Low, Barbara (1877-1955)

views updated

LOW, BARBARA (1877-1955)

Barbara Low, a British psychoanalyst, was born in 1877 in London, where she died on December 25, 1955. She was the youngest daughter of eleven children in an Anglo-Jewish family with Austrian and Hungarian parents. Several members of the family distinguished themselves in various walks of life. After attending a pioneering girls' school in London, she gained her degree at University College before training as a teacher. She taught for several years at girls' schools, and during the First World War taught at Hackney Downs School for boys. For some years she lectured on education, history, and literature at the London County Council Training College for Teachers at Fulham. She joined the Labour Party and worked actively on its behalf. She was also active in the Fabian Society, joining soon after its formation with Herbert G. Wells, Bernard Shaw, and D. H. Lawrence, the last of whom she had a warm correspondence with, reflecting her wide culture.

Low was introduced to psychoanalysis by Dr. David Eder, who had married her sister Florence (to whom she was closely attached). She gave up her career as a teacher to study psychoanalysis and went to Berlin for analysis with Hans Sachs (as did Sylvia Payne and Ella Sharpe). She was impressed by the polyclinic in Berlin and urged setting up a similar organization in London.

While maintaining her wide interests, Low devoted the rest of her life to psychoanalysis. In 1919 she was a founding member of the British Psycho-Analytical Society, and until the arrival of Melanie Klein, she and Eder were the only Jewish members. She brought her lively mind, clarity of thought, and didactic skills to bear on her new profession. In 1920 she wrote Psycho-Analysis: A Brief Account of the Freudian Theory, a book that ran to several editions. She wrote a number of important papers, including a number that dealt with unconscious factors in education, and she conceived the Nirvana Principle, which Freud approved of and acknowledged in his writings. She was an active member of the Institute for the Study and Treatment of Delinquency, which she served both as lecturer and therapist.

Low was an active discussant in international meetings and contributed to the intellectual and scientific life of the British Psycho-Analytical Society. She served as its librarian and as a member of the Public Lectures Committee. She also served as director of Imago Publishing Company on its foundation. She always fought vigorously for her beliefs, as was particularly evident in the controversial discussions between Anna Freud and Melanie Klein between 1941 and 1945 (King & Steiner, 1991). She was a staunch supporter of Edward Glover and Anna Freud in these debates, putting forward several proposals for discussion and attending all of the meetings until Glover's resignation from the society in 1944.

Though her health was good during her last two years, she was forced into semiretirement. Dr. Eder predeceased her, and she shared a home with her sister. There she died peacefully in her sleep at the age of seventy-eight on Christmas morning, 1955.

Clifford Yorke

Notion developed: Nirvana.

See also: Death instinct (Thanatos); Discharge; Great Britain; Imago Publishing Company; Pleasure/unpleasure principle.


King, Pearl, and Steiner, Riccardo. (1991). The Freud-Klein controversies, 1941-45. London: Tavistock Publications, Routledge.

Low, Barbara. (1924). Psycho-analysis and education. In Ernest Jones (Ed.), Social aspects of psycho-analysis. London: Williams & Norgate.

. (1925). The foundations of mental health. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 7.

. (1927). An interesting invented "portmanteau" word. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 8, 73-74.

. (1929). A note on the influence of psycho-analysis upon English education during the last 18 years. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 10, 314-320.