Encyclopedia Womannica

Beautiful Minds: Anna Freud

Episode Summary

Anna Freud (1895-1982) was one of the founders of psychoanalytic child psychology.

Episode Notes

Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know -- but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Pioneers, Dreamers, Villainesses, STEMinists, Warriors & Social Justice Warriors, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures.

Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, and Grace Lynch. Special thanks to Shira Atkins and Edie Allard. Theme music by Andi Kristins.

Follow Wonder Media Network:

Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Jenny Kaplan. And this is Encyclopedia Womannica.

Today’s beautiful mind has an iconic family name. While her father created many foundational concepts in psychology, she expanded on his ideas and broke free of his shadow to make a name for herself in the field. We’re talking about Anna Freud.

Anna Freud was born on December 3, 1895 in Vienna, Austria. She was the youngest of six children, all of whom competed for the attention of their famous father, Sigmund Freud. By the time Anna was born, Sigmund was established in his career. He had already developed several major theories analyzing dreams and what he called hysteria.

In 1912, Anna finished high school and became a teacher. Though she enjoyed her career, she contracted tuberculosis after only a few years and had to take an extended break from work. As she recovered, she read the work of her father and his colleagues, solidifying her desire to follow in his footsteps.

Anna greatly admired her father. She spent a lot of time socializing with him and the academic guests who visited their home. Sigmund Freud even psychoanalyzed her. Anna presented the results of her psychoanalysis, called Beating Fantasies and Daydreams, to the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society in 1922. A year later, she started her own psychoanalysis practice focusing on children. Soon after, she began teaching the method.

In 1935, Anna published her most famous work, The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense. This research laid the groundwork for the field of ego psychology, listing and outlining psychological defense mechanisms including repression, projection, and isolation.

Anna also collaborated with her friend Dorothy Burlingham-Tiffany to found the Hietzing School, which aimed to incorporate a more holistic and psychologically-conscious curriculum.

Anna’s career was interrupted when, in 1938, the threat of Nazism forced the Freud family to move to London. 

Anna continued her work there while caring for her aging father until he passed away in 1939.

Anna was a highly private person. Letters from earlier periods of her life show her as compassionate and shy -- not what you might expect from a psychoanalyst.

 Yet her work in London sparked a divide in the field that lives on to this day. The academic feud between Anna Freud and Melanie Klein fractured child psychologists over the right technique for analyzing children. Though Klein based her research on Freudian ideas, she believed children exhibit psychological symptoms much earlier in life. Klein also claimed that every child should be psychoanalyzed -- not just those with psychotic symptoms, as Anna suggested. Differing ideas like these led colleagues to dub themselves either “Freudian,” “Kleinian,” or “Independent.”

When World War II began, Anna opened The Hampstead War Nursery to care for children left homeless or orphaned. In the process, she documented the impact stress and separation had on the children and published the results. When the war ended, she opened and directed a therapy clinic.

In 1965, she published a new work, called “Normality and Pathology in Childhood”. This research introduced the idea of normal, age-specific developmental stages for children. That hadn’t really been mapped at the time. A few years later, she took that work a step further by diving into the difficulties faced by disadvantaged children.

 Anna never formally trained as a psychoanalyst, but she earned several honorary doctorates over the course of her life, including one from the University of Vienna. To be a great psychoanalyst, she said  you had to love the truth, both personal and scientific, and “place this appreciation of truth higher than any discomfort at meeting unpleasant facts.” Anna was named a Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.

Anna passed away in London on October 9, 1982. She was 86 years old.

We have Anna Freud to thank for the foundational concepts that created ego psychology, as well as many other concepts that psychologists continue to use today. Though people usually remember her father’s work, we shouldn’t forget the pioneering contributions offered by Anna Freud.

Join us tomorrow for the story of another psychologist who broadened and forever changed the field. 

Special thanks to Liz Kaplan, my favorite sister and co-creator!

Talk to you tomorrow!