The Emerging of Freudanism in America

The Emerging of Freudanism in America

Tori Nuariza Sutanto


In the beginning of 20th century the development of American thought  became numb until  Dr. Sigmund Freud  woke Americans up from their slumber.  The rapid growth of Freudanism influences the Americans in some aspects of life after the coming of Sigmund Freud to America in 1909. This essay will provide the social historical background of the development of Freudanism in America and try to reveal why freudanism emerged at that time.

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.

Sigmund Freud and Psychoanalysis Theory

In the early 20th century, Sigmund Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis, slowly but powerfully, caught on in America (Fancher, 1998). America has always been, historically and philosophically, a land of individualism, personal discovery, and drive toward self-knowledge and self-actualization. Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis offered Americans ideas much akin to those with which they were already comfortable (self-actualization, self-knowledge, self-understanding).

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was the founder of modern-day psychoanalysis, in Vienna, in the early years of the 20th century. Freud developed the theory of the unconscious, including the theory of the idegosuperego triad that governs, from within, human behavior.

Next, as Freud argued in Civilization and its Discontents (1961), we are inherently driven by our desires (the id), which are unconsciously controlled by the superego. Our ego functions as both a sort of unconscious mediator between the two extremes of the ego and the id, and also reflects the tension and interplay between the id and the superego. The ego, then, tells us who we are, often uneasily. Under that theory, it would follow logically, then, Freud argues, that our behavior is internally rather than externally shaped; our external behavior within society is merely the end result of those purely internal behavior-shaping processes. Freud argued that internal unconscious constraints (e.g., the superego) either permit or limit Freud would argue, internal unconscious constraints) that either permit or limit our behavior within society. Freud’s was, in a nutshell, a theory of the structure and function of the human unconscious.

Freud In America : The Invitation


In 1909, Freud received an invitation from the President of Clark University, G. Stanley Hall, to give a series of lectures in America on the history of psychoanalysis. Freud initially declined the first invitation, stating that he could not afford to abandon his work for three weeks in order to visit America. Hall, however, was persistent. His second invitation included an offer to pay Freud (a sum of $714.60) in exchange for five lectures on the theories of psychoanalysis (Wallace, 1975).


Coming to America

Freud accepted Hall’s second invite and sailed to America accompanied by his colleague, Dr. Sandor Ferenczi. One of Freud’s other associates, Carl Jung, had also been invited to lecture at the university and the three soon chose to travel together. The trip would mark Freud’s first and only time visiting America. Freud, Jung and Ferenczi spent several days sightseeing in New York with fellow Freudian disciples A.A. Brill and Ernst Jones before traveling to Clark University.

After arriving at Clark University, Freud was pleased to discover that Hall had introduced psychoanalysis to the school’s curriculum. In a series of five lectures, Freud detailed the rise and growth of psychoanalysis. The lectures were delivered in German and were mostly extemporaneous and highly conversational. (Wallace, 1975)

In Europe, Freud had some followers (Vienna, Zurich, Berlin, Budapest and London). When Sigmund Freud introduced psychoanalysis into the United States in 1909, he was surprised by the enthusiastic American reaction to his ideas. The immediate effect of these lectures to the public was light, but the triumph of Freud’s psychoanalysis happened after 1920. Unfortunately, the popularization of Freud was pseudo-scientific. It became identified with dream analysis and sexual looseness. This was farthest from what Freud intended.

The Emerging of Freudanism

In the United States, American audience was so enthusiastic. Only a year after his visit, psychoanalysis made a rapid growth.  In 1910, the Psychopathological Association was organized in Washington, D.C., followed by the New York Psychoanalytic Society in 1911 and the American Psychoanalytic Association in Baltimore in 1914.  In 1917, the Johns Hopkins Medical School offered regularly cataloged courses in psychoanalysis – the first medical school to do so.  And, in these early years following Freud’s visit, many Americans were fascinated by the English translations of his Interpretation of Dreams (1913) and The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1914).

The young intellectuals took up Freudianism because it seemed to provide a systematic and scientific basis for their revolt against the other older generation. They were interested in The Interpretation of Dreams (1899)and Three Contributions to a Theory of Sex, believing that these books could work out an infallible explanation of all human conduct.

Those are the evidence of Freudianism: The growth of tabloid picture newspaper  with their emphasis on cheap sensationalism, The highly erotic movies standardized by Rudolph Valentino, The effect of automobile on moral standards, and The climb of the divorce rate.

Social Historical Background why did Freudianism develop in America

The rapid economic and cultural changes taking place in American life – changes resulting from the transformation of the American economy from rural and small-town to industrial and urban.

Traditional ways of life had eroded, producing a host of so-called “nervous disorders”.  If diet, sedatives, patent medicines, rest and work cures, hypnosis and the neurotic was almost certain to find himself at best tolerated, and at worst distinctly unwelcomed by his physician.

Unfortunately, The clergyman, as traditional caretakers of the soul, had also been unsuccessful in healing their disturbed.

The background of Man’s modern way of living with all its hurry and scurry has gotten on his nerves. Some Americans got depressed and melancholy. They wants helps and wants it badly, the spiritual appeal. Spiritual Hypnosis became a solution with the impression, suggestion and its influences. (Brooklyn Daily Eagle XXIII, no. 138, no. 6 (April 1908): 4)

With those background The Freud’s Lectures at Clark’s University became the same necessity of American needs and interest in Hypnosis, The power of suggestion and faith healing.

A spirit of genuine religion was worked into mental healing (Horatio W. Dresser, Health and the Inner Life (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1906), pp. 38-39)

Christian Science and psychoanalysis had common appeals for many Americans:

1.  They were optimistic, promising cures at a time when the medical profession had little insight into the nature of the neuroses and were, therefore, unable to help the increasing number of unhappy, “nervous” Americans.

2.  Psychoanalysis and Christian Science were posited on the assumption that health and happiness could be attained by individual effort rather than by changing society – the more difficult task.

3.  Psychoanalysis and Christian Science offered a modern faith – in man and reason.  Salvation could be equated with not “a life hereafter” but with its original Greek meaning – to heal.

4.  Psychoanalysis and Christian Science laid claim to science when science was “in the air” (on the culmination point of necessity).

Mental healing as the solution of the social condition of American life, so the Freud’s theory of Psychoanalysis grows so fast. Besides that, Emmanuel movement and New Thought by Horatio Dresser also grows as the consequences of american social condition. Those three way develops together dynamically and assimilate sometimes.

There were a correlation between the decline of the mental healing movements and the introduction of psychoanalysis after 1909The mental healing movements at their height between 1890 and 1910 had given exclusive attention to conscious thought as the “greatest power in the world,” and had relied on the power of suggestion to change attitudes and effect cures.

Christian Science and New Thought were posited on the belief, deeply rooted in 19th century American evangelical and transcendental thought, that spiritual insight could tap hidden sources of energy.  This optimism was one facet of what has been termed “American innocence”.  The Emmanuel Movement, on the other hand, drew less upon 19th-century idealism and more on 20th-century science.  The Emmanuel Movement, in aligning itself with medicine, had laid the cornerstone for the continually developing cooperation between religion and psychiatry. (Ruth  Pedersen Hunsberger, “The American Reception of Sigmund Freud page 13”)

Freud hailed as another Darwin ; Whatever one may think about the specific theories of Freud and his followers, he must be recognized as the Galen or Darwin in the field of psychotherapy.  It was he who first mapped out the new road and devised a vehicle by which it might be traversed.  Certainly his most lasting contribution will be the methods he devised for uncovering the hitherto unrecognized underground motives of the mind (Federal Council of Churches, Symposium on “Christianity and Mental Hygiene,” New York, 1989: p. 12.)




            The rapid growth of Freudanism in America at the twentieth century could be as the consequences of the social condition of american life. The rapid economic and cultural changes taking place in American life, changes resulting from the transformation of the American economy from rural and small-town to industrial and urban. Freud psychoanalysis came as the solution that simoultenously happened when the American highly interested on the hypnosis. Inevitably, Mental health should be a function of religion, while as mental illness became the problems. Freud brought the psychoanalysis as the solution for creating health and happiness.


American Historical Review, vol. IXIII, Jan. 1958, p. 302.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, vol. XXIII, no. 138, no. 6, April 1908.

Dresser, Horatio W.  A History of the New Thought Movement.  New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1919. ….. Health and Inner Life.  New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1906.

Freud, Sigmund.  An Autobiographical Study.  New York: W.W. Norton, 1935

Ruth  Pedersen Hunsberger, 2005 “The American Reception of Sigmund Freud” Theory of phychoanalysis Freud In America Freud in America ; The Invitation



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