Frenkel-Brunswik, Else (1908–1958)

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Frenkel-Brunswik, Else (1908–1958)

Jewish-Austrian psychologist . Born Else Frenkel in Poland in 1908; died of drug overdose in 1958; daughter of Abraham (a bank owner) and Helene (Gelernter) Frenkel; University of Vienna, Ph.D. in psychology; married Egon Brunswik, a psychologist (died 1955); no children.

The author of The Authoritarian Personality, a pioneering synthesis of social psychology and psychoanalysis, Else Frenkel-Brunswik introduced American behaviorists to the nuances of psychoanalysis. Unfortunately, her brilliant career was cut short by her suicide at the age of 49.

She was born Else Frenkel in Poland in 1908. When she was six, her family escaped Jewish persecution in Poland and settled in Vienna. At age 22, she earned a Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Vienna and, against her parent's wishes, married her psychology professor Egon Brunswik, who was not Jewish. She stayed on at the University with her husband, working as an assistant professor until the Nazi invasion of Austria in 1938. At that time, she and her husband fled to the United States, where Egon had secured a position at the University of California at Berkeley. Although Frenkel-Brunswik could not be considered for an academic position because of rules against nepotism, she worked out of the university as a lecturer and researcher in psychoanalysis, a relatively new subject to American psychologists. In the 1940s, she and three other researchers undertook a ground-breaking study on prejudice, which was underwritten by the American Jewish Committee in 1945. The project culminated in the publication of The Authoritarian Personality (1950), which presented an extremely controversial model of the relationship between ideology and child rearing. Else Frenkel-Brunswik's continuing work on prejudice in children and on aging was interrupted by her husband's illness and subsequent suicide in 1955. She was so devastated by the loss that even a position as a full professor at Berkeley and a Fulbright scholarship were of no consolation. She was found dead of a drug overdose in 1958.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts