Helene Deutsch publishes first volume of "The Psychology of Women"
April 27, 1944
Born in Poland and trained in psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud, Helene Deutsch immigrated to Boston in 1935, where she joined the faculty of the newly established Boston Psychoanalytic Training Institute. Already established as an important psychoanalyst in Vienna, Deutsch found further success in the United States.
In Vienna, Deutsch had been the first woman analyst to be analyzed by Freud, and then became the first woman to head a psychoanalysis clinic, when in 1924 she took the helm of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Training Institute. There, she trained students and also published several important articles and a book, Psychoanalysis of the Neuroses (1930).
In Boston, Deutsch continued to train students and to write. From 1939 to 1941, she also served as president of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society. On April 27, 1944, she published the first volume of The Psychology of Women, a two-volume work that explained her theory of women's psychological development. While adhering in large part to classical Freudian theory, Deutsch's book also drew from her own clinical experience. Among other things, she argued that women were trapped by a conflict between motherliness and eroticism, and wrote that the three essential traits of femininity are narcissism, passivity, and masochism.
At its publication, The Psychology of Women was the most comprehensive treatment of that subject, and it remained so for several decades. However, Deutsch's work became increasingly controversial as the modern feminist movement gained adherents. Feminists who blamed Freud for providing a rationale for the subjugation of women similarly blamed Deutsch for perpetuating the idea that femininity equates with passivity and masculinity with action. Feminist writer Susan Brownmiller called Deutsch "a pioneer, but a traitor to her sex." Deutsch rejected these criticisms, arguing that her views of women were actually positive.
In her personal life, Deutsch was an activist for many causes dear to feminists. She was, for instance, an outspoken supporter of legalized abortion. In Europe, she had worked to organize women workers and picketed the University of Vienna Law School in protest of its ban on women students. She believed that her use of Freudian theory helped liberate women to choose their own paths. However, her more lasting contribution is probably in the field of borderline personality disorders, where she defined the "as if" personality. Deutsch died in Cambridge, MA, in 1982.
To learn more about Helene Deutsch, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.
Sources: Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, p. 329-331; New York Times, April 27, 1944, July 30, 1978, April 1, 1982; Paul Roazen, Helene Deutsch: A Psychoanalyst's Life (Garden City, NY, 1985).