Remembering Sanford Gifford

American Imago dedicated the final issue of its 2017 volume to a comprehensive collection of work by and about Sanford Gifford, a prominent psychoanalyst, psychiatrist and historian most known for his work at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute Archives (BPSI). Gifford died in 2013, leaving behind a significant amount of unpublished work.

Olga Umansky, MLS, a Librarian/Archivist at the BPSI, led the effort to share Gifford’s work in the American Imago issue along with Rita K. Teusch, Ph.D., a Training and Supervising Analyst at BPSI and psychiatrist Anna Kris Wolff, M.D. Wolff is the daughter of Sigmund Freud’s colleague Ernst Kris, who served as editor of the journal Imago, the European precursor to American Imago.

The three driving forces behind this issue joined us for a Q&A about Gifford and the importance of sharing his legacy through the journal issue.

Sanford Gifford in the BPSI Seminar Room, 2005. Photograph by Allen Palmer, M.D. Reprinted courtesy of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute.

What was the process of putting this special issue together?

Olga Umansky, MLS: Sanford Gifford was the Director of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute Archives for decades. He essentially created the archives and recorded our history in numerous interviews with psychoanalysts and their relatives, in his correspondence with researchers, and in his own writings. His large collection of unpublished talks, obituaries, and biographical sketches grew even bigger after his death in 2013. We always wanted to share his writings with a larger audience, so the Library Committee started thinking how to publish some of his lesser known material.

Anna Wolff helped me go through his papers and interviews. We came up with a list of the most interesting biographies and histories. One of his last papers was a revised article on Felix Deutsch as Freud’s physician. Dr. Gifford joked that historians were always interested in Helene Deutsch’s life, while it was Felix Deutsch’s biography that needed to be written.

Remembering this comment, I thought it was important to publish the article. I contacted the editor of American Imago, Louis Rose, to follow up on the publication and was excited to find out that the journal would be interested in other Gifford’s papers. Since Dr. Gifford left many unfinished sketches about Deutsch, Rita Teusch took on a task to review all of these articles as well as materials in our enormous Felix Deutsch’s collection. She set out to write a proper biography of Felix, just as Dr. Gifford would have wanted.

Meanwhile, Anna Wolff and I talked about Gifford’s interest in others, in everything really, and how well he understood and remembered people. He was always generous in writing about others, but rarely spoke about himself. We thought that it is Sanford Gifford whose biography needs to be written. Our archives had Gifford’s unique interviews about his war experiences and early career. In 2008, Steve Morandi, our former librarian, and I somehow convinced Dr. Gifford to share these recollections. Gifford’s sons, Paul and Ralph, graciously agreed to talk to me and Anna Wolff about his childhood and family history. It was incredibly hard to cover all of his achievements, interests, and hobbies in a short article, but I hope we managed to capture his larger than life personality.

How important is it to share the legacy of Sanford Gifford in this journal issue?

Anna Wolff, M.D.: I wanted to make Sanford’s biography available to others, because I always admired the depth of his interests in psychoanalysis. Sanford Gifford was widely educated, and he brought a depth of general knowledge to the psychoanalytic endeavor. He had a very active sense of history and a talent of bringing people alive. Similarly, Olga and I wanted to bring his life into focus.

What do you hope younger scholars learn from this collection of essays?

Rita Teusch, Ph.D.: We hope that younger scholars will learn the following from these essays:

  • We hope that these essays convey how important it is for our young science of psychoanalysis to preserve our own history. We hope that, reading about the life and work of Sanford Gifford - the man, the analyst, the historian and the scholar - will introduce the younger generation of scholars and analysts to Sanford Gifford, who is perhaps less well known to them. Gifford devoted his life’s work to the preservation of the history of psychoanalysis, at BPSI but also nationally at the American. Gifford, who was the director of the BPSI archives from 1966 till his death in 2013 “advocated for the free and open use of the library and archives for all who wanted to use them” (Jacobs, 2013). He was instrumental in establishing the BPSI archives, and pushed nationally at the American for the preservation of psychoanalytic history by developing the Oral History Workshop. We hope his life story and professional example will impress upon young scholars how far-reaching and important the engagement and efforts of one single individual can be. We hope the younger generation will come to appreciate the value of learning from our history, and feel inspired to make a contribution to the historical preservation of our young science.
  • Scholars will realize that BPSI, the largest analytic institute in the US began with 10 members in 1933 and had grown to 37 members a decade later. They will become able to appreciate the immense contributions of émigré analysts from Europe to the field of psychoanalysis. Gifford’s writings introduce in more detail some of those emigres, who are perhaps less well known to American psychoanalytic scholars and analysts, such as Jenny Waelder-Hall who was influential in the beginnings of child analysis in the US; Walter Langer, a so- called lay analyst who wrote the book The Mind of Adolf Hitler (1972); Felix Deutsch, whose important and wide-ranging research and clinical work in psychosomatic medicine in the US is often forgotten today. Reading these essays also vividly demonstrates the socio-political challenges during the 1930s and 1940s. These essays emphasize the struggles many of the émigré analysts faced as well as the support these émigré analysts showed for each other. We are reminded of the social engagement and courage of some of them when they collected affidavits to save their fellow colleagues and other scholars in need from the NAZI regime. Gifford’s writing also highlights the cross-fertilization of European and North American Cultures.
  • Gifford’s essay “Notes on Felix Deutsch as Freud’s Personal Physician” shows the conflicts that arose at the time when Freud’s jaw cancer was first diagnosed. Reading this essay will introduce young scholars to an aspect of psychoanalytic history that they are probably not familiar with, i.e. Freud’s and Felix Deutsch’s relationship as patient and physician during a very difficult time for Freud. Reading Gifford’s well-researched and thoughtful article allows the complicated psychological situations of both partners come to life, and the reader is enabled to appreciate their humanity, which functions to de-idealize Freud and also Deutsch.

How important is American Imago in keeping alive the connection between Freud’s work and American Psychoanalysis?

Teusch: The journal “Imago-Psychoanalysis and the Human Sciences,” is almost 80 years old, founded in 1939 by Sigmund Freud and Hanns Sachs. We believe that American Imago is immensely important in keeping Freud’s work alive in American psychoanalysis and its associated fields.

Looking through the titles of journal entries over the past eight decades reveals the immense scope of research and thought from various fields in the Humanities - philosophy, anthropology, literature, poetry, art, music, archeology, history, sociology - on one or the other aspect of Freud’s work whether it be Freudian concepts such as the Oedipus Complex, Femininity, Phantasy, the Unconscious, Splitting, Matricide and Patricide, Narcissism, Sublimation, Trauma, or Ethics, Jokes, Creativity, the Ethno-psychology of the Jew, his antiquities, just to give some examples . Of course, it is the comprehensive nature, richness, and depth of Freud’s immense work that has held the fascination of these interdisciplinary scholars and analysts.

We believe that scholars in the humanities who use and elaborate upon Freud’s works and his concepts are essential to keeping the study of Freud’s psychoanalysis alive. It is only if there is an intellectual place (in the form of this journal) that these authors can publish their work and further research and knowledge in American Psychoanalysis.

American Imago is furthermore important in keeping Freud’s work alive by publishing articles on the intellectual journeys of various analysts, their autobiographies, fragments of correspondence between historical figures in the analytic field, remembrances and tributes, such as Sanford Gifford’s tribute on Helene Deutsch in 1983, as well as articles that illuminate historical conflicts, such as the conflict between Freud and Jung, articles on Anna Freud, various aspects of anti-Semitism, on the relationship between Freud and Lacan, etc..

American Imago keeps the work of Freud alive by publishing interesting articles on Freud, the man, such as Freud in high school, personal accounts of patients who had been in analysis with Freud, Freud’s meeting with Salvador Dali, some of Freud’s unpublished lectures, etc. All of these serve to make Freud more accessible to interested scholars and analysts and thus keep him and his work alive.

Freud’s vast work is truly seemingly inexhaustible. We believe that each generation discovers their own Freud and finds ways with unique research and reflections to develop and deepen the field of psychoanalysis. With the recent publication and digitalization of all of Freud’s writings in the Library of Congress we can expect a renewed surge of very interesting research and scholarship on Freud.