Anna Freud

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Psychoanalyst and pioneer in child analysis, Anna Freud was born on December 3, 1895, in Vienna, and died on October 9, 1982, in London.

Anna Freud was Sigmund and Martha Freud's third daughter and sixth and last child. When she was a year old, Martha's sister Minna joined the family. The two women had carefully defined roles, but a warm and affectionate Catholic nursemaid, Josefine Cihlarz, to whom Anna felt very close, took a very active part in the upbringing of the three youngest children. The children were treated leniently but firmly: disciplined behavior and punctuality were emphasized and expected. Anna Freud displayed these traits throughout her life. Her love of animals may, in part, have reflected Josefine's influence.

Early Life

She started elementary school at six, and at ten entered the Salka Goldman Cottage Lyceum for girls. She read widely and wrote poetry. Her remarkable memory was a major asset at school and throughout her life; later, as a psychoanalyst, she never forgot the details of any case reported to her, and could make telling use of them in clinical discussion.

She was on holiday in England when war broke out in 1914. Now an enemy alien, she managed to return to Austria with the Ambassador and his entourage, traveling by an adventurous route. She trained as an elementary school teacher at the Lyceum, and her industry and rare intelligence ensured her appointment to the teaching staff.

She was always a wonderful teacher, but her interest in psychoanalysis was evident in early adolescence. She became Librarian of the Viennese Psychoanalytic Association, and was analyzed by her father—unthinkable perhaps nowadays, but not such a rare event at this time. She read her first paper (on beating fantasies) to the Association in 1922, and was thereby granted membership.

Her teaching experience served her well as a pioneer in child analysis. Melanie Klein was already analyzing children in Berlin; but the two leaders in the field used children's play differently in their techniques.

Professional Life

Anna Freud disputed Klein's belief that play was the child's equivalent of free association in adults, but this was only one of many later differences. Klein went to England in 1927 and became a powerful influence in the British Society. Disparities of view between the Viennese and British Societies became pronounced, initially on the basis of child analytic practice.

Anna Freud's new ideas, charm, and lifelong capacity for winning collaborators quickly secured her a large following. Her seminars in Vienna attracted colleagues from Prague and Budapest. A wide range of disorders were treated and discussed, but Anna Freud's attention to normal development matched her interest in pathology. She believed it was impossible to understand the one without the other. She applied her growing knowledge to the field of education and gave lectures to teachers and parents. With her friend and colleague Dorothy Burlingham, she set up what she called "a cross between a crèche and a nursery school," financed by the wealthy psychoanalyst Edith Jackson, for the poorest children in Vienna who were given both bodily and psychological care. These experiences fuelled Anna Freud's interest in the psychological consequences and concomitants of physical illness and laid a foundation for her interest in pediatric practice.

Her work with adults fostered her need to know more about psychiatry and she attended, on a regular basis, ward-rounds at the University's Psychiatric Clinic, headed by Wagner-Jauregg, the Nobel Prize winner, and staffed by Paul Schilder and Heinz Hartmann. She retained this interest for the rest of her life.

Earlier publications were followed by her first book in 1936, appearing one year later in English as The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence. This major work was the first to distinguish between recognized defenses against instinctual drive derivatives and defenses against painful affects, newly observed and described by her.

The Nazis annexed Austria in 1938, and Princess Marie Bonaparte and Ernest Jones together secured safe transfer to London for the Freud family and a number of associates. Freud, Anna, and other psychoanalysts were admitted to the British Psycho-Analytical Society. Though well received, clinical and theoretical differences between the two groups were pronounced and culminated in a series of controversial discussions between 1941 and 1945. The disagreements were beyond resolution, and two parallel training courses were set up in recognition of this fact.

Freud died in 1939 from the cancer of the jaw that had plagued him for fourteen years, and Anna Freud was his devoted nurse. She continued to support the principles behind his psychoanalytic thinking, but she had a highly original mind and never followed him slavishly. After the outbreak of war, the predicament of children made homeless through bombing led her to establish, with Dorothy Burlingham, the Hampstead War Nurseries. Careful observations and meticulous records, made with the help of staff who rarely left the premises, vastly increased existing knowledge of child development and problems of residential care. The findings are collected by Anna and Dorothy in Young Children In Wartime (1942) and Infants Without Families (1944).


In 1947 Anna Freud founded a course in child analysis, and in 1952 established the Hampstead Child Therapy Clinic. With these unequalled facilities clinical research expanded substantially. In this Anna Freud's charm and authority served her unsurpassed capacity to draw staff and students into the work and make substantial contributions. She herself continued to publish major papers, but her most important book was Normality and Pathology of Childhood (1965). Her writing continued apace, with major contributions to psychoanalytic diagnosis and to clinical and theoretical understanding of a wide range of developmental problems and disturbances. Her work in the fields of education, pediatrics, and family law (Beyond the Best Interests of the Child), in which she collaborated with Professors Albert J. Solnit and Joseph Goldstein from Yale University, won her wide recognition within those disciplines. She received many honors and was appointed Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 1967. Of her many honorary degrees, she was especially proud of the MD from the University of Vienna (1975) and the PhD from the Goethe Institute in Frankfurt (1981) where, half a century earlier, her father had been awarded the Goethe prize for literature.

By this time Anna Freud was seriously ill with an advanced anemia of old age, but her mind remained clear and active throughout the slow physical deterioration that led to her death. Her ashes were placed next to her father's at Golders Green crematorium in London.


  • Freud, Anna. (1936). Collected writings. New York: International Universities Press.
  • (1968). Acting out. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 49.
  • (1977). Fears, anxieties, and phobic phenomena. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 32, 85-90.
  • (1979). Personal memories of Ernest Jones. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 60, 285-287.
  • (1980). Introduction. In Sigmund Freud: The analysis of a phobia in a five-year-old boy. Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer.
  • (1981). Insight. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 36, 241-250.
  • Goldstein, Joseph; Freud, Anna; and Solnit, Albert J. (1973). Beyond the best interests of the child. New York: The Free Press.

Source Citation

Yorke, Clifford. "Freud, Anna (1895-1982)." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. Ed. Alain de Mijolla. Vol. 1. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. 618-620. Gale Virtual Reference Library