On September 19, 1946, Myfanwy (Tyfanny) Williams wrote a letter to Albert Einstein (14 March 1879 – 18 April 1955). The joys of letter writing cannot be overstated. Write to people you admire and your life can be forever changed.
This is Tyfanny’s letter:
I forgot to tell you, in my last letter, that I was a girl. I mean I am a girl. I have always regretted this a great deal, but by now I have become more or less resigned to the fact. Anyway, I hate dresses and dances and all the kind of rot girls usually like. I much prefer horses and riding. Long ago, before I wanted to become a scientist, I wanted to be a jockey and ride horses in races. But that was ages ago, now. I hope you will not think any the less of me for being a girl!
Einstein soon replied.
I do not mind that you are a girl, but the main thing is that you yourself do not mind. There is no reason for it.
You don’t learn though gender. You learn through doing.
On November 4 1915, Einstein wrote another letter to a young student. This one was for his 11-year-old son Hans Albert:
Yesterday I received your dear letter and was very happy with it. I was already afraid you wouldn’t write to me at all any more. You told me when I was in Zurich, that it is awkward for you when I come to Zurich. Therefore I think it is better if we get together in a different place, where nobody will interfere with our comfort. I will in any case urge that each year we spend a whole month together, so that you see that you have a father who is fond of you and who loves you. You can also learn many good and beautiful things from me, something another cannot as easily offer you. What I have achieved through such a lot of strenuous work shall not only be there for strangers but especially for my own boys. These days I have completed one of the most beautiful works of my life, when you are bigger, I will tell you about it.
I am very pleased that you find joy with the piano. This and carpentry are in my opinion for your age the best pursuits, better even than school. Because those are things which fit a young person such as you very well. Mainly play the things on the piano which please you, even if the teacher does not assign those. That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes. I am sometimes so wrapped up in my work that I forget about the noon meal. . . .
Be with Tete kissed by your
Regards to Mama.
And why do we learn? We learn because it’s part of life, said Einstein in another letter. In 1951, Einstein replied to Marion Block Anderson, who had asked him what the point of life was.
“Dear Miss Block:
The question “Why” in the human sphere is easy to answer: to create satisfaction for ourselves and for other people. In the extra-human sphere the question has no meaning. Also the belief in God is no way out for in this case you may ask “Why God”.
PS: In 2014, Julia Wood talked to Shannon Stirone about that letter and what it meant to her mother, Tyfanny:
In 1946, my mother, Myfanwy, was 16 and going to school in Cape Town, South Africa, when she wrote a letter to Albert Einstein that changed her life forever.
She shared her dreams of becoming a scientist, describing how she and her best friends would stay up late to study the stars. To her amazement, he responded with an encouraging note. She wrote again, this time confessing that he’d been corresponding with a girl. He replied a second time, saying he didn’t mind that she was a girl—and that most importantly, she shouldn’t mind.
At the time, men and women were not yet seen as equals, and my mother really struggled with being a girl and yet wanting to become a scientist. But she gathered that if the Albert Einstein didn’t care, she shouldn’t either.
In 1948, it wasn’t the norm for a woman to go to a university, but my mother did anyway, and she ended up getting a degree in genetics. She was the only woman in her class and the only student to graduate with honors.