As arguably the most important intellectual of his time, Albert Einstein exchanged letters with powerful contemporaries: fellow scientists, heads of state, dignitaries, philosophers. But what most might not know is that he also corresponded with children around the world. That’s right–curious children would write and Einstein would reply, even at the height of his career and influence. Their letters back and forth are touching, honest, often hilarious but also poignant, thanks to the tone Einstein took with every note, never talking down to the children. A selection of these can be found in the book Dear Professor Einstein: Albert Einstein’s Letters to and from Children, as well as a sprinkling below.
In a 1920 response to the question of what he looked like, Einstein wrote
Let me tell you what I look like: pale face, long hair, and a tiny beginning of a paunch. In addition, an awkward gait, and a cigar in the mouth … and a pen in pocket or hand. But crooked legs and warts he does not have, and so is quite handsome – also no hair on his hands as is so often found with ugly men.
In 1943, a young girl wrote to Einstein about her difficulties with mathematics in school. He encouragingly replied
Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater.
Professor Albert Einstein.
I was in graduate school in 2005. During the Spring semester, I was enrolled in two courses which I adored and looked forward to daily. One was “The History of Science” with Dr. Pamela Gossin and the other was “Women in Science and Science Fiction” with Dr. Edrie Sobstyl.
I also had an eight-year-old daughter and a five-year-old son. I was a teaching assistant at my university as well. I thought it would kill me.
I’ve always had an interest in science and love to learn about process and theory, but sadly, I’ve never had the math brain to pursue “real” science. But I knew plenty of brilliant women who did. I knew what would be required of them, far more than would be asked of someone in humanities pursuing a doctoral degree. Many of these young women also wanted to have children. They wondered and worried about how they could pursue the intellectual life they loved and the emotional life they also desired. There was no good answer.
But we all realized how the system was “stacked” for men. So in the winter of 2005, when Harvard President Lawrence Summers made dismissive remarks about women’s intellectual abilities, many of us balked at how unfair such comparisons were, The reasons women were not reaching the upper echelons of research and academia had almost nothing to do with ability. Instead, what mostly held (and holds) women back is a system designed around the lives and needs of men. A recent article on this topic in the Atlantic by Nicholas H. Wolfinger clearly articulates those reasons. Wolfinger writes:
“[L]ess than one half of tenured female faculty all disciplines are married with children. Consequently, aspiring female scholars don’t have a lot of role models, especially those who’ve managed to combine marriage and children with a successful career in academic science…Married female scientists are almost always in dual-career marriages, while only around half of male faculty have wives who work full-time. One spouse must defer, and that spouse is likely to be wife (unfortunately we have no data on same-sex unions, or non-marital live-in relationships). And unlike in most other professions, taking an academic job typically requires relocation to another state. The baby penalty is even easier to understand. Many women are loath to face the demanding “publish or perish” assistant professor years while caring for young children; cognizant of this challenge, some academic search committees are reluctant to hire women perceived to be on the mommy track rather than the tenure track. These problems persist because the rigid academic career structure really doesn’t offer women any good time to have children.