Time Capsule

It was Aug. 20, 1909. Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung were lunching at the Essinghaus, a famous restaurant in Bremen, Germany, the day before they were to set sail for the United States for what would be Freud's only trip to America. Mount Holyoke College psychologist Gail Hornstein, PhD, offers this description of that lunch:

Jung started talking about certain mummies in the lead cellars of the city. Freud became visibly disturbed. "Why are you so concerned with these corpses?" he asked several times. Jung went on talking. Suddenly without warning, Freud fell to the floor in a faint. When he recovered, he accused Jung of harboring death wishes against him. But it was not Jung who wanted Freud dead. Had Freud only known what American psychologists were about to do to psychoanalysis, he might never have gotten up off the floor.

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the most famous conference in the history of American psychology and the occasion of Freud and Jung's visit. G. Stanley Hall, founder of the American Psychological Association and president of Clark University, planned the conference to celebrate the university's 20th anniversary—an event that seems peculiar to the way Americans, with little sense of history, mark the passage of time. (Consider, for example, that when Hall was arranging speakers for the Clark conference, he invited psychology's founder, Wilhelm Wundt, who declined, noting that he would be speaking at the University of Leipzig's 500th anniversary.)

After Freud received his invitation from Hall, he wrote to Jung, indicating his amusement that Americans felt compelled to celebrate a 20th anniversary of an institution. Still, Freud was excited about the trip. He wrote to Jung, "I must admit that this has thrilled me more than anything else that has happened in the last few years and that I have been thinking of nothing else."

Freud and Jung arrived at the port in Hoboken, N.J., on Aug. 29. For several days, they toured New York City, walking in Central Park, admiring the Egyptian and Etruscan collections in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and seeing a motion picture, a first for Freud. On Sept. 4, they arrived in Worcester, Mass., spending their first night in a hotel, then moving into the Halls' home on the Clark campus.

The conference began Sept. 6, with Freud delivering his first of five lectures the next day. All five lectures were in German, all delivered at the same time on successive days. Although Freud was the star of the show, he was not the only speaker on the psychology part of the program. Others included William Stern, inventor of the concept of IQ; Adolph Meyer, a noted psychiatrist and co-founder of America's mental hygiene movement; Franz Boas, often labeled the founder of American anthropology; Herbert Spencer Jennings, pioneering researcher of animal behavior; and E.B. Titchener, the founder of structural psychology. Jung offered three lectures, all on his work with the word-association method.

Freud opened his first lecture with a description of psychoanalysis as a therapeutic method, drawing on the case study of Anna O, the patient of Joseph Breuer. (Her identity would be revealed years later as Bertha Pappenheim, a pioneering German social worker, honored on a German postage stamp.) Later lectures focused on infantile sexuality and on dream interpretation.

Prior to their American trip, Freud and Jung had discussed American prudishness and whether the Americans could handle the frankness of their claims about sexuality. Freud related his concerns in a letter to Jung who replied, "We have noticed this prudishness, which used to be worse than it is now; now I can stomach it. I don't water down the sexuality any more. You are probably right about the trip to America. So far these people simply haven't a notion of what we're at. One of these days they will creep into a corner, prim and abashed."

Hall's invitation to Freud concerned some American psychologists who wondered why Freud would be the featured speaker at a scientific conference when his study of the unconscious through dream symbolism seemed so unscientific. Concerns about the prominent role of sexuality in his theory were also evident. Cornell University psychologist E.B. Titchener used a portion of his lectures at the conference to address Freud's psychology, noting that "the doctrine of the unconscious [is] both foreign to the spirit and inadequate to the status of experimental psychology."

At the close of the conference, Freud and Jung received honorary doctoral degrees from Clark, the only such degree Freud would receive in his life. Freud's contacts with the American medical community sparked a rapid expansion of his ideas, leading to enormous popularity in psychiatry and with the general public. The claim that psychoanalysis was the one valid science of psychology was infuriating to American psychologists. They reasoned that the American public would recognize the folly of psychoanalysis and abandon interest in it. But by the 1920s, to the utter dismay of American psychologists, the public had embraced psychoanalysis as the one true psychology. At first, U.S. psychologists ignored psychoanalysis, then they bashed it on theoretical and methodological grounds. When it was obvious that it only continued to grow in popularity, they sought to discredit it by testing Freud's ideas experimentally. Eventually they were forced to acknowledge the public's love affair with psychoanalysis, and chose to adopt those ideas that seemed compatible with scientific psychology, including the importance of early experience and a deterministic account of human behavior.

Today, Freud's ideas are an identifiable part of American psychology, especially in such fields as personality, development, motivation, psychopathology and psychological treatment. APA established a Division on Psychoanalysis (Div. 39) and fought successfully to obtain access to psychoanalytic training for psychologists. Freud is said to have held a mostly negative opinion of Americans, and referred to America as a "gigantic mistake," according to the biography by Ernest Jones. Surely he never imagined the success that his ideas would enjoy on this side of the Atlantic.

The trip would have a downside for Freud, though. It is often cited as the beginning of the rift between Freud and his heir-apparent, Jung. The end of their relationship came in 1913 when Freud wrote to Jung, "I propose that we abandon our relations entirely. I shall lose nothing by it, for my own emotional tie with you has long been a thin thread—the lingering effects of past disappointments."

Ludy T. Benjamin Jr., PhD, is professor of psychology at Texas A&M University and historical editor for "Time Capsule."

Suggested reading

  • Evans, R.B., & Koelsch, W.A. (1985). Psychoanalysis arrives in America: The 1909 psychology conference at Clark University. American Psychologist, 40, 942–948.

  • Hornstein, G.A. (1992). The return of the repressed: Psychology's problematic relations with psychoanalysis, 1909–1960. American Psychologist, 47, 254–263.

  • McGuire, W. (Ed.) (1974). The Freud-Jung letters: The correspondence between Sigmund Freud and C. G. Jung. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

  •  Rosenzweig, S. (1994). The historic expedition to America (1909): Freud, Jung, and Hall the kingmaker. St. Louis: Rana House. (Contains translations of Freud's five lectures at Clark University.)