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Freud, Annafree

  • Clifford Yorke

Freud, Anna (1895–1982), psychoanalyst, was born on 3 December 1895 at Berggasse 19, Vienna, the third daughter and sixth and youngest child of Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), the founder of psychoanalysis, and his wife, Martha (1861–1951), daughter of Berman Bernays and his wife, Emmeline. Both of Anna's parents were Jewish, but did not have any formal religious affiliations.

Education and influences

When Anna was a year old the family was joined by her widowed aunt, Minna, a woman of intellectual inclinations who, unlike Martha, was interested in Freud's developing theories and liked to discuss them with him. But, for the children, as Freud himself observed, there were now, in effect, two mothers, each with distinct family roles. A Roman Catholic nursemaid, Josefine Cihlarz, warm and empathic, took an active part in the care of the three youngest children—Anna, Ernst, and Sophie. Anna felt very close, even special, to Josefine, who was very fond not only of children but of animals too: Anna was an animal lover all her life and came to share her father's particular love of dogs. The children's upbringing was firm but lenient, and disciplined behaviour and punctuality were stressed. Sigmund Freud was an affectionate father whose love and understanding of children are also reflected in his writings. Anna was deeply attached to him and remained so throughout her life.

After private elementary schooling starting at six, when she encountered antisemitism, Anna entered the Salka Goldman Cottage Lyceum (for girls) at the age of ten. In this she followed her sisters; they were not sent to the Gymnasium—the more likely course had a university education been envisaged for them. But Anna Freud was precocious in her ability to learn and understand, and had excellent results in all her subjects. Much of her learning was stimulated at home, where she seems to have thrived in the intellectual atmosphere surrounding her father with his highly gifted friends. Though otherwise often bored, she read a great deal, wrote poetry, and, like her father, had a remarkable memory that remained at her service all her life (she never forgot the details of any case, whether treated by her or reported by others). Sigmund Freud did not hold medical training in high regard and did not envisage it for either his sons or daughters. Anna, whose interest in psychoanalysis was evident at the age of fourteen when her father introduced her to its complexities, and who subsequently was allowed to listen to the clinical papers and discussions held every Wednesday evening, came to share her father's view (later strongly expressed in The Question of Lay Analysis, 1926) that medical training did nothing to prepare the student for the unique circumstances of analytic practice.

In 1914 Anna took a holiday in England but became an enemy alien when war broke out. She returned to Vienna by a circuitous route after many adventures, finally travelling with the Austrian ambassador. In the autumn she returned to the lyceum and applied her abundant energy and keen intelligence to work as an apprentice elementary school teacher, qualifying six years later and joining the school staff. She remained an exemplary teacher—in the widest sense—all her life. In the autumn of 1918 she began an analysis with her father and in 1922 read a formal paper to the Viennese Psychoanalytic Society to become an accredited member. As such she attended the International Psychoanalytic Congress of Psychoanalysis held in Berlin in October 1922, though this was not her first visit to the German capital.

The analysis of one family member by another, or even by a close friend, later became unacceptable. Yet in 1918 Freud did not set a precedent: both Carl Jung and Karl Abraham had analysed their young daughters, and Melanie Klein analysed her sons Erich and Hans, as well as her daughter Melitta, though she was very discreet about these undertakings. Unlike Freud, however, she published their analyses, albeit under pseudonyms. No records exist of Freud's analysis of Anna. But, other considerations aside, Freud was clearly aware of the difficulties attendant on such arrangements, and these would have attracted adverse comment from others even at that time. Freud's decision seems to have been influenced by a number of practical problems, including the fact that the analysts in whom he had the greatest confidence were not in Vienna (where Anna Freud was teaching) but in Berlin and Budapest. Furthermore, the Freud family's financial circumstances were straitened at this time. The difficulties included, inter alia, Anna's idealization of him, which he did not consider an asset. But in spite of all these complexities Freud counted the analysis a success.

In 1921 Sigmund Freud invited Lou Andreas-Salomé, a woman of quite outstanding intellect and a friend of Rilke and Nietzsche, to stay at his home, and although her first visit was short she became warmly attached to Anna, and a quasi-analytic relationship developed between them and continued in and outside Berggasse 19. Andreas-Salomé was an analyst of many years' experience and Anna learned a great deal from her, as Freud himself gratefully acknowledged. The impression that Andreas-Salomé was indeed Anna's analyst was widely held, even though some of Freud's colleagues knew that he had analysed her. In 1924, at Freud's suggestion, Anna's analysis with him was restarted. Both participants were more aware of, and prepared for, attendant problems, and Anna Freud tackled this second phase with vigour and enthusiasm. An informative discussion of these analyses, including the role of Andreas-Salomé, is given by Young-Bruehl (1988).

Child psychoanalysis

Anna Freud's school career stood her in good stead for her pioneering work in child psychoanalysis. Melanie Klein, in Berlin, had already started to work in the field before moving to England in 1927 to join the British Psycho-Analytical Society at the invitation of the president, Ernest Jones. In England she became extremely influential, and though both leaders in child analysis employed a play technique with their younger patients, Klein, unlike Anna Freud, regarded this as the equivalent of free association in adults. This difference and others that became greatly intensified by the early 1930s led her to become a lifelong opponent of Anna Freud's psychoanalytic views and techniques. Exchange visits between the two capitals were arranged in an effort to resolve the differences, without appreciable success.

Anna Freud's clinical approach to children, her intellectual appeal and clarity of expression, together with her personal charm, quickly attracted a large following, and her seminars with other Viennese analysts were joined by colleagues from Prague and Budapest. Her work with pathological states of all kinds was balanced by her studies of normative development. She applied her findings to the practice of education, gave lectures on the subject to parents and teachers, and later set up with her friend and colleague Dorothy Burlingham (1891–1979) the Jackson Nurseries, for the physical and psychological care of the poorest children in Vienna. This paved the way for her future interest in paediatrics and the psychological concomitants and sequelae of physical illness in children. Her work with adults catalysed her wish to know more about adult psychiatry, and she regularly attended ward rounds at the university's psychiatric clinic, headed by the Nobel prizewinner Julius Wagner von Jauregg. She continued to publish papers, and her first book, The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence, was published in English in 1937, following the German edition of 1936, which she presented to her father on his eightieth birthday. It remains a major work. It distinguishes, for the first time, between instinctual drive derivatives (already recognized), and defences against painful affects (feelings and emotions), which she had freshly discovered and described.

Anna Freud in England

In 1938 the Nazis entered Vienna, and the Freud family and some of Freud's associates obtained exit visas through the good offices of Princess Marie Bonaparte of Greece (an analysand of Freud's and a family friend), while Ernest Jones secured entry permits into England. Freud was by then far from well: his cancer of the jaw was of many years' standing and he had undergone many operations. The British Psycho-Analytical Society bought a house for the family at 20 Maresfield Gardens, Hampstead, London, and Anna Freud nursed her father until his death in September of the following year. Martha Freud died there in 1951, and Anna Freud and Dorothy Burlingham remained there.

The arrival in England of the Viennese group, though welcome, sharpened the hitherto minor divisions within the British Psycho-Analytical Society, and it was clear that the differences between Anna Freud and Melanie Klein, the two leaders of child analysis, extended into the treatment of adults. The strength of disagreement led to a series of Controversial Discussions held between 1941 and 1945; the differences were never resolved, but the debate, often bitter, ended in a compromise whereby two separate training groups were organized. A split in the society, though threatened, was averted. The discussions showed plainly that there were now three broad groups of opinion: Kleinian, Freudian, and those who disagreed in some respects with both but were unprepared to accept that the differences were sufficiently important to justify a formal division. Anna Freud invariably adopted a polite, if firm, tone, and told her Viennese colleagues to keep in mind that they were visitors, if not guests. She and her colleagues considered that Melanie Klein's views were antithetical to basic Freudian principles, but it was left to Edward Glover to make the most forceful criticisms without mincing words. The fact that Klein's daughter, Melitta Schmideberg, spoke strongly against her mother's views did nothing to help the atmosphere, nor did the fact that she was analysed by Glover help to soften the tone. For her part Klein considered that she, and not Anna Freud, was Sigmund Freud's true successor. Glover resigned from the society while the discussions were still unfinished, but Anna Freud refused to follow him.

In London, Anna Freud pursued all her old interests, but, following the outbreak of war, she was deeply concerned by the plight of children made homeless by bombing, and established the residential war nurseries in Hampstead, with a branch in the country for older children. All were carefully tended and observed by a loyal residential staff. Detailed reports of this work by Anna Freud and Dorothy Burlingham are models of clarity and meticulous observation which graphically describe revolutionary findings about child residential care. They are collected in Young Children in Wartime (1942) and Infants without Families (1944). At the end of the war many of the staff sought further training. A course in child analysis was instituted in 1947, followed in 1952 by the foundation of the Hampstead Child Therapy Clinic, to which the course became indissolubly linked. Anna Freud's work on child development, normal and abnormal, was now greatly extended, further informed, and vitally reinforced by the new facilities, which were soon the most extensive and comprehensive anywhere in the world, and resulted in a mass of important publications, many of which stemmed from the staff's own clinical research. None of this would have been possible without Anna Freud's extraordinary capacity to engage others and fire them with enthusiasm and resolve. It was largely on account of these qualities that so much was achieved at Hampstead. Many of the developmental and analytic principles arrived at through this extensive work resulted in Anna Freud's most important book, Normality and Pathology in Childhood (1965). Her voluminous writings reflected a vast field of study and investigation, including new and striking methods of psychoanalytic diagnosis and child assessment. Her contributions in the fields of education, paediatrics, and family law (collaborating with professors Joseph Goldstein and Albert Solnit of Yale University) won her many honours. She was appointed CBE in 1967, and was awarded many honorary doctorates and fellowships. She was especially proud of the MD which she received from the University of Vienna in 1975, and the PhD in 1981 from the Goethe Institute in Frankfurt where, fifty years before, her father had received the Goethe prize for literature.

Anna Freud's devotion to her father was unswerving, and she defended his basic theoretical principles throughout her life. However, she never followed him blindly, and rarely, if at all, spoke of the ‘death instinct’, preferring terms like 'destructive drive' or 'inborn aggression'; and when, at a Hampstead public meeting, a paper was read which called for significant revision of some of Freud's views on sexual development in girls, she opened the discussion by saying: 'Well! To think we have been so wrong about this for so long!'

Anna Freud's remarkable ability to draw her students and staff into her investigations, to encourage them to work on their own ideas rather than those of others, often helped them to discover resources they did not always know they possessed. It was only possible to appreciate the compelling force of these qualities if one met them face to face. She took a close interest in the welfare of her staff and kept herself unobtrusively aware of their personal problems. Although each member came to know her, often in a different way, she was, for all that, a very private person and there were limits beyond which few cared to trespass. But she would share her jokes with them and made many a point through a telling, and sometimes disconcerting, wit. When, at a diagnostic conference held at a time when the miniskirt was fashionable, a new staff member sat in the front row displaying a rather daring length of leg, the diagnostician was describing a small boy whose intense curiosity was troubling his family. The meeting was told that the boy was in the habit of repeatedly trying to get beneath his mother's skirts. 'The time is rapidly coming', said Anna Freud, 'when a child won't have much trouble doing that.' But she was rarely unkind in public; and her rather rare silence during discussion was the most discomforting evidence of her strong disapproval.

Leisure interests and appearance

For all her major contributions to psychoanalysis, Anna Freud was a woman of wide interests. She was a keen horsewoman, and Dorothy Burlingham bought her a new horse for her seventieth birthday. She loved the Irish countryside, loved discovering new delights whether coastal or inland, and was devoted to the cottage owned by the two women in co. Cork. She was very popular there and loved by many who knew nothing of psychoanalysis. She enjoyed poetry in both German and English, and was particularly fond of Kipling. Detective novels were her favourite leisure reading, and she housed a substantial collection in both London and west Cork. She loved embroidery and crochet work, was an expert with a loom, and made the stair carpet for the Irish cottage. She knitted all her life, taught to do so by Josefine. Following Dorothy Burlingham's death in 1979 Alice Colonna took leave from the Child Study Center in Yale to keep Anna Freud company.

In both dress and appearance Anna Freud was almost timeless. She invariably wore a dirndl—the traditional long-skirted country dress—and blouse, both handmade with her usual skill, wore her straight hair in a simple bob, had enquiring eyes, and possessed an expressive warmth unimpaired by a measure of personal reserve. Anyone who spoke to her was sure of her exclusive attention. She aged almost imperceptibly until the last few years of her life. By 1981 she was already too ill to collect her Frankfurt award in person, being increasingly debilitated by a refractory anaemia of old age. She died at home on 9 October 1982. Her body was cremated at Golders Green crematorium on the 13th, when her ashes, appropriately, were put next to her father's.


  • personal knowledge (2004)
  • E. Young-Bruehl, Anna Freud: a biography (1988)
  • E. Jones, Sigmund Freud: life and work, 3 vols. (1953–7)
  • private information (2004)
  • P. King and R. Steiner, eds., The Freud–Klein controversies, 1941–1945 (1991)


  • Freud Museum, London, corresp. and MSS
  • L. Cong., MSS


  • BFINA, Freud, 1930–39


  • photograph, Institute of Psychoanalysis, London
  • photograph, repro. in The Times (11 Oct 1982)

Wealth at Death

£335,980: probate, 5 Jan 1983, CGPLA Eng. & Wales