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(For reasons of readability, the male form is used with personal names, however the female form is also always intended.)

American Views on Anna Freud (Part I)

Author: Carmen Birkle


The Vienna School of Psychoanalysis with its creator and main proponent Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) triggered significant interest in the U.S. and became particularly prominent when Freud visited the U.S. in 1909. Psychoanalytically interested Americans started to flock to Vienna after World War I until the Nazis took charge of the metropolis in 1938. By then, Sigmund Freud had already left the city and the country along with his daughter Anna (1895-1982) and many of their (often Jewish) friends and patients. People with American and English passports, among them many Jewish medical students and faculty members as well as physicians coming to Vienna via the American Medical Association of Vienna, had returned to their home countries and helped endangered colleagues and friends as best as they could with affidavits to escape the increasingly hostile, violent, and highly anti-semitic atmosphere.

Documents, such as autobiographies and biographies among many other micro-narratives of the time, reveal that Anna Freud played a very important role in interactions with visitors from abroad who longed for self-analysis and analytical training to become psychoanalysts themselves with or without previous medical studies. Some, like Muriel Gardiner (1901-85), had completed their medical studies prior to World War II, having also attended a significant number of psychoanalytic sessions; others, like Esther Menaker (1907-2003) inscribed at the Vienna Psychological Institute to take classes with Karl (1879-1963) and Charlotte Bühler (1893-1974). While Gardiner, due to additional examinations upon her return to the U.S., was allowed to practice psychoanalysis professionally, Esther Menaker, who was considered a lay practitioner, was at first not officially allowed to do so but gradually integrated into the structures of her professional association; nevertheless, she always felt like an outsider in the field.

Both Muriel Gardiner and Esther Menaker were strongly influenced by Anna Freud, whom they got to know in significantly different ways. While Gardiner’s perspective toward Anna Freud is that of a collaborator and friend, Menaker’s role is confined to that of a student, a role that she can never fully put aside. Therefore, I ague that Gardiner’s autobiography Code Name “Mary” (German 1978, French 1981, English 1983) reveals an emancipated and self-confident young woman who fully immerses herself into the psychoanalytic world as an equal – in addition to her political activities in the Austrian socialist underground, accompanied by her love for and marriage to the Austrian (and Carinthian) freedom fighter Joseph Buttinger (1906-92) –, Esther Menaker’s Appointment in Vienna [Menaker’s autobiography was first published in 1989 as Appointment in Vienna: An American Psychoanalyst Recalls Her Student Days in Pre-War Austria, then as a revised edition in 1995 under the title Misplaced Loyalties, and finally translated into German in 1997 as Schwierige Loyalitäten: Psychoanalytische Lehrjahre in Wien 1930-1935. I here use the 1989 edition] is rather a quest for emancipation from a psychoanalytic treatment that she experienced as oppressive and practiced by someone she considered to be superior and yet could not fully respect. In both cases, Anna Freud’s expertise in child analysis plays a significant role in these relationships.

The contact and eventual friendship between Anna Freud and Muriel Gardiner began to evolve in the late 1920s with Gardiner’s arrival in Vienna in 1926 and her need for psychoanalytical assistance because of her unhappy marriage to the English Harold Abramson. Gardiner, the daughter of the owner of one of the wealthiest American meat-processing companies in Chicago in the early twentieth century and graduate of Wellesley College, stayed in Vienna until 1938, then briefly relocated to Paris before finally returning to the U.S. where she practiced psychiatry, finished her psychoanalytic training at the Institute of the Philadelphia Association for Psychoanalysis, taught at Rutger’s, and worked as a psychiatric consultant. She then published books on the Wolf-Man and on child psychiatry, with a focus on juvenile offenders. It is Anna Freud who frames Gardiner’s autobiography since she wrote the foreword and has the final words at the end through her letter to Gardiner in which she praises her for her courageous life in the Austrian underground.

When Gardiner arrived in Vienna, she had hoped to be analyzed by Sigmund Freud himself. However, he referred her to Dr. Ruth Mack Brunswick (1899-1946), an American who herself had undergone treatment with Freud. Gardiner received three years of treatment, was satisfied but did resent that Dr. Brunswick tried “to control or influence my way of life too much, as many analysts did in the 1920s”. At the time, close social interaction between analyst and analyzed was the norm. Gardiner eventually convinced Dr. Brunswick to introduce her to Freud at a family gathering “in a Vienna suburb, perhaps Grinzing or Heiligenstadt, where the Freuds had a house” and where most of the family was present. She was so impressed by Freud that she read all of his work and much of Karl Abraham (1877-1925) and Sándor Ferenczi (1873-1933), and realized that she not only had to do serious training in psychoanalysis, but also had to study medicine in order to be eventually allowed to practice psychotherapy also in the U.S.

In her last years in Vienna, Gardiner became a more significant part of the psychoanalytic community in Vienna and regularly participated in the famous Wednesday evening meetings, where she met Anna Freud and the American Dorothy Burlingham (1891-1979), who later practiced as a lay analyst and moved with the Freud family to England to escape the Nazis. Gardiner herself was acquainted with Anna Freud’s psychological convictions through her governess Gerda, and later Fini Wodak, who had both received “training as a kindergarten teacher in one of the schools influenced by Anna Freud […]”. Thus, Muriel Gardiner was convinced of Anna Freud’s psychoanalytic ideas concerning children and decided to provide her own daughter Connie with the best education possible by a governess with a keen interest in psychoanalysis.

According to Sheila Isenberg’s biography of Muriel Gardiner, Tony Hyndman, Stephen Spender’s [The English poet Stephen Spender (1909-95) had a brief affair with Muriel Gardiner before Gardiner got to know Joseph Buttinger] former partner, offered to marry Fini Wodak in 1939, after she had returned to Paris with Connie and Muriel Gardiner for Gardiner’s wedding to Joe Buttinger on August 1. Through her marriage to Tony, Fini Wodak obtained a British passport and, equipped with money that Gardiner had given to her, left for London where she “soon secured a housekeeping position with Anna Freud […]”. Gardiner’s loose friendship with Anna Freud continued over the years despite the long distance between the U.S. and England. When Gardiner edited the narrations about the so-called Wolf-Man, one of Sigmund Freud’s former patients, Anna Freud, by then Gardiner’s “close friend” (Isenberg), wrote the foreword. Gardiner also confided in Anna Freud when Joe Buttinger, her husband, began to suffer from Alzheimer’s, as Sheila Isenberg explains. Isenberg consulted the Anna Freud Papers [located at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., as part of the Sigmund Freud Collection] among which there are quite a number of letters by Muriel Gardiner testifying to their long friendship and shared interest in questions of psychoanalysis between her and Anna Freud. Gardiner considered it important to preserve Freud’s legacy, both his writings and his last residence in London, 20 Maresfield Gardens in Hampstead, which she bought so that Anna Freud could spend her final years there. As Isenberg explains, the “site would later become home to the Freud Museum”, again managed and organized by Gardiner, her New-Land Foundation, and Hal Harvey, one of her grandsons, after Anna Freud had died on October 9, 1982 [cf. Isenberg].

Muriel Gardiner and Anna Freud did not know each other well during Gardiner’s years in Vienna. They met at the Wednesday evening sessions and shared an interest in child psychology. However, because Gardiner had substantial wealth at her disposal, and because she was absolutely convinced of Sigmund Freud’s theories, she was able to support Anna Freud in her exile in London both intellectually and financially. For Gardiner, Anna was not just Sigmund Freud’s daughter but also a witness to the most eventful time of her life in 1930s Vienna. It was a time of fear, destruction, and death but, for Gardiner, also of love, maturation, and usefulness.

In contrast to Muriel Gardiner, her sister Ruth, who had studied medicine at Cornell Medical School, had actually done postdoctoral work in Vienna and, “as part of her educational requirements” (Isenberg) had undergone “psychoanalysis – impressively, with Anna Freud”. However, “Ruth disliked her short interaction with psychoanalysis and judged it to be of no value after Anna Freud told her young analysand that she disapproved of Harry Bakwin” (Isenberg), her future husband, whom she married in 1925 in Paris.

Many years later, Anna Freud provided a foreword full of praise of Gardiner’s autobiography, which was first published in German in 1978 (1981 in English and 1983 in French),  the version Anna Freud read. Anna Freud emphasizes Gardiner’s courage to voluntarily and selflessly subject herself to the fear and anxiety inflicted by the Nazis. She praises Gardiner’s strength to resist the Nazi evil by helping people to get new passports, receive “life-saving affidavits” (xii), and escape Austria - often via Paris to England or the U.S. For her, Gardiner’s autobiography is a strong reminder to future generations not to forget the nightmares inflicted by the Nazi regime.

Sigmund Freud Museum SFU Belvedere 21er haus stuhleck kunsthalle
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