Freud, Anna (1895-1982) - Early Childhood Education - Pedagogy

Early Childhood Education

Freud, Anna (1895-1982)


Anna Freud is considered to be the originator of child psychoanalysis. She was born in Vienna, the youngest of six children of Sigmund Freud and his wife Martha. Her mother left the children with a nanny and took a “vacation” of several months soon afterward. She had a lifetime bond with her father, who was developing his psychoanalytic theory about the basis of emotional problems.

Anna’s only formal education was at Vienna’s elite Cottage Lyceum, where she complained about being bored. After graduation in 1912, she visited her grandmother in Italy and became acquainted with Maria Montessori’s method. She taught elementary school children at the Lyceum until she developed tuberculosis in 1917. Her first experience with children from troubled homes came in 1920, when she volunteered at Vienna’s Baumgarten Home for Jewish orphans.

An involvement with psychoanalysis began at age 14, when she read some of her father’s books. He psychoanalyzed her from 1918 to 1922. After they attended the International Psychoanalytic Congress together in 1920, she became one of the first female members of that association. From 1927 to 1934, she was its general secretary. In 1923, when Sigmund Freud had the first operation for a malignant tumor on his jaw, she abandoned her plan to open a psychotherapy practice and devoted herself to translating and writing down his ideas. She also observed wartime effects on children and her “Introduction to the Technique of Child Analysis” was published in 1927.

Dorothy Burlingame, an American psychoanalyst who had moved to Vienna with her children, formed a lifelong relationship with her. In 1927, they organized a school utilizing the “project method” that was closed after the 1938 Nazi takeover of Austria. The Freud and Burlingame families moved to England, where Sigmund Freud died from his cancer in 1939. Anna and Dorothy became involved with programs for children who were without parents and published books and articles about children under stress. They established the Hampstead War Nursery, which soon became a training center. In 1947, this became the Anna Freud Centre, now recognized as a leading institution for studying psychotherapy.

Following World War II, Anna Freud traveled frequently to the United States and other countries. Her Yale Law School seminar series on crime and the family was published as “Beyond the Best Interests of the Child” in 1973. She received several honorary doctorates, the first at Clark University (1950) and the last at Harvard (1980).

By the 1950s, the therapeutic importance of young children’s activities was incorporated into the developing preschool and kindergarten programs of the United States and other nations. At the painting easel, in the “housekeeping corner” or with building blocks, children could express their inner feelings. Teachers observed, interpreted, and sometimes facilitated their projects, but allowed freedom within defined boundaries. Wartime programs had demonstrated the advantages of having one nurturant adult with each small group of children, providing a theoretical basis for current staffing regulations. Parent education began to incorporate psychoanalytic principles, from the importance of breast-feeding to sex education. Even the role of fathers began to change to one of more nurturance and less corporal punishment. Many cities established child guidance clinics to help families resolve interpersonal relationships and developmental concerns. Psychoanalyic theory continues to be a controversial issue among psychologists, but the heritage of Anna Freud and her followers is such an integral part of early childhood education that its origins are rarely recognized. See also Preschool/Prekindergarten Programs.

Further Readings: Ekins, R., and R. Freeman (1998). Anna Freud: Selected writings. London: Penguin Books; Freud, A. (1967-1982). The writings of Anna Freud. 8 vols. Madison, CT: International University Press; Peters, U. H. (1985). Anna Freud: A life dedicated to children. London: Weidenfeld. Young-Bruehl, E. (1988). Anna Freud: A biography. New York: Summit.

Web Sites: Anna Freud Centre,; Freud Museum, www.freud.

Dorothy W. Hewes