Brunswick, Ruth Mack (1897-1946)

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Ruth Mack Brunswick, a psychoanalyst and psychiatrist, was born in 1897 in Chicago, died January 25, 1946 in New York City.

Ruth Brunswick's father, Judge Julian Mack, became a famous jurist on the U.S. Circuit Court in New York, and also he was known as a prominent Jewish philanthropist. His only daughter Ruth attended Radcliffe College during World War I, and also graduated from Tufts Medical School.

In 1917 she married Dr. Herman Blumgart, who later pursued a successful career as a heart specialist; his brother Leonard had gone to Vienna for a short analysis with Sigmund Freud at the end of World War I. Ruth had completed her psychiatric residency when, at the age of twenty-five, she also went to Freud. Her marriage was already troubled; her husband saw Freud in an unsuccessful effort to salvage the marriage, but Freud evidently decided the relationships was hopeless.

Ruth had fallen in love with a man five years younger than herself, Mark Brunswick, at the time a music student. Ruth was still in analysis with Freud in 1924 when Mark as well began to consult Freud. According to Mark, Freud later admitted that it had been a mistake for Freud and Ruth to have discussed Mark's case in detail.

In the meantime Ruth was teaching at the Vienna Psychoanalytic Training Institute; her specialty was the psychoses, an area of study that Freud personally avoided. Ruth and Mark were married at the town hall in Vienna in 1928; it was one of the few weddings Freud ever attended. Ruth's access to Freud seemed unique; she came to meals at his apartment, visited him in summers, and was on excellent terms with his children. Ruth was considered a member of Freud's extended family.

Ruth played a special role in mediating between the American analysts and Freud's circle in Vienna. She became an important channel through which wealthy American patients arranged to undergo analyses with Freud. In recognition of her special standing, Ruth became one of the few women who received a ring from Freud. She also played a notable part in supervising Freud's precarious health. Her own patient in analysis, Dr. Max Schur, became appointed Freud's personal physician.

Ruth had health problems, though, that her doctors could not diagnose as unquestionably organic. By 1933 or 1934 at the latest she had developed a serious drug problem, and by 1937 she had become an addict. Her failure to overcome her difficulties was the main reason for Freud's final disappointment in her.

The worst of Ruth's drug addiction occurred in America; her mother died in 1940, her father in 1943. Ruth and Mark were divorced in 1937, and thenagainst Freud's advicethey re-married in six months. Mark finally divorced her in 1945. Ruth's death in 1946 was the end-result of a pattern of self-destructive behavior. She had been drinking paregoric the way an alcoholic consumes whiskey. Her health was undermined, and the federal authorities had taken note of her drug-taking. She caught pneumonia, recovered, and then died from the combination of too many opiates and a fall in the bathroom; she had hit her head and fractured her skull. The full tragedy was for many years not publicly known. The cloudy circumstances associated with Ruth's medical troubles, and the misfortune of her early death, have obscured both her scientific contributions and her immense personal standing with Freud.

Ruth's central contribution to psychoanalytic thinking had to do with her special concern with the child's earliest relationship to the mother. In 1929 she was one of the first in print to use the term pre-oedipal, and Freud himself adopted it two years later. Otto Rank probably deserves the credit for being the earliest to invoke the concept, but Ruth was tactful enough to be able to emphasize the importance of the mother in the development of the child, without any revolt on her part against Freud's basic ideas.

She will also be remembered as the Wolf Man's second analyst. In 1926 Freud referred the Wolf Man to Ruth for treatment, paying her a high compliment; he knew that anything she published would become famous in the clinical literature. She wrote an article about the Wolf Man in close collaboration with Freud. She also trained some famous future analysts; she analyzed Muriel Gardiner, Max and Helen Schur, and Robert Fliess, the son of Freud's former friend Wilhelm. Her most famous student was Karl Menninger, who saw her later in the United States.

Ruth had a special talent for manipulating Freud's theoretical concepts, and using them to set forth new ideas of her own. Freud admired her freedom, which helps to account for his partiality toward her. Ruth's analysis with Freud stretched, with some interruptions, from 1922 until 1939. Unwittingly Freud had helped bring about the dependency that it ideally should have been the task of analysis to dissipate. Mark claimed that Freud had first treated Ruth in too close a way, and then tried to be too distant. To insiders within the analytic movement Ruth's death was proof that analytic treatment could not be counted on to prevent human misery. It was left to others, such as Rank and Melanie Klein, to go on to make "pre-oedipal" problems the centers of their respective systems of thought.

Ruth Mack Brunswick was one of the most important women in Freud's immediate circle during the last years of his career; but the tragedy of her life, and the implications it made about her work, has meant that her name is relatively unknown to the general public.

Paul Roazen

See also: Addiction; "From the History of an Infantile Neurosis" (Wolf Man); Schur, Max.


Brunswick, Ruth Mack. (1928). A supplement to Freud's history of an infantile neurosis. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 9, 439-76.

. (1929). The analysis of a case of paranoia (delusions of jealously). Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 70,1-22; 155-178.

. (1940). The preoedipal phase of the libido development. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 9, 293-319.

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Brunswick, Ruth Mack (1897-1946)

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