Harding, Mary Esther

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HARDING, Mary Esther

Born 5 August 1881, Shrewsbury, England; died 4 May 1971, London, England

Mary Esther Harding came from an educated Shropshire family. At the University of London, she experienced a typical rebuff to women medical students of the time as she was prevented from interning in any but the Royal Free Hospital. She received her M.D. in 1914 and served in hospitals during World War I.

In the 1920s, Harding devoted herself to the practice and study of Jungian psychoanalysis. Jungians (and even Jung himself) credit her more than any other person with having brought analytical psychology to America. She (with the help of two other doctors, Kristine Mann and Eleanor Bertine) founded the first American Jungian Society in New York in 1936. She was also the first head of the training branch of the New York Institute for Analytical Psychology. Her first two books on psychology, The Way of All Women (1933) and Women's Mysteries (1935), are her most original. The former has been translated into five languages, and both have come out in revised editions.

Women's Mysteries is almost a catalogue of myths and dreams that link woman's psyche to the moon. Harding argues modern woman is out of touch with the deepest, most instinctual, and positive roots of her own feminine principle (as distinguished from the feminine principle of the male psyche), and that she has given her allegiance too exclusively to masculine forces of supposed reason and destructive dominion over nature and people. Harding concludes that our future depends on the balance between the feminine Eros and the masculine Logos. The book also reconstructs the Moon-Goddess and the nonrational, dark, yet redemptive side of life that she represents, making the book important also for religious studies on the goddesses or feminine godhead left out of the Christian concept of trinity. Another important point in the book is her analysis of "the sacrifice of the son" (the weaning of all children from the nest and the mother's psyche) from the mother's point of view so she may develop as a person.

Women's Mysteries is undoubtedly Harding's most important work but is also her most difficult stylistically because the archetypal, mythic, and dream materials are not integrated gracefully into her own thoughts about their meaning and application. Jung himself asked Harding to assimilate the material more before publishing the book. In response, she first published The Way of All Women, which extrapolates in lucid and compassionate terms the meaning of her feminine archetypes in the lives of real women. Throughout both these books she emphasizes that women must grow beyond the image society has projected for them, that they must develop their minds to become persons, to "individuate."

In most of her later works, Harding emphasizes her concern with a predominantly Jungian construct, the religious urge as it surfaces in the latter half of life. Most important of her works for the dissemination of Jungian thought in America was the widely read Psychic Energy: Its Source and Its Transformation (1947), which emphasizes the introversion of the second stage of life in realizing the mandala and other symbols of psychic wholeness that connect the human psyche to the transpersonal. The I and the Not-I (1965) and Journey into Self (1956) are also graceful, remarkably jargon-free introductions to Jungian thought.

Harding's work has been neglected because her emphasis on the religious impetus of the older person is antithetical to American schools of psychology, mostly dominated by behaviorism and Freudian thought, and because her writings on women counter the bias of feminist thought of the 1960s and 1970s, which holds that all psychic differences between men and women are enculturated. Moreover, women in the Jungian school have tended to be disciples rather than thinkers, and Harding was an independent thinker, attracting from other Jungians such labels as "animus-bound" (a woman with an overdeveloped masculine side), opinionated, dogmatic, and assertive.

Yet her popularizing Jungian books are perhaps the most gracefully written and elegant (even urbane) of all those that attempt to make Jung's circumlocutory style and thought accessible to the layperson. Her studies on women reintroduced the feminine godhead lost under Judeo-Christianity; they systematized and synthesized myths about woman's special biology and psyche; and they are among the first psychological studies to look at woman from a woman's own point of view, as Harding experienced her in analysis as well as in myth, dream, and art. It is necessary to concede, however, Harding does echo the male Jungian ideology that thinking is less natural to a woman, though she must develop the faculty, and Harding holds to the idea that "relatedness" is more endemic to the feminine psyche than the masculine. She reflects her era as well as transcending it on some crucial concepts.

Other Works:

The Circulatory Failure of Diphtheria (1920). A Short Review of Dr. Jung's Article "Redemptive Ideas in Alchemy" (1937). The Parental Image (1965).


Journal of Analytical Psychology (1972). Quadrant (Fall 1971).