundamental physics in the amount of $3 million. Before that, this award had only been won 3 times.
Physicist and radiochemistry expert Lise Meitner
Lise Meitner was a member of the team that discovered and explained nuclear fission and predicted its explosive potential. Lise did not receive the main award. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was given to Otto Hahn who Lise spent 30 years working together with.
Meitner refused to participate in the development of a nuclear weapon. Her epitaph on her gravestone, written by her nephew Otto Frisch, reads, “Lise Meitner: a physicist who never lost her humanity.”
Biophysicist Rosalind Franklin
Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins were the managers of different research groups. Each of them studied DNA. The photos, taken by Franklin, proved the hypothesis of the second group of scientists and they published the article about their discoveries at the same time.
The discovery of the DNA structure won the Nobel Prize for Maurice Wilkins’ team, but not for Franklin. Even though she died before her colleagues got the award, her contribution was still never recognized.
Microbiologist and geneticist Esther Lederberg
Esther Lederberg was a pioneer of bacterial genetics. But her first husband’s name, Joshua Lederberg, is part of history now. He was a well-known scientist and he took credit for everything they created together.
In 1958, Joshua won the Nobel Prize and he never even mentioned his wife’s contribution. Neither during his speech, nor during the dinner. In the end, they got divorced.
After Esther’s death, a Stanford professor has said, “…independent seminal contributions in Joshua’s laboratory … surely led, in part, to his Nobel Prize.”
Bonus: Mathematician Mileva Marić-Einstein
Historians don’t have the same point of view on which contributions the first wife of Einstein made to his relativity theory. Some people think he was a unique genius who was married to a well-educated woman, others believe that the mathematical foundation for his work was prepared by Mileva. In any case, she was one of the first female physicists and she was forgotten.
In Einstein’s correspondence that was published, he often writes to his wife and uses the words, “our work,” “our theory,” and “our research.” He once said, “I need my wife as she solves all the mathematical problems for me.”
Who would you add to the list of women whose achievements were forgotten, underestimated, or even stolen by someone else?