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Elizabeth Young-Bruehl in 2006.
Elizabeth Young-Bruehl in 2006.

Elisabeth Young-Bruehl dug deep to understand the roots of prejudice Add to ...

This time Young-Bruehl knew she could write a biography, but unlike the Arendt project, she didn’t have a connection with the subject or her work. Later, Young-Bruehl described the Freud material – eight volumes of published papers, as well as all of her correspondence – which had been lovingly tended by Freud’s companion, Dorothy Burlingham, as “an archaeological site, keyed precisely to the day-by-day-year-by-year living of her life.”

The youngest of Sigmund Freud’s six children, Anna Freud was the only one to develop an interest in her father’s work and to make her own name – not only as an analyst, but as the mother, along with rival Melanie Klein, of child psychoanalysis. Initially, Young-Bruehl assumed Freud was a lesbian, but came to realize she was asexual, and had sublimated her own sexual desires into caring for her famous father and the patients, including war-traumatized children, she treated in London at what is now called the Anna Freud Centre. The Freud biography was published to acclaim in 1988.

In the early 1990s, Young-Bruehl left her tenured position at Wesleyan and moved to Philadelphia, teaching part-time at Haverford College to support herself while she continued her psychoanalytic training at the Philadelphia Association for Psychoanalysis. After graduating in 1999, she moved to New York and started a private practice as a psychoanalyst and psychotherapist. Even though she had left academe, she continued to write books.

While working on The Anatomy of Prejudices, she had a nagging feeling that she was missing something, which led to her final book. Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children. Young-Bruehl, who had no biological children of her own, and had made her name writing about two other childless women, became fascinated with children through writing Anna Freud’s biography, her own work as a therapist and her personal life as an aunt and a stepmother. She came to believe that prejudice against children was intertwined with all the other prejudices she had written about, and was also embedded in the history of psychoanalysis. Childism will be published by Yale Press next month.

Elisabeth Young was born on March 3, 1946, in Elkton, Md., sandwiched between an older brother and a younger sister. Her father, Herbert (Gibby) Young, was a golf pro – he had been on the American track and field team at the 1936 Berlin Olympics – and a marine who had served in the South Pacific during the Second World War. Her mother, Lois (always called Bea) Williams, was a homemaker, an amateur actress and the “rock” of the family. After her parents divorced in 1972, her mother married chemical engineer Ernie Sutton, a widower with three children. She died in October, two month’s before her daughter’s death.

After primary and secondary school, Young went to Sarah Lawrence College in New York State in the mid-1960s. She studied poetry with Muriel Rukeyser, an intellectual and political activist, but dropped out in her sophomore year and headed to New York City to become a writer. “It took me only about six months to realize that I was too young, that I needed more education,” she told The Boston Globe in 1988. Young completed her undergraduate studies at The New School, where she met not only Arendt, but philosophy student Robert Bruehl. They married in 1968, but later divorced.

In April, 2005, Young-Bruehl came to Toronto to deliver a lecture on developmental dreaming. Dunbar was on the committee that had invited her to speak and “the rest is history,” she said. The two women, both of whom were divorced, fell in love and married in 2008. By then Young-Bruehl had moved here. Together they founded Caversham Productions, a firm that produces psychoanalytic training materials.

“She was at the height of her power and so enthusiastic,” said Dunbar, mentioning the blog that Young-Bruehl had started, “Who’s Afraid of Social Democracy?” and the huge project she had undertaken as the general editor of an 11-volume series about the life and work of the British pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott. “She was writing about social justice, children, psychoanalysis and doing academic work,” said Dunbar. “What comforts me is that these last few years were the happiest of her life.”

On a Thursday evening the couple went to “Baroque Splendour,” a Tafelmusik concert in Toronto. After listening to a “gorgeous oboe solo,” they were on their way home when Young-Bruehl collapsed. She was taken to St Michael’s hospital, suffering from a pulmonary embolism, but doctors couldn’t resuscitate her. She was 65.

Elisabeth Young-Bruehl leaves her partner, Christine Dunbar, two siblings, a stepdaughter and her extended family. Memorial services are being planned in Toronto and New York.

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