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Schmidt, Vera Federovna (1889-1937)

SCHMIDT, VERA FEDEROVNA (1889-1937)

Vera Schmidt, the Russian educationist, was born in Odessa in 1889 and died in Moscow in 1937.

She was one of the leading figures of the "Silver Age" of psychoanalysis in Russia. Her parents were both physicians and she was particularly attached to her mother, Elisaveta Yanitskaïa, who treated children who suffered from neurological disorders. Vera was later to say that her mother had a determining influence on her choice of career.

In 1908 Vera enrolled in the Bestoujev classes in Saint Petersburg. This prestigious establishment was reserved for young girls: it specialized in training educationists and physicians. In 1912 she was brilliantly successful in completing her studies and graduated as a teacher. In 1913 she met Otto Youlievitch Schmidt and they married in the same year. Early in 1917 she worked Kiev in the supplies Committee. It was also at this time that she developed a passion for reading Freud, her perfect German enabling her to read him in the original.

Otto Schmidt shared his wife's passion for psychoanalysis and in this respect his role merits our attention. He was the only member of a large family of originally German peasants to have a university education. The brilliant young mathematician became a Privatdozent (university lecturer) while preparing his PhD thesis in order to become a professor. An enthusiastic supporter of the 1917 Revolution, he enlisted his talents as a scientist and organizer in support of the Soviets. He was a high-ranking functionary in several ministries ranging from public education to finance and the Gosplan (State Planning Committee), as well as being vice-president of the USSR Academy for Science. As a scientist he conducted several polar expeditions, exploits that won him a place in schoolbooks.

However, the man had another passion: psychoanalysis. In 1921 and 1926 as vice-president of the coordinating committee of the Moscow Psychoanalytic Society and the Psychoanalytic Institute (with Ivan Ermakov as the head), he financed the publication of the "Library of Psychology and Psychoanalysis," an important collection, under the directorship of the same Ermakov. Still via the Coordinating Committee, and thanks to his government posts, Otto Schmidt provided the necessary means for psychoanalytic institutions. In 1917 the committee moved from Petrograd to Moscow and the Schmidts moved also. Vera worked in the Childhood department of the Ministry for Public Education. She applied herself to an in-depth reading of Freud's works, as well as writings by other western psychoanalysts.

August 1921 saw the opening of the experimental child laboratory Home (Detski Dom), which was to be her life's work. Vera had no psychoanalytic training, but her publications on the experiment and the work methods of the Home (which she herself translated into German for foreign reviews) were greatly appreciated by her colleagues in the West. Moreover, Vera kept a day-to-day detailed diary of the development of her son, Vladimir Schmidt, born in 1920. He was nicknamed Volik, not Alik, as erroneously indicated by certain publications on psychoanalysis in Russia. This immense monograph has never been published in Russian, nor translated into any other language.

In early 1923 the Schmidts went to Vienna where they met Freud, with whom they discussed the children's Home and psychoanalytic activities in Russia. They also visited other analysts, most notably Otto Rank and Karl Abraham. Discussions focused mainly on psychoanalysis and the organization of the collective educational system. This constituted a veritable apotheosis for the Russian Psychoanalytic Association, which became an associate member of the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA) in 1924.

However, as early as mid-1923 problems began to arise for the Home. The threat of ideological censorship cast its shadow over psychology and child education. On August 14, 1925 the ministry for public education decreed the definitive closure of the children's Home. Until 1929 Vera Schmidt was a researcher at the nervous system Study Center attached to the Academy of Science, where she worked on conditioned reflexes. From 1930 to 1937 she conducted research, in the cerebral pathology Experimental Center, into innate illnesses of the nervous system in young children. But she was already seriously ill with a thyroid tumor and her participation in the Tchelouskine polar expedition organized by her husband only contributed to hastening her demise. On July 17, 1937, Vera Schmidt died on the operating table.

Irina Manson

See also: Detski Dom; Russia/USSR.

Bibliography

Etkind, Alexandre. (1995). Eros niévozmojnogo-Istoria psykhoanalisa v Rossii. Moscow : Progress; Histoire de la psychanalyse in Russie. (B. Berelowitch, Trans.) Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Schmidt, Vera. (1920-22). Le Journal de Volik (unpublished).

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