Bonhams sold a Bible last week that had been inscribed by Elsa and Albert Einstein. As the auctioneer’s catalog description noted, “Not much is known of the recipient, Harriet Hamilton.” So, here is some background information that may help shed some light.
Barbara Wolff of the Albert Einstein Archives describes Harriet as having served temporarily as Elsa’s, and possibly Albert’s, secretary. The Einsteins visited Caltech during the winters in the early 1930’s. It is plausible, then, that the Bible, given in February 1932, was an end-of-duty gift to a local Pasadena employee for whom the couple displayed an obvious personal warmth.
There was also a remarkable turn in the life of Harriet Freda Hamilton of Pasadena at just that time. As Freda Sophie Henriette Jeddeloh, she had entered the United States from Hannover, Germany in early 1925. She went to live in Akron Ohio. Five years later, in January 1930, she filed a petition in Ohio for naturalization as an American citizen.
Her citizenship petition was languishing before the Einsteins’ 1931-32 visit, but something stirred Harriet into action. In early March 1932, the Ohio court dropped her old petition at Harriet’s request. Two weeks later, she filed a new petition for naturalization in Los Angeles. Harriet pursued that initiative vigorously. Her naturalization was granted in June 1932. Court records noted both her new and former names.
It is tempting to think that Harriet’s contact with the Einsteins, with their first-hand knowledge of deteriorating conditions in her native Germany, may have helped her commit to remaining in the United States. Alternatively, she may have reached that resolution on her own, and the Einsteins wished her well. In any case, that the couple had much personal regard for their helper is plain to see.