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What did Ruth Mack Brunswick contribute to the field of psychoanalysis, and how did her tragic personal story obscure her scientific achievements?

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Ruth Mack Brunswick (1897-1946) was an American psychoanalysts and psychiatrist. A student of Sigmund Frued, she became instrumental in mediating disagreements between American analysts and Freud’s disciples in Vienna in the early twentieth century. In addition, she assisted wealthy American patients arrange for therapy sessions with Freud. Brunswick and Freud became so close that eventually, it was she who would assist him in his later, ailing years. An accomplished psychoanalyst in her own right, Brunswick treated Dr. Max Shur, who became Freud’s personal physician.

Brunswick came from a well-to-do family. Her father was a Judge Julian Mack, a prominent philanthropist, who served on New York’s U.S. Circuit Court. During World War I, his daughter, Ruth, attended Radcliffe College and went on to study medicine at Tufts. In 1917, she married Dr. Herman Blumgart, who became a renowned heart surgeon. Brunswick became more familiar with the work that Freud was doing in Vienna because Blumgart’s brother had traveled to Vienna for a few sessions with Freud following World War I. Ruth, having completed her own psychiatric residency, (at age twenty-five), decided to go visit the famous analyst as well. Her marriage to Blumgart was falling apart. Blumgart himself had already met with Freud, hoping for his assistance in saving their marriage. Freud, however, determined the relationship had run its course.

By this time, Brunswick had fallen in love with another man (whose name she is now known by), Mark Brunswick. Brunswick was five years her junior and a music student. In 1924, while Ruth was still going through analysis with Freud, Mark began session with him as well. Freud, according to Mark, admitted that he had discussed Mark’s case with Ruth in detail, and confessed that this had been a mistake on his part.

While both Ruth and Mark were attending sessions with Freud, Ruth was teaching psychoses at the Vienna Psychoanalytic Training Institute (an area Freud disliked). Freud attended the wedding of Mark and Ruth, something her rarely did, and something that speaks to the relationship between Ruth and Freud. She was considered an honorary family member. The two took meals together in his personal residence and got along well with his children.  

Despite her career and personal triumphs, there were problems. She became ill in the early 1930s and by 1934, became addicted to drugs, a habits she was unable to overcome, much to her mentor’s disappointment.

Freud was not around to personally assist Ruth in the darkest days of her addiction, because she had returned to America. In the States, Ruth experienced a series of traumatic events. She and Mark divorced in 1937, but remarried six months later (against Freud’s advice). Her mother died in 1940, followed by her father in 1943. In 1945, the Brunswicks divorced again. A year later, in 1946, Ruth died.

Her death was undeniably a result of her destructive behavior. She had been addicted to paregoric, an opium derivative. She contracted pneumonia, and high on paregoric, fell in her bathroom, fracturing her skull. Sadly, her lonely demise has put distance between her early work and her association with Freud.

Ruth Brunswick did make important contribution to psychoanalysis. Primarily, she studied the early relationships between mothers and children. She was among the first analysts to use the term “pre-Oedipal,” a term Freud adopted himself in 1931. While Otto Rank must be given credit for the concept, it was Ruth who placed emphasis on the mother’s role in a child’s development, something she accomplished without going against Freud’s basic tenets.

Source: International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, ©2005 Gale Cengage. All Rights Reserved

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Ruth Mack Brunswick, who was born of German-Jewish parents, grew up in Chicago and attended Radcliffe College, and then received her medical degree from Tufts University. After her marriage began to fail, Ruth traveled to Vienna for counseling from Dr. Sigmund Freud. There Freud tried to help her, but later decided it was hopeless. After she became acquainted with Dr. Freud, Ruth began to assist him as a mediator between the American patients who came for analysis with Dr. Freud. She was also instrumental in assisting him with with his analysis of the Oedipal complex, because she insisted that there is a pre-Oedipal state in which there is no knowledge or acknowledgement by a baby of the father. Her observations and analysis of psychoses, which Freud did not deal with, made her a valued associate and they became quite close. She also became a liason between wealthy Americans and Dr. Freud, who would treat them. Their relationship became so close that Mrs. Freud even questioned her husband why she would come to the house and be invited to dine with them.

But, there was a pall cast upon Brunswick, who had become addicted to opiates in her efforts to alleviate severe pain. And, it was this drug addiction that ended what appeared to be a promising career and so overshadowed her accomplishments in pyschoanalysis, along with her early death at 48, that she became a virtual unknown.

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