Anna O

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Anna O. (27 February 1859 - 28 May 1936) was the pseudonym used for Bertha Pappenheim by physician and physiologist Josef Breuer in his book "Studies on Hysteria", written in collaboration with Sigmund Freud. Her sister, Marie Pappenheim, as a medical student, wrote the libretto, depicting a woman's mental breakdown, for Arnold Schoenberg's Erwartung.

She suffered from hysterical paralysis, where one of her arms was paralyzed even though there was nothing medically or physically wrong with it. After study, it was discovered this was the arm she had cradled her dying father with. It was theorised that she was unconsciously stopping the use of the arm as punishment because she blamed herself for her father's death.

Through analysis with Breuer, it was discovered that by talking about what had happened when the symptoms started, she would recover a repressed fact and then recover a bit. This is what Pappenheim called her "talking cure". Breuer called the act of recovery through this method catharsis. This case was the beginning of psychoanalysis, which would be later heavily developed by Freud.


Bertha went to a Catholic school, there being no Jewish day school in Vienna at the time. Despite her father’s orthodoxy, she had a liberal upbringing. According to Breuer, she was ‘thoroughly unreligious’, had a powerful intellect with great poetic and imaginative gifts. She could speak English, French and Italian, as well as Hebrew and Yiddish.

While Breuer said she led a monotonous existence as a ‘superior young lady’, this is at odds with the picture of a lively young woman in riding habit. As was common for women from her background, she went horse riding, did needlework, played the piano [until late in life] and went to the theatre; she especially enjoyed Shakespeare.

After discharge from the Sanatorium Bellevue, she stayed with relatives in Germany for some months and attended a nursing course at the Union Clinic in Karlsruhe. Returning to Vienna in 1883, she relapsed and had three long stays at Inzerdorf sanatorium. By 1888, she had recovered and moved with her mother to Frankfurt, Germany where her career in social work began.

She founded and directed a home for orphaned Jewish girls for twelve years. After her mother’s death in 1905, she lived at the orphanage. In 1904 she founded the League of Jewish Women, followed in 1907 by a teaching institution affiliated with the organization. She led an international campaign against prostitution, described as ‘White Slavery,’ involving young Jewish women from Eastern Europe and the Near East. She travelled widely in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, often experiencing hardship, if not danger, to inspect brothels. There were also visits to Palestine, London, Paris and New York City to publicise her campaign.

Her work, although not always free of controversy, was regarded as a beacon for others. Her dedication was legendary and she is considered the founder of social work in Germany.

She wrote extensively: fairy stories, Jewish prayers {new edition of her Prayers } , and a play depicting female characters who were exploited by men. She maintained a wide correspondence, much of which was destroyed during the war, including an exchange with the philosopher Martin Buber.

By all accounts, Bertha was a lively engaging personality, free of psychological problems. She lived alone and never married. She had a good sense of humour, loved good food and had a fine collection of glass, porcelain and tapestry.

Bertha returned to Vienna in 1935, dying of cancer on 28 May 1936, heavy with foreboding at the tragedy she predicted for European Jewry. Her grave lies in the Old Jewish Cemetery of Frankfurt. Her death was commemorated with a 40-page special edition of a journal she had founded.

In 1954, Bertha Pappenheim was honoured as a pioneer social worker with the issue of a stamp by the West German Republic.

What Bertha Pappenheim thought about "Anna O." cannot be known as she is alleged to have destroyed any documents pertaining to her childhood or youthful illness. Dora Edinger, her biographer, disclosed that while she never discussed the illness with relatives, she was always scathing about psychoanalysis.

Some indication of her attitude is gleaned from the one of her doctors at Bellevue Sanatorium who noted her "disparaging judgements against the ineffectiveness of science in regard to her sufferings." In later years, she exclaimed, "As long as I live, psychoanalysis will never penetrate my establishments."

Family background

Bertha Pappenheim’s paternal grandfather, Wolf Pappenheim, a descendent of Rabbi Nathan, came from the town Pappenheim in Bavaria; the family name was derived from there. Later he inherited a fortune from his wife (neé Calman) and moved to the Pressburg Ghetto. He had two sons, Kalman and Siegmund, Bertha’s father.

Siegmund Pappenheim settled in Vienna as a wealthy grain merchant. A practising orthodox Jew, he contributed to the Schiffshul synagogue building fund. After the death of her mother in 1879, he was appointed guardian of Freud’s future wife, Martha Bernays, who became friendly with Bertha.

Recha Goldschmidt, Bertha’s mother, was born in Frankfurt am Main. Her father, Benedikt Salomon Goldschmidt, a commodities merchant, married first Bella Braunschweig, then after her death, her sister Sprinze (Sabina). The family was prominent, with connections to many well-known Jewish families, including the Hombergers, Warburgs and Rothschilds. Among her antecedents were Heinrich Heine and the acclaimed diarist, Glückel of Hameln.

The Pappenheim marriage in 1848 had been arranged, as was often customary at the time. The family lived in the Leipoldstadt Jewish Quarter before moving in 1880 to Liechtensteinstraße (close to where the Freuds lived). Recha Pappenheim never enjoyed living in Vienna away from her family. There are speculative claims the relationship was unhappy and Siegmund Pappenheim frequented brothels, but no evidence exists for this.

Breuer described Recha Pappenheim as "very serious"; Jones, less respectfully, as "somewhat of a dragon". She lost two daughters; Flora died three years before Bertha was born, and Henriette died of tuberculous meningitis when Bertha was eight.

Bertha’s brother Wilhelm practiced law in Vienna. He was described as ‘an accomplished gentleman’ with the most complete library on socialism in Europe. The siblings were estranged, Bertha claiming he bullied her unmercifully during childhood.