Dear ladies and gentlemen,
I will try to describe a non scientifical aspect of the life of brilliant scientist Nikola Tesla. Like many things connected with him, the question of women in his life is pretty unusual. Why?
First, because he used to say that he is married to science (that was an answer to the question whether artists and scientists should get married. Tesla said: „An artist, yes, a musician, yes, an inventor, no. The first two can get inspiration from the female influence and they can be led to sublime achievements by love, but an inventor’s nature is so fierce, with so many wild and passionate aspects in it, that he would, by giving himself to the woman he loves, give everything, and then nothing of his would be left for the chosen field. I do not believe you can name many inventors who were married.” He also added: “That is a pity, because sometimes we are so lonely”)
Second, it is unusual that he really lived his life according to his convictions. It cannot be claimed with certainty he did not have any physical relationship with any woman, especially during his life period before he came to the USA, although he is often portrayed as such a person.
He was a bachelor all his life, and he also had some strange reactions connected with women. For instance, he abhorred chubby women, women who wore a lot of jewelry made him sick (he especially felt sickness upon seeing pearls; he could not stand their roundness). He used to say he could not touch hair of any woman.
But, nevertheless, apart from his attitudes, he was a subject of female sighing and adoration, especially during the period of his greatest scientific fame.
Let’s start from the first woman who is important in the life of each man, mother. His mother’s name was Djuka Mandic (1822-1892). Her real name was Georgina, Djuka was her nickname. She was a daugher of an orthodox priest, whose family ancestry was also in the clerical background. She had no formal education, but she was extremely intelligent. She had excellent memory, talent for handwork and inventing new objects for household by herself. Tesla had a very good relationship with her. When he was in his youth in a bad period of life (he was constantly gambling), his mother, upon hearing about that, gave him all the money she had, telling him to gamble it all away, but he instantly decided to conquer his vice and stop gambling, without even touching the money.
When she was dying, he had lectures in Paris. He cancelled the already appointed lectures due to her difficult condition and left for Gospic. He was lucky enough to see her still alive. In his autobiography Tesla said: “ I was totally exhausted because of pain and a long wake, so one night some people took me two streets away from our house. As I was lying there helplessly, I was thinking that my mother will, while I am far from her deathbed, certainly give me some kind of sign. I was intensely listening, but nothing happened until dawn when I fell asleep, or fainted, and saw a cloud carrying faces of wonderful beauty, one of them was looking at me with love and gradually getting the look of my mother. In that moment I was certain my mother has just died. And that was true.”
Tesla often mentioned her, for instance, when he was stressing her unbelievable power of intuition and when he was paraphrasing her words that success in life can be achieved only with man’s own efforts. In his autobiography he devoted the most beautiful and the most touching lines to his mother.
Tesla had three sisters: Angelina, Milka and Marica. Although he lived far away from them, he took care of them and helped their families, and they often wrote letters to him, being so proud of their famous brother.
Tesla’s first love was a girl named Ana (in some texts I found her name was Marija). He fell in love with her in Gospic in Lika. They walked together in Gospic or in Smiljan (his birthplace). It is said that he uttered he had been in love for the first time. When he came back from the university, she has already married (she wanted family). Tesla, allegedly, then said: “She got married, I have been dreaming her for a long time and then I died.” However, he was very disappointed because of that love story and it is possible that it was one of the reasons why he decided not to have further relationships with women.
That story continued in a totally different way many years later, when her son came to New York. Tesla took care of him and tried to help him. The young man was interested in boxing, and Tesla managed to arrange a box fight for him, but the unfortunate boy fainted on the first match, and later died. Tesla mourned him as if he were his own son.
Sarah Bernhardt (1844 – 1923)
I have already mentioned that Tesla had arranged lectures in Paris. They were preceeded by enormously successful lectures he had in London, in the Institution of Electrical Engineers and The Royal Institution of Great Britain. Both the scientific and journalist world talked about them, and he was famous in Paris before he even got there. One person was especially intrigued by that news, it was Sarah Bernhardt. She was born as Sara-Marie-Henriette Rosine Bernard, and was the most famous French and world’s theatre actress of her time. Her nickname was “divine Sarah”. Her first successes were in Europe, during the 70′s of the 19th century, and after that she started tours in America. The critics celebrated her as the best actress in comedies and dramas. Her repertoire was diverse: Moliere, Beaumarchais, Dumas pere, Shakespeare. She played Joan d’Arc, Hamlet, Lady Macbeth, Queen Elizabeth I…
Let’s go back to Tesla’s stay in Paris. Sarah has already been well-known, and Tesla came to Paris for the second time, also famous and well-known (when he lived in Paris for the first time, he was just a worker in Edison’s company full of ideas and will to succeed in the USA). Sarah had a wish to meet him personally. She sent messages about herself via French engineer Andre Blondel whose task was to narrate Tesla about her. But, she could not wait for the answer and reaction, she acted instead, visiting the hotel “De le pe” when Tesla was in the restaurant with Blondel and passing by. She looked mysteriously in Tesla and deliberately dropped her lace handkerchief. Tesla jumped off the chair, grabbed the handkerchief, but did not look at Sarah at all. He just said: “Miss, you dropped your handkerchief!” and continued conversation with Blondel.
They later arranged a dinner, but Tesla had to travel from Paris due to the news of his mother’s sickness. A few years later Tesla and Sarah met several times in New York, when she was on theatre tours. They attended dinners and parties. Tesla met one of the most important people in his life, Swami Vivekananda by Sarah’s assistance, during one dinner.
Marguerite Merrington (1857-1951)
She was a writer, journalist and pianist. Tesla met her at the Johnsons’ house, she was their dinner guest. What is special about her is the fact that Tesla considered her charming, moderate, clever, and lady-like, she was special to him. He kept very active correspondence and friendship with her all his life. He liked her for not wearing jewelry. She was tall, graceful and modest. She also wrote about music (she left the unpublished biography „Intimate memories of Pederevski“).
Merrington was born in England, but spent most of her life in America. She grew up in a monastery in Buffalo before entering a musical school. She had a job of Greek language teacher, and then she quit and came to New York to write plays, namely, her first published comedy play was called „Captain Lettarblair“. She wrote fiction as well.
There is one well-known conversation of her and Tesla about money. They talked about it and she said she would, if she had it, spend it on a house instead on jewelry and other expensive things. Then Tesla said he will buy her a square block in New York to build a villa with a lot of trees around.
So, she was tallented for journalism, writing (plays, librettos, novels), playing the piano, in general, she was a clever and subtle woman. For her opera libretto „Daphne“ she won the prize of the „American composer“ from the National Conservatory of Music of America. Tesla wrote about Margaret to Katherine Johnson in 1899 asking her to invite Merrington as a guest again, noting she was unbelievably intelligent and wise woman. Besides being Tesla’s close friend, she was a member of the whole party around the Johnsons (for instance, she attended Mark Twain’s birthday party in 1905 with Owen Johnson (the son of Robert and Katherine Johnson))
Lenka Dundjerski (1871 – 1895)
She was a daughter of Lazar Dundjerski, the famous landowner and industrialist who lived in Vojvodina. He was the richest man in Vojvodina. In his castle in Cib (Chib) the famous Serbian poet Laza Kostic met young and beautiful Lenka in 1891 Laza was 50 at that time, and Lenka was 21. She was very gracious and well-known for her stunning beauty, so it was not unusual that Laza fell in love with her, but had no courage to ask her hand because of the great age difference. He told her about her past, they led conversations in French; he listened to her piano performances. Then he secluded himself in a monastery, but started thinking that Lenka should marry Nikola Tesla. He considered that Tesla is an ideal man for such a sensual, educated and unattainable girl. He wrote to her about Tesla, she got his photo, and became enchanted and delighted with the scientist, saying Tesla was love of her life. Kostic wrote to Tesla in June 1895 recommending Lenka, noting she had already rejected many suitors and that only Tesla suited her. Laza also stated Lenka’s father’s richness and the possibility of Tesla’s counting on a million dollar loan from the possible father-in-law. Tesla’s answer is not kept, but it is known that he was not interested. But, even if he had been, marriage would not have happened, because Lenka had unfortunate destiny. Laza wrote to Tesla in December 1895. informing Tesla that Lenka died of typhus in Vienna. “Even your biography will not be without romance, the most beautiful and the saddest in the same time” Laza wrote to Tesla.
May Cline (? – ?)
This is the woman who wrote the greatest amount of letters to Tesla. There is scarce information about her, i.e. her letters to him are not well-known because they were not explored. The archive of Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade keeps about 2500 her letters and different papers (newspaper articles, drawings, natal charts…), which tells us she wrote to him very often, almost every day. She exchanged letters with Tesla between 1891 and 1942. She lived in New Jersey. There are two of her books in Tesla’s library: „The Principles of Bird Flight“ (published in 1905) and „Trailing Evolution“. She was a member of New York Academy of Sciences. There are no copies of his letters to her, so we do not know whether and now often Tesla answered to her. Many things about their relationship are still mysterious, and the mystery is greater because a long time will pass until her letters are decyphered, because she had very unreadable handwriting.
Frances Warwick (1861-1938)
Her full name was Frances Evelyn Greville, countess of Warwick. Her nickname was „Daisy“. She was a society beauty, allegedly the mistress of English king Edward VII.
She is known as a woman who tried to approach and „conquer“ Tesla. She also wrote to him, and tried to be as closed friend as she could.
In her youth there were plans she should be the wife of Prince Lepopold, son of the Queeen Victoria, but eventually she married Francis Greville, lord Brooke and together they lived in Warwick castle. After the marriage, she indulged herself in famous parties and she became a well-known socialite. There were rumours that she had an affair with Edward VII, but perhaps the affair was a cover fore her actual loving relationship with Lord Charles Beresford.
Milka Trnina (1863-1941)
A soprano opera singer, one of the most favourite of Tesla’s music artists, in fact, it can be said she was his most favourite. She was above all his good friend, but he also admired her as an artist. She was born in Croatia, she studied singing in Zagreb and Vienna, and then started singing in Germany. For some time she taught singing in New York. She was famous for her subtle and expressive performances of Wagner, Mozart and Puccini (especially his “Tosca”). Her role of Tosca in the Metropolitan Opera House was considered by Puccini himself as the best performance of all times. She withdrew from the stage due to facial paralysis in 1906. She was the first to sing the role of Elizabeth in Wagner’s opera „Tunhauser“ in New York.
Besides Tesla, she was adored by a great lover of Wagner’s work, Swiss chocolate manufacturer Carl Russ-Suchard, and it is said that he named his world-wide known chocolate „Milka“ after her.
Anne Morgan (1873-1952)
Another very close female friend of Tesla. She was his friend and helper, Tesla was her obsession.
She was a daugher of one of the richest men in USA, a great financier of the Golden age. She herself is mostly known for her aid efforts to France during and after World War II. She was a great friend and lover of France, proving it as one of the three owners of the Villa Trianon in Versailles. Besides living and being socially engaged in France (between 1917 and 1921 she lived near the French front), she helped in organizing the Colony Club, the first social club for women in New York.
Being the youngest child of the great Morgan, it is obvious why he once described her as „the woman who runs me“. She received the most expensive education possible in her childhood, and as a young woman she spent her time in Paris, where she fell in love with it.
Anne fought for female rights. She also wrote a story called „The American Girl: Her Education, Her Responsibility, Her Recreation, Her Future“. Oscar Wilde was her close friend, among other famous people, but perhaps Tesla was a constant longing of her life. She helped him whenever he came to her father to negotiate finances, she listened his side of the story. She never married. She exchanged letters with Tesla until his death.
Catherine Moth (?-?)
Another woman who wished to win Tesla’s heart. She was very religious and tried to develop loving emotions in him. She was persistent, but without success.
Flora Dodge (?-?)
Flora Bigelow Dodge, another woman who tried to win Tesla’s heart.
She has lived in New York since her divorce from the first husband Charles Stuart Dodge. In 1905 married Lionel George William Guest of Montreal and moved to Montreal. She was 35 and he 24. She was one of four daughers of John Bigelow, diplomat and writer. She herself was the author of a novelette „Laugher and Tears“ in 1926.
Elsie Ferguson (1883 – 1961)
She was Tesla’s favourite actress. He stressed she could dress nicely (with taste) and used to say she was the most elegant and graceful actress he has ever seen on the stage.
She started on stage, but was also a film actress. Born in New York, she was a daugher of a famous lawyer. Her first roles were in musical comedies, and very soon became known as one of the most beautiful women on the American stage. In 1903. she was a cast member in „The Girl from Kays“, an English musical comedy with music. It had a run of 223 performances. Her first film was silent. It was made in 1917, called „Barbary sheep“. Her roles were mostly of elegant society women, so, besides being called tthe most beautiful, she was known as „The aristocrat of the Silent Screen“. After gaining film success, she moved in Hollywood, and later to the French Riviera. In 1930 she made her first talkie „Scarlet Pages“. Her final appearance on Broadway was in 1943.
Princeza Elizabeta Vilma-Ljvov Parlagi (1863-1923)
The woman who painted Tesla’s portrait, the famous “Blue portrait”. She got her education in Budapest and in Munich. Tesla and the princess wrote to each other in German. She was an extravagant Hungarian aristocrat who lived in New York and who was Tesla’s friend. It was known that Tesla did not like to pose for portraits, but he did so for the princess. He posed under blue light he created himself since he did not like the lights in the princess’ work place. The portrait was exibited in her atelier 1.3.1916.
Katherine Underwood Johnson (1856 – 1924)
The woman who loved Nikola Tesla with the greatest passion. She was closer with him than any of the above mentioned women, she was his greatest friend, and he played an important part in her life. She was born as Katherine McMahon in Washington, where she married Robert Underwood Johnson, who will later become a poet, a diplomat (he was the USA ambassador in Italy) and a long time editor of the “Century” magazine. After they got married they moved to New York, where they owned a house in Lexington Avenue 327. Tesla was introduced to them by a mutual friend, Thomas Commerford Martin, an electrical engineer and editor. Tesla was at the beginning of his scientific fame. Katherine and Robert had two children, Agnes and Owen, and they lived in a real family atmosphere, in which they gladly accepted Tesla as one of the best friends. He soon established a very personal relationship with both of them, by being often a guest at their dinners (he used to spend Christmas dinners with them), and becoming intimate with the rest famous people who attended the Johnson’s parties (Stanford White, Antonin Dvořák, Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, Mark Twain). Tesla gave nicknames to both Robert and Katherine, after one heroic character from an epic folk song from Montenegro, Luka Filipov. Robert was Luka, and Katherine was Mrs Filipov. There are 150 letters written by Katherine to Tesla in the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade, which express friendship, despair, worry, offers and longings. Some of them are very personal. She was inviting him to summer holidays to Maine and the Hamptons, but he never had time to accept. When her husband was an ambassador in Italy, she travelled to Belgrade, thus respecting her own relationship with Tesla. In one of the last notes she left while she was alive she told to Robert to look after Nikola Tesla when she is gone.
“Tesla, an Inventor for the Third Millenium” Aleksandar Milinkovic
„Wizard“ Marc J.Seifer
“Loves of Serbian Writers” Djordje Popovic
„Remembered Yesterdays“ Robert Underwood Johnson
John J. O’Neil “Prodigal Genius: The Life of Nikola Tesla”
press articles: daily newspapers “Blic”, “Politika”; magazines “Galaxy”, “The Third Eye”
The author has to mention special thanks to Milica Kesler, the archivist of the “Nikola Tesla” museum in Belgrade, for the information about May Cline.
ADDITION INFORMATION: MY NEW NOVEL ‘MY LOVE NIKOLA TESLA’ , A DIARY STORY ABOUT KATHARINE UNDERWOOD JOHNSON AND NIKOLA TESLA HAS BEEN PUBLISHED IN SERBIA IN APRIL 2013.