Women's Intellectual Contributions to the Study of Mind and Society

Students, as part of an advanced seminar, examined and wrote about the lives of these women, their intellectual contributions, and the unique impact and special problems that being female had on their careers.

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Helene Deutsch

Psychoanalyst Extraordinaire

Helene Rosenbach Deutsch from all accounts, was a social rebel in her time. She was a woman doctor before it was socially acceptable for women to work outside the home, and before most universities allowed women in what so ever (Sayers, 1991). She had an affair with a much older married man (Sayers, 1991). Deutsch even went on to study and share with the world, her views on women's sexuality, a subject that, at the time, was not thought of, and certainly not spoken of in public (Sayers, 1991). Helene Deutsch was a strong woman, who, by her radicalism, helped carve the way for all women in medicine, psychology, and all careers.

Early Life and Family

Deutsch was born in Przemysl, a non-Russian part of Poland (Uglow, 1999; Wisdom, 1987). She was born to Jewish parents, Wilhelm and Regina Rosenbach (Duda, n.d.; Sayers, 1991) on October ninth, 1884 (Biographie Helene Deutsch, n.d.). She was the youngest child of four (Uglow, 1999), having two sisters and a brother (Sayers, 1991). Deutsch hated her mother because the woman beat her regularly; the reason being Helene was not a boy (Wisdom, 1987; Sayers, 1991). Helene's brother was a weak willed man with many vices and the disappointment of his family (Sayers, 1991). Because of his son's unsuccessful nature, Wilhelm declared Helene his heir, making her his favorite child (Webster, 1997). Though she was the favorite of her father's, this did not stop her mother's beating. Because of this, Helene saw her father as weaker than her mother (Sayers, 1991). Much of Helene's later theories seem to reflect on her early family dynamics.

School Age

Helene left school at the age of 14 (Sayers, 1991). Upon returning home, her mother had plans for her to marry and have children (Sayers, 1991). Helene had other plans. Soon she began to write for the Przemysl Voice (Sayers, 1991). Shortly after that, she ran away from home, refusing to return until her parents would sign a paper allowing her to attend the University (Webster, 1997). At the age of 16, when she was studying for entrance to the University, she began an affair with Herman Lieberman (Webster, 1997). It is claimed that she took on the lover to spite her mother (Sayers, 1991). Lieberman was much older that Helene, married, and had a child (Webster, 1997; Sayers, 1991). Her affair lasted on and off until 1912, when she married her husband, Felix Deutsch (Sayers, 1991; Duda, n.d.).

In 1910, Deutsch experienced an important stage of her life. She left Lieberman to study in Munich (Sayers, 1991). Here she had her lover's baby aborted and in 1916 received the book that would change here career forever, Freud's "Interpretation of Dreams" (Sayers, 1991; Uglow, 1999). Prior to reading this book, Deutsch had been considered her father's heir; she was interested in law (Sayers, 1991). After reading Freud's book, she became interested in psychoanalysis (Sayers, 1991). Her life in Munich would have a dramatic effect on the rest of Deutsch's life and career.

Shortly after she married Felix, Deutsch graduated with a Doctorate in Medicine (Sayers, 1991). Deutsch began her work in Vienna University's Psychiatric Clinic under the direction of Wagner-Jauregg (Sayers, 1991). It is here that she began to take on the "mother" role as a psychiatrist, a method that she would continue throughout her career (Sayers, 1991). In 1914 Deutsch left the Vienna clinic to study under Emil Kraepelin in Munich (Sayers, 1991). It was around this time that she began to have problems with pregnancy (Sayers, 1991). She had several miscarriages before finally having a successful pregnancy with her son, Martin in 1916 (Sayers, 1991; Webster, 1997).


In 1916, Deutsch began her work with Sigmund Freud (Sayers, 1991). It was then that she was accepted to his Wednesday night meetings (Sayers, 1991). During this time Deutsch became interested in self-deception in women's mothering experiences (Sayers, 1991). She joined Freud's Vienna Psychoanalytic Society in 1918 (Sayers, 1991). She was one of the first women to join the society (Duda, n.d.; Sayers, 1991). It has even been said that Deutsch was one of Freud's favorites (Duda, n.d.). During her analysis with Freud, she claims that she felt that she was falling in love with him (Sayers, 1991). Deutsch was not entirely content with Freud's analysis though. She felt that he focused too much on her relationship with her father (Sayers, 1991). Freud influence on Deutsch is evident in her later theories on personality.


Deutsch based much of her theories on aspects in her own life. Deutsch began her career looking at narcissism in men and women (Sayers, 1991). She based one of theories on her nephew (Sayers, 1991). After his brother's death, the boy began to take on his traits to attain the attention of his mother (Sayers, 1991). Deutsch saw this and put it into her theory (Sayers, 1991).

After hearing Karl Abraham's talk about penis envy and castration anxiety, Deutsch became interested in these topics as well (Sayers, 1991). In 1924, she began to look at women and sexuality closer (Sayers, 1991). She felt that problems are caused in women from a conflict between narcissism and mother's love (Sayers, 1991). These ideas again reflect on Deutsch's own life. During this time she was having difficulties juggling the care of her son and her career (Sayers, 1991). Her husband actually did most of the "mothering" for the child (Sayers, 1991).

From 1925 to 1933 she returned to the Vienna clinic to head the women's section (Sayers, 1991). Deutsch achieved this position as many women did during the time, by default. Because of the war, there were few men left to serve as department heads (Sayers, 1991). Also in 1925, Deutsch wrote the book, "The Psychology of Women's Sexual Functions" (Sayers, 1991). It was the first book by a psychoanalyst on the subject of women's psychology (Sayers, 1991). Freud's influence on Deutsch is very evident in her book. She used many male Freudian terms for female body parts, rather than female ones (Sayers, 1991). In the book she said that menstruation for a woman meant castration, as Freud would have said, and a lack of a baby (Sayers, 1991). These ideas once again reflected on her own trouble with pregnancies earlier in her life. Deutsch felt that pregnancy, the ultimate goal of female sexuality, is anal and oral fixations being played out via morning sickness and miscarriage (Sayers, 1991). Much to Deutsch's dismay, Freud did not recognize her work as an expansion of his theory (Sayers, 1991). She blamed his lack of credit on his daughter, Anna's, jealousy of Deutsch (Sayers, 1991). Some thought of Deutsch as an heir of sorts to Freud, possible accounting for his daughter's jealousy (Sayers, 1991; Wisdom, 1987).

Move to USA

In 1935 Deutsch left Vienna for the United States (Biographie Helene Deutsch, n.d.; Sayers, 1991). The next year she was joined by her husband and they settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts (Biographie Helene Deutsch, n.d.; Sayers, 1991). Deutsch lost all contact with her family after Germany invaded Poland (Sayers, 1991). Soon she became depressed. Deutsch could not visit her son because he was involved in the war effort (Sayers, 1991). Also Deutsch soon heard of her long ago lover, Lieberman's death (Sayers, 1991). Her lack of patients due to her retirement also caused her distress (Sayers, 1991). Deutsch began to feel better when she took on a two-book project and became an Associate Psychiatrist at the Massachusetts General Hospital (Sayers, 1991). She was working on a two volume women's psychology based on her own and her patients' experiences (Sayers, 1991).


Deutsch's book, The Psychology of Women, like most of her work, was heavily based on her own life (Webster, 1997). She said that girls' problems were caused by a lack of detachment from their mothers (Sayers, 1991). Deutsch felt that girls are more internal and boys more external and those girls find it difficult to resist masculinity (Sayers, 1991). Also, Deutsch claimed that women's sexuality depends wholly on the male and mothering (Sayers, 1991). The entire goal of the women's sex drive is to have babies to mother (Sayers, 1991). Another large reflection on her own life can be found in Deutsch's views of infertility in women. She felt that it is caused be either the hatred of one's own mother's sexuality or if the woman felt she would be an incompetent mother (Sayers, 1991). The book Deutsch wrote was largely a reflection of her own life and work.

1950 to Death

After 1950, Deutsch began to say that she regretted being known for mainly her work with women's psychology (Sayers, 1991). At this time she went back to focusing on narcissism in men and women (Sayers, 1991). She wanted to understand egoism (Sayers, 1991). Like Freud, she looked to literature for evidence for he theories and to name them (Sayers, 1991).

In 1964 Deutsch's husband died (Sayers, 1991). At this time she looked back at her life with him and began to idolize him (Sayers, 1991). She remembered all the help her gave her while pursuing her career, especially the help he gave her with taking care of their son (Sayers, 1991). Deutsch next began to look at Beatlemania and the sexual liberation of the 60's (Sayers, 1991). She felt these two phenomena were due to fathers not taking part of child rearing (Sayers, 1991). She felt it led to loneliness thus causing people to look to their own peers for company and advice (Sayers, 1991).

On March 29th, 1982, Helene Deutsch died at the age of 97 (Biographie Helene Deutsch, n.d.). She had led a long full life. Her rebellions help to lead the way for other women to rise above their proscribed stations in life. If it were not for women like Helene Deutsch, many women now would not enjoy the freedoms they do. Dr. Helene Deutsch is a woman to be respected and admired.


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