Isaacs-Sutherland, Susan (1885-1948)

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A British psychoanalyst and member of the British Psycho-Analytical Society, Susan Isaacs was born in Bolton, Lancashire on March 24 1885, and died on October 12, 1948 in London.

Isaacs came from a middle-class English family from the Midlands. She was educated at Bolton secondary schools and then at Manchester and Cambridge Universities. She taught at Darlington Training College in 1913-14 and then was appointed lecturer in logic at Manchester University in 1914-15. During the First World War she was appointed tutor in Psychology at London University where she taught until 1933. She was analyzed by Flügel and then from 1922 by J. Riviere. She became an associate member of the British Psycho-Analytical Society in 1921, and a full member in 1923. She was a member of the Training Committee in 1944-45.

Isaacs's contributions to psychoanalysis were particularly important in the field of education. As early as the twenties, from 1923-1927, with the help of her husband, she directed the famous Malting House School project at Cambridge to conduct the education of a small group of children aged two to seven as a piece of scientific work and research. The theoretical framework of the project was deeply influenced by Melanie Klein's views on the importance of phantasy and play in young children. The results of this research, condensed in two volumes, Intellectual Growth in Young Children (1930) and Social Development of Young Children (1933), were immediately acknowledged as a new way of looking at the development of children and influenced even Jean Piaget.

Between 1929 and 1936, under the name of Ursula Wise, she replied to parents' questions concerning their children in Nursery World. She thereby exerted significant influence Britain using the psychoanalytic ideas derived mainly from Melanie Klein in changing patterns of education of generations of children in Great Britain. She effectively founded the Department of Child Development at London University in 1933. During the war she directed the Cambridge Evacuation Project; see the Cambridge Evacuation Survey (1941).

Isaacs's theoretical contributions played a fundamental role during the Controversial Discussions between Anna Freud and Melanie Klein (1941-45). Due to her clear theoretical mind and her academic background in general psychology, logic, and education. Klein chose her to write, read and discuss the first paper of the Discussions, "The Nature snd Function of Phantasy" (1943), which, in an abridged version, was published in 1948. In this paper, which is her main theoretical contribution to psychoanalysis, Isaacs very clearly expressed Klein's views on the importance that unconscious phantasies play in the development of the child from the beginning of its life and tried to support Klein's views, linking them where possible to general academic psychology and epistemology.

Her other clinical and theoretical contributions were collected and reprinted in a book entitled Childhood and After (1948).

Riccardo Steiner

See also: British Psycho-Analytical Society; Controversial Discussions; Fantasy; Great Britain; Imago; Unconscious fantasy.


Gardner, Dorothy E. M. (1969). Susan Isaacs. London: Methuen Education.

Isaacs, Susan. (1930). Intellectual growth in young children. London: Routledge.

. (1933). Social development in young children. London: Routledge.

King, Pearl H.M., and Steiner, Riccardo. (1991). The Freud-Klein controversies 1941-1945. London and New York: Tavistock Publications-Routledge, New Library of Psychoanalysis.

Rickman, John. (1950). Obituary. Susan Sutherland Isaacs C.B.E. M. MA. D. Sc. (Vict), Hon. D. Sc. (Adelaide). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 31, 279-285.

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Isaacs-Sutherland, Susan (1885-1948)

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