This Day in Jewish History

1895: Sigmund Freud Has a Daughter Who Would Be Very, Very Devoted

Anna Freud would be the only one of his six children to follow in her father's footsteps.

Sigmund Freud and daughter Anna sitting at a table.
Corbis

December 3, 1895, is the birthdate of Anna Freud, daughter of Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis and his wife, the former Martha Bernays. The only of Freud’s six children to follow in his path, Anna would become both a psychoanalyst and one of the founders of analytic child psychology.

There is evidence that Anna, who was born and raised in Vienna, suffered from depression and possibly anorexia as a young woman. She had an especially difficult relationship with her older sister Sophie, about whom, when the latter moved out, in 1913, Anna wrote to her father, "I am glad that Sophie is getting married, because the unending quarrel between us was horrible for me."

Anna was, however, very close to her father, who wrote about her to his friend Wilhelm Fliess, in 1899, when she was all of four, that “Anna has become downright beautiful with naughtiness.” The precocious Anna would later say that she learned more from listening to her father and his conversations with their frequent guests than she did at school; at age 15, she began reading Sigmund’s books, and was sitting in on meetings of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society.

Sexual fantasies

By the time she finished the Cottage Lyceum, a Vienna girls’ school, in 1912, she had a good knowledge of not only German, but also English, French, Italian and Hebrew. Three years later, she began an apprenticeship as a teacher at the Cottage Lyceum. She was so successful at her work that in 1918 she was made the head teacher of the school’s second grade.

Her frequent illnesses, however, led her to resign from the school in 1920.

By then, Anna was well into her first psychoanalysis, which she underwent with her father between 1918 and 1922: at the time, the strict rules that would soon make it unacceptable to undergo analysis with a family member were not in place. That process apparently served as the topic of her first scholarly paper, titled “Beating Fantasies and Daydreams,” which she presented in 1922 to the psychoanalytic society, and which served as the basis for her formal admission to it.

In it, she described an unnamed patient’s – who was clearly Anna herself, as she would only begin seeing patients a half-year later -- sexual fantasies surrounding her father.

Anna Freud never married, and there’s no evidence of her having had a sexual relationship with anyone, male or female. She did have a very close personal and professional relationship with Dorothy Burlingham (daughter of Louis Comfort Tiffany), with whom she shared a residence in London and founded both the Hampstead War Nurseries and, following World War II, the Hampstead Clinic for children and their families.

What Anna did do was devote her life to caring for her father during his later years. Following his death in 1939, she devoted herself to maintaining his legacy, as superintendent of the Freud Archive, in London, as consultant on James Strachey’s 23-volume English translation of Freud’s collected works, and in defending his theories against the challenges posed by fellow child psychiatrist Melanie Klein.

'I most warmly recommend the Gestapo'

Meanwhile, on March 12, 1938, Freud was still alive as German forces marched into Vienna and received the warmest of welcomes. But it was only after Freud’s home and office were requisitioned by the occupying forces and, a week later, when Anna was taken in briefly by the Gestapo for interrogation, that he decided it was time to leave Austria.

The arrangements were left to Anna, in Vienna, and Freud’s colleague Ernest Jones, in London. It was not until June that Freud and his large entourage boarded a train heading west, and not before Freud had issued a statement attesting to his benevolent treatment by the Nazis: “I most warmly recommend the Gestapo to everybody.”

Sigmund Freud died in London on September 23, 1939, several weeks after the start of World War II.

In the decades that followed, Anna pioneered the field of clinical care for children in the U.K, and wrote and lectured extensively. She died on October 9, 1982.