Freud in America Part 1: The Invitation

The story of Sigmund Freud's trip to the United States, his reputation in America at the time and how he was invited.

Dr. Freud Visits America

By Irving Wallace

One of the little known facts in the life of one of the historic movers and shakers of the 20th century is that Dr. Sigmund Freud spent one month in the U.S. during August and September of 1909, the year in which William Howard Taft became President.

In 1909, Dr. Freud was 53 years old and the new mental treatment that he had developed, which he named "psychoanalysis," was 14 years old. Dr. Freud had already published numerous papers and a half dozen books, but they were not widely read. One of the most important, the Interpretation of Dreams, brought out in late 1899, had sold only 600 copies in 8 years and earned him $250. However, Dr. Freud and his theory were making headway in Europe. He had formed a Psychological Wednesday Society in Vienna in 1902--later the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society--which attracted followers who met with him weekly in his waiting room. Also, he had a crowded appointment calendar of patients, mostly neurotics from Eastern Europe.

Yet, in the U.S., Dr. Freud was almost unknown. He had gained only a handful of American disciples. One of these was Dr. Abraham A. Brill, who had come to see the master in Vienna and had been converted. Another, who had never set eyes on Freud, was Dr. Granville Stanley hall, president of Clark University in Worcester, Mass. And it was Dr. Hall who would be instrumental in bringing Dr. Sigmund Freud to the country that in future years would be the heartland of psychiatry.

Clark University, a small private coeducational school (today the enrollment is 2,700 students), was about to observe its 20th anniversary in 1909. To celebrate the occasion, President Hall decided to invite Dr. Sigmund Freud to give a series of lectures on the origin and growth of psychoanalysis, in July, before a conclave of psychologists. Dr. Freud declined this 1st invitation. He was solidly booked with patients for July and felt that he was "not rich enough" to cancel out 3 weeks of therapy. "America should bring in money, not cost money," he said.

However, President Hall of Clark University would not be denied. Shortly after, he extended a 2nd invitation to Dr. Freud, stating that the celebration had been rescheduled for early September, and offering Freud 3,000 marks--$714.60--for 5 lectures devoted to his new discoveries about sex and dreams. This time Dr. Freud accepted.

Dr. Freud requested one of his closest disciples, Dr. Sandor Ferenczi, of Budapest, Hungary, to accompany him. Ferenczi was delighted, and immediately began to study English and to bury himself in travel books about the U.S. Meanwhile, Freud learned that another recent disciple, Dr. Carl Gustav Jung, assistant director of the Burghoelzli Clinic in Zurich, had also been invited to Clark University. Freud lost no time in asking Jung to travel with him also.

Freud faced the trip to a distant, alien land with mingled anticipation and misgivings. He was pleased at the opportunity to introduce his ideas to the U.S. firsthand. At the same time, he was worried about the discomforts of the journey and over the reception he might receive in America. He refused to read any books about the U.S. He told Ferenczi, "The thought of America does not seem to matter to me, but I am looking forward very much to our journey together. It is a good illustration to the profound words in the Magic Flute: 'I can't compel you to love.'"

Freud told intimates that all he wanted to see in the U.S. was collection of Cyprian antiquities in a New York museum and the Niagara Falls. Concerning Freud's seeming lack of enthusiasm, Dr. Ernest Jones--his leading British disciple and later his biographer, who planned to join the master in the U.S.--remarked: "I think there was some suppression of the earlier elation lest it lead to some apprehensiveness about his task. He pretended it was not really important. He did not prepare anything for his lectures, saying he would do that on the ship."

After insuring his life for 20,000 marks--$4,764--Freud took a train to Bremen to join Jung and Ferenczi the day before boarding their ship. Hosting a farewell lunch, Freud ordered wine. Jung, a teetotaler, didn't want wine, but at Freud's insistence he agreed to have some. Curiously, after Jung capitulated and drank, Freud fainted.

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