Gardiner, Muriel (1901–1985)

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Gardiner, Muriel (1901–1985)

American psychoanalyst who played an important role in the anti-Nazi Austrian Socialist movement in the 1930s and who, many feel, was the basis for Lillian Hellman's Julia in Pentimento. Born Helen Muriel Morris in Chicago, Illinois, in November 1901; died in Princeton, New Jersey, on February 6, 1985; last of four children of Edward and Helen Swift Morris (both of whose fathers had made fortunes in the Chicago stockyards and meat packing industry); attended Wellesley College, Oxford University, and the University of Vienna; awarded M.D. in Vienna, 1938; married Julian Gardiner, on May 20, 1930 (divorced 1932); married Joseph Buttinger (an Austrian Socialist leader), on August 1, 1939; children: (first marriage) daughter Constance Gardiner .

The possession of great wealth does not guarantee a productive life, but in the case of Muriel Gardiner it enabled an intelligent, sensitive woman to participate in some of the most dramatic events of modern European history. A person who matured slowly, both personally and politically, Gardiner was in her mid-30s before she involved herself in the dangerous underground work of Austrians who resisted Fascism. Though endangered herself, she played a key role in saving the lives of countless individuals.

Muriel Gardiner's life began not in the troubled Central Europe she loved so much but in Chicago, where she was born Helen Muriel Morris in November 1901. Her family was one of the wealthiest in that bustling city. Her paternal grandfather had founded the Union Stockyards of Chicago, while her maternal grandfather had started the meat packing firm of Swift & Company. Because her father was Jewish, Gardiner would later find it easy to identify with Jews and others who bore the brunt of discrimination or persecution. From her mother, who was of Anglo-Saxon New England stock, she learned the moral tradition of Puritanism and social duty. Her father imbued her with equally high ideals of honesty, hard work, politeness and fairness. Indeed, her sense of social justice was acute even in childhood, despite the dozen servants in her family's employ. Gardiner rarely saw her extremely busy father. A sensitive child, she was often lonely, having no friends her own age, even though in time she would be popular in school. The person she loved most was her nurse Mollie.

Anna Freud on Muriel Gardiner">

It is possible for even lone individuals to pit their strength successfully against the sinister forces of an unjust regime.

—*Anna Freud on Muriel Gardiner

By the time she was eight, Gardiner was acutely aware that she lived in a different world from that of Mollie and the other servants. News of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 only deepened feelings of the vast gap separating the privileged from the masses. When her parents' friends talked about the tragedy, they only mentioned the wealthy passengers who had perished, totally ignoring the hundreds in steerage who had also lost their lives. In 1910, when Muriel took her first trip to Europe, traveling with her family on a luxury liner, she would stare down from her enclosed first-class deck to the open steerage below. Poorly dressed passengers—men, women and children—sat shivering in rainy or rough weather while waves streamed onto their deck; some would gaze with pleading eyes at the warm and pampered passengers above.

Young Muriel's yearning for social justice expanded with each passing year. She read voraciously, asking countless questions of servants. Not yet ten, her social militancy first surfaced when she led her fellow female students in a suffragist parade. She delighted in devouring books brought home from college by her older brother Nelson, including such classics as the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and Ralph Waldo Emerson's Essays.

In 1913, the early death of her 46-year-old father was a turning point, although the coming of war in Europe in the summer of 1914 left much deeper and more permanent wounds. Though not yet a teenager, Muriel followed the hostilities with interest. Her paternal grandfather had started life as an impoverished Jewish boy in Hechingen in southern Germany. Many of her family servants had been born in Europe and their colorful stories of poverty and oppression kindled her interest in social reform. The European conflict raised profound questions that a young girl could not easily answer. Why, for example, were the Germans now condemned as "Huns" when only a few months before most people, including the entire Morris family, had admired Germans for their industriousness and energy? The entry of the United States into the war in 1917 only accelerated Gardiner's evolution toward a radical rejection of the majority's political credo. Although deeply concerned about her older brother Nelson, who joined the army and was sent overseas, from the start of American military involvement she considered herself to be an uncompromising pacifist, convinced that if she had been born a male she would simply refuse to fight if called upon.

With each passing year, the youthful Gardiner became more confident in her beliefs. A number of strong-minded individuals helped her as she struggled to discover a system of values that best reflected her own mind. One of the most influential was her history teacher, Helen Boyce . Boyce was a rare woman for her time, who, after having earned a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, decided on a career as a teacher in a girls' school. Miss Boyce brought out the best in her students, encouraging them to think independently. Gardiner's iconoclastic spirit was reinforced by a series of tragedies. Several of her brothers' friends, on whom the effervescent Muriel had developed one-sided crushes, died in their teens and twenties. As a result, Muriel decided before she was 20 that she could believe neither in God nor the notion of immortality as conventionally defined. Unlike her brothers, who exhibited a practical bent and went into the family business without completing college, Gardiner became more intellectually oriented. She entered Wellesley College as a freshman in the fall of 1918. Coming from a protective environment, Wellesley seemed almost paradisiacal.

The signing of the armistice ending World War I on November 11, 1918, was one of the most powerful experiences of her Wellesley years. Before dawn, the bells of the churches of Boston and surrounding towns began to ring. Excited, Gardiner went outside just as "the eastern sky showed streaks of red and orange heralding the sunrise of the first day of peace after more than four years of war." She walked along the wooded banks of the Charles River to ponder the meaning of the new world. But after 1918 there was precious little time for such reveries, given the fact that much of the world was in turmoil. Europe was tormented by starvation and bloody insurrections. At affluent Wellesley in the years after 1918, Gardiner formed a committee to send food and funds to those European students who, in the miserable postwar years, could scarcely afford fuel, new books, and journals.

Though she had made some attempts to simplify, her life style remained luxurious when compared to that of many of Europe's distressed students. Mortified, she gave away her fur coat and most of her jewelry, retaining only the string of pearls her dying father had given her and a necklace of semiprecious stones that had once belonged to her mother. At college, Gardiner had developed a passion for first editions with rare and beautiful leather bindings. After a long struggle, she decided that this obsession must be nipped if her campaign against excessive materialism was to succeed. Filling a large suitcase with most of her most cherished rarities, she lugged it to a Boston bookshop; the proceeds were immediately dispatched to the starving students of the University of Vienna—a place Gardiner had never seen but which would play a key role in her later life.

Muriel Gardiner's first encounter with postwar Europe took place in the summer of 1921, when she traveled through the Cotswolds, North Wales, and the Lake District between her junior and senior year. Intellectual stimulation that summer came from meeting and discussing the finer points of contemporary political ideas, including Socialism, with the eminent Marxist teacher and author Harold Laski. Returning home, she found more of the political and social intolerance that had gripped the United States since 1917, when pacifists, labor militants, and radicals were imprisoned, deprived of work, or in some cases deported as sowers of "un-American" ideas. Gardiner by now had developed a reputation as a campus radical and some conservatives felt she was another dangerous "Red" or "Bolshie." In a series of articles in The Delineator, then Vice-President Calvin Coolidge bitterly attacked college students who had in his opinion been seduced by radical ideas, suggesting that the origin of student militancy could be largely traced to cliques of ultra-liberal faculty members,

including two of Wellesley's popular professors, Vida D. Scudder and Mary Whiton Calkins .

Graduating from Wellesley in 1922, Gardiner decided to travel to Europe in September of that year, arriving in Italy on the eve of the Fascist March on Rome. For all of her campus radicalism, she remained pitifully ignorant of the extent of European social turmoil, and her knowledge of Italian politics was virtually nil. Although she was an eyewitness to the March in October 1922, and was in fact detained by barbed wire spread in front of the gates of Rome by black-shirted militia members, Gardiner thought the situation ridiculous and dismissed Benito Mussolini's threat to democracy as minimal. Only her experiences in Austria in later years would make her realize how dire a threat to liberal civilization Fascism was, regardless of where it took root.

From the time of her graduation from Wellesley to the bloody suppression of the uprising of Austria's Socialists in February 1934, Gardiner's political interests stayed relatively dormant. While she remained at heart liberal, indeed often radical in her views, most of the ensuing 12 years were spent on rather desultory studies and travel. After returning from her year in Italy, she attended Oxford University from 1923 through 1925 but seemed unable to focus on a clear goal. Her Oxford thesis, on Mary Shelley , required an oral defense, and Gardiner's uncompromising attitudes led to an explosive clash with one of her three examiners, a woman of a sternly moralistic bent. When asked if she condemned the act of suicide, Gardiner defiantly asserted that she did not, adding that the examiner's remarks were out of place in an examination setting. Not surprisingly, she failed the examination.

Although Gardiner was approaching her mid-20s, her wealth continued to act as a crutch, enabling her to delay choosing a career or even a serious avocation. In the spring of 1926, she first visited Vienna, hoping to be accepted as a psychoanalytic patient of Sigmund Freud. But Freud turned down her request without explanation, referring her instead to his pupil and colleague, American-born Ruth Mack (later Ruth Mack Brunswick ), a fellow Chicagoan and daughter of Judge Julian Mack, who had made his Chicago Juvenile Court a world-famous and respected experiment in social rehabilitation. In a situation not unusual at the time, Ruth Mack agreed to begin a course of analysis with Gardiner, providing Gardiner accompany her to New York City that summer. While there, Gardiner stayed with friends in Greenwich Village, meeting an intellectually varied group, including Princeton academics, legal scholars like Judge Learned Hand, and Jewish labor leaders including Sidney Hillman and Morris Hillquit. She returned to Vienna in September 1926 as a permanent resident, determined to understand all facets of the still-imposing former capital of a great empire. She was becoming increasingly enthusiastic about "Red Vienna's" pathbreaking social reforms in the areas of health insurance and education.

Muriel's years of aimlessness ended on May 20, 1930, when she married Julian Gardiner, a gifted young Brit. Soon a daughter Constance (Connie) was born, but by 1932 the marriage had broken down, and she and Julian divorced on amicable terms. After her divorce, a new maturity and determination began to surface. A decade older than most other students, she decided to earn a medical degree, enrolling at the University of Vienna. For the first time, she began to be an acute observer of a rapidly deteriorating social and political Viennese landscape. The world economic depression that began in 1929 impacted more severely on Austria than almost any other nation; public life became violently confrontational and radicalized. The long-festering tensions between "Red Vienna" and Catholics and other conservatives in the provinces, which had already led to a bloody riot that left almost one-hundred men and women dead in July 1927, now erupted on an almost daily basis. Armed units of unemployed young men prowled the streets looking for political foes to bludgeon into compliance. The government—which often sympathized with the forces of the extreme Right, including a growing Nazi party—customarily viewed these clashes with bemused impotence.

Gardiner was particularly shocked by the accelerating aggressiveness of Viennese anti-Semitism. As a student of the university's renowned Jewish anatomy professor Julius Tandler, she lived through episodes of pure terror on several occasions when Nazi students attempted to storm the Tandler wing of the anatomy building, where almost all of the students were either Jewish or Social Democratic, and in most cases both.

Brunswick, Ruth Mack (1897–1946)

American psychoanalyst. Name variations: Ruth Mack. Born Ruth Jane Mack in Chicago, Illinois, on February 17, 1897; died in New York City on January 24, 1946; daughter of Judge Julian Mack; graduated from Radcliffe College, 1918; graduated from Tufts Medical School, 1922; married (name unknown); married Mark Brunswick (an American composer), in 1928.

Refused entrance to Harvard Medical School because of her gender, Ruth Brunswick matriculated at Tufts before heading for Vienna to become an analysand of Sigmund Freud. Starting in 1925, she began her own practice in Vienna, became a member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, an instructor at the Psychoanalytic Institute, and edited the American journal Psychoanalytic Quarterly. Following the annexation of Austria by the Nazis in 1938, 41-year-old Ruth and her husband, composer Mark Brunswick, moved to New York, where she went into private practice, preferring to tackle cases that were deemed hopeless. But Brunswick was suffering from poor health for a number of years, and she died in 1946, age 49.

By 1933, democracy had been destroyed in both Germany and Austria. In Germany, Adolf Hitler's Third Reich created a reign of terror complete with concentration camps, whereas in Austria another year passed before the transition from parliamentary rule to a Fascist dictatorship under chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss transpired. During this time, Muriel Gardiner was in the process of completing her first two years of medical school. Given the unstable political climate in Central Europe, she seriously considered returning to the United States to complete her medical education. Then a series of events changed the direction of her life. One was a brief but passionate affair with the British poet Stephen Spender, whom she met on a vacation trip to the Dalmatian coast. More important was the radical transformation that took place in Austria in February 1934 when the Socialist movement was bloodily suppressed and a Fascist regime was set up with the enthusiastic support of the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini. Given the fact that many of her closest Austrian friends were Social Democrats whose careers and lives were now in jeopardy, Gardiner felt she could not abandon them, believing that as an American with means she might in fact be of use to them.

Countless opportunities presented themselves immediately. Assuming the code name of "Mary" Gardiner, she became a member of the Socialist underground, lending her apartment to refugees from the police as well as hiding fugitives in her cottage in Sulz, deep in the Vienna Woods. From 1934 through March 1938, when Nazi Germany annexed Austria, she was involved in countless illegal actions designed to keep alive the spark of resistance against a repressive regime. Much of this work was sandwiched between the ordinary life of a wealthy American expatriate determined to earn a medical degree before returning home to begin a career as a teacher and psychoanalyst. But there were moments when the secret (and dangerous) side of her existence gave her the kind of emotional satisfaction that derives from the successful completion of a risky mission. For almost four years, she regarded it as perfectly natural to take overnight "sightseeing trips" by train to Prague in order to pick up false passports for her Viennese comrades. She was able to smuggle them back to Austria by taping them inside her corset.

During her underground work, Gardiner met and quickly fell in love with "Wieser," a courageous and intelligent leader of a militant Socialist cell who took refuge in her Vienna Woods cottage in order to grow a mustache and assume a new identity. Wieser's real name was Joseph Buttinger, and his life was one of almost total contrast to that of Gardiner. Born in 1906, his father was an impoverished worker of rural Austrian origins. On the eve of World War I, the struggling Buttinger family was in Germany's Ruhr region, where the father barely supported his wife and children working as a miner. When father Buttinger was killed at the front in March 1917, the family moved to an Austrian village in the region of Carinthia. The poverty they had always known became even worse, and the children often had to beg for food. Despite this, the boy grew into a youth who deeply desired an education. By his late teens, he was able to read difficult books of history and social theory and had become chair of the local Socialist youth group. He rose quickly in the Carinthian hierarchy of the Social Democratic Party and was secretary of the party district of St. Veit when the Fascist regime crushed Austrian democracy in February 1934.

Adolf Hitler's armed forces marched into Austria in March 1938, immediately placing Buttinger and countless Socialist friends of Gardiner's, many of whom were also Jewish, at great risk. As soon as Buttinger returned from party assignment in Czechoslovakia, he helped her destroy incriminating documents in her apartment, before rushing off to warn their comrades, urging them to leave Austria immediately. Fortunately, Gardiner had just received a large amount of American money which she began distributing among her endangered friends so they could buy railroad tickets and escape to freedom. While Buttinger departed for Paris, Gardiner's small daughter Connie was taken to Switzerland by trusted friends. Relieved, Gardiner could now concentrate on saving the lives of comrades. These included Manfred Ackermann and his family, for Ackermann was not only a leading underground Socialist functionary but also a prime target for the Nazi dragnet because he was Jewish. Gardiner was assisted by non-Jewish Austrian Socialists in her efforts to save Ackermann and other Jews. Although some of these "anti-Nazi Aryans" could still move freely in the first days of Nazi rule in Vienna, all of them risked their lives to assist Jewish comrades; in time, many of them would pay for their activities by being imprisoned in concentration camps.

Sometimes Gardiner's efforts, which constantly exposed her to arrest by the Nazis, failed to save endangered comrades. For example, she was able to procure passports for Hans and Steffi Kunke , who could have departed Austria at that point, but they remained in Vienna with their friend Ferdinand Tschürtsch, who was weak and deformed. Procuring a passport fitting Tschürtsch's description was all but impossible. Because of the delay, the Kunkes and their friend were arrested, and all three perished in Nazi death camps. By the end of April 1938, Gardiner had been able to assist many Austrians in escaping from the Nazis, procuring passports for them, providing them with money and affidavits from the American consul in Vienna to prove they would have financial support as immigrants.

Gardiner successfully passed her medical examinations at the University of Vienna. Since Austria was now part of Nazi Germany, the graduating medical students were expected to raise their arms and offer "Heil Hitler!" at the graduation ceremony, held on June 18, 1938. Not surprisingly, Gardiner did not comply, but her insubordination was not noticed, and she received her degree. A few days earlier, she had filled out her final papers at the University of Vienna and had impulsively written down "Jewish" in the space on the form asking about her father's religion. According to the Nazi racial laws already in force, this classified her as a "person of mixed race, first degree," a very dangerous position at that time. Fortunately as an American she was still allowed to receive her degree, though she was compelled to sign a document stating she would never practice medicine in the German Reich (which now included Austria) even if she should acquire citizenship.

Gardiner departed Vienna immediately after her graduation, meeting Buttinger and her daughter in Paris. After a few months, she returned to Austria in November 1938 to establish contacts with some Socialist comrades. Although interrogated at her hotel by a Gestapo official, her mission was accomplished, and she returned safely to Paris. Notwithstanding Gardiner's aversion to matrimony, she married Joe Buttinger in 1939 in order to facilitate his immigration to the United States. Some of the bureaucratic red tape impeding their marriage was cut by Léon Blum, a Socialist comrade of Joe's and a former prime minister of France.

Almost immediately after arriving in the United States, the Buttingers began to work tirelessly to bring as many German and Austrian political and racial refugees to America as possible. They were able to make a persuasive case on behalf of their threatened comrades to the International Rescue Committee. Eleanor Roosevelt heard these pleas and relayed the gist of their arguments to President Roosevelt; by the fall of 1940, the first boatload of several hundred refugees from Nazi-occupied France arrived in New York.

After World War II, Muriel Gardiner and Joseph Buttinger continued to be active in many causes. She had a busy psychoanalytical practice, taught at various universities, and published several well-received books in the field of psychology. At the end of her life, her memoirs were reviewed enthusiastically. One controversy which surfaced was whether Muriel was the anti-Nazi activist "Julia" Lillian Hellman had depicted in her book Pentimento. (It was subsequently filmed as Julia, starring Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave .) Gardiner dealt with the controversy with discretion and restraint, but many were convinced that Hellman had expropriated her life and achievements without proper acknowledgment.

While his wife led a productive professional life, Joseph Buttinger, whose formal education ended after the fourth grade, developed a reputation as an expert on Vietnam. Over a period of decades, he supervised the building up of a superb research library on Socialism and modern European mass movements which was housed for many years in the Buttingers' New York home near the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (The couple had a large country house in New Jersey as well.) In 1970, most of this library was given as a gift to the University of Klagenfurt in Austria, while the Vietnamese books went to Harvard University. Decades after their work of the 1930s, the Buttingers were honored by the Austrian government; she received the Cross of Honor First Class, and he the Great Golden Cross of Honor. Muriel Gardiner died on February 6, 1985, in Princeton, New Jersey.


Berger, Joseph. "Muriel Gardiner, Who Helped Hundreds Escape Nazis, Dies," in The New York Times Biographical Service. February 1985, p. 156.

Buttinger, Joseph. In the Twilight of Socialism: A History of the Revolutionary Socialists of Austria. NY: Frederick A. Praeger, 1953.

Gardiner, Muriel. Code Name "Mary": Memoirs of an American Woman in the Austrian Underground. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1983.

Godwin, Gail. "An Authentic Heroine," in New Republic. Vol. 188, no. 21. May 30, 1983, pp. 33–36.

Hellman, Lillian. Pentimento. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1973.

Lichtenberger-Fenz, Brigitte. "Eine Amerikanerin im österreichischen Untergrund," in Wiener Tagebuch. No. 12. December 1989, p. 38.

Locher, Frances Carol, ed. Contemporary Authors. Vols. 77–80. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1979.

Personal recollections of conversations with Muriel Gardiner, New York City, summer 1965.

Wright, William. Lillian Hellman: The Image, the Woman. NY: Simon and Schuster, 1986.

Young-Bruehl, Elisabeth. Anna Freud: A Biography. NY: Summit Books, 1990.

John Haag , Associate Professor, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia