Edward John Mostyn Bowlby (1907 to 1990) was a British psychologist, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst notable for the development of attachment theory. He was considered to be "one of the three or four most important psychiatrists of the twentieth century." Bowlby was born on February 26, 1907, in London to an upper-middle class family. His father, Major-General Sir Anthony Bowlby (1855 to 1929), was a renowned surgeon who served the royal family and was knighted for his service to King Edward VII and King George V. Sir Anthony married late because he took care of his mother after his father was killed in Peking during the Opium Wars, where he was a foreign correspondent for The Times newspaper. After the death of his mother, Sir Anthony was introduced May Mostyn, and they married a year later.
John Bowlby was the fourth of six children and by the time he was born, his mother was 40 and his father 52. Like most British families of their class in that era, the Bowlby children were raised by numerous servants and nannies. Young John spent only an hour a day with his mother.
With the start of the World War I in August 1914, when John was seven years old, he and his brother were sent to boarding school. It was a traumatic experience and he believed that the war was just an excuse for that traditional first step towards becoming an English gentleman. As a result of his experiences, he became interested in child development.
In the fall of 1925, Bowlby became a medical student in Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was awarded a first-class degree in psychology and pre-clinical sciences. During his university years he had two defining encounters which influenced his career. He met with disturbed children and realized he could relate to them and that their problems may have resulted from traumatic childhood experiences. He also met John Alford who was working at the school and had undergone some personal therapy, who advised Bowlby to become a psychoanalyst.
In 1929, aged 22, Bowlby enrolled at University College Hospistal in London where he studied medicine and attended the Institute for Psychoanalysis. He wanted to become a child psychiatrist, so in 1933, after medical school, he went to study adult psychiatry at Maudsley Hospital, where he qualified in 1937. In 1936, Bowlby had been appointed to the London Child Guidance Clinic. In April 1938, Bowlby married Ursula Longstaff, also the daughter of a surgeon. They were to have four children. During World War II (1939 to 1945), Bowlby served in the Royal Army Medical Corps. during Second World War.
Following the war, Bowlby became a deputy director of the Tavistock Clinic and from 1950 he served as a mental health consultant to the World Health Organization (WHO). Bowlby's work with delinquent children influenced his interest in child development and, in particular, how maternal separation affected their future development. He studied the wartime works of Anna Freud and Dorothy Burlingham on evacuated children, and Rene Spitz on orphans, which helped him develop his own ideas on the importance of attachment.
As a consultant to the WHO, Bowlby was asked to write a report on the mental health of homeless children in post-war Europe. After two years' work, In 1951, Maternal Care and Mental Health was published in which he concluded that "the infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate, and continuous relationship with his mother (or permanent mother substitute) in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment." This publication had a major influence on the institutional care practices for infants and children.
Following the WHO publication, Bowlby continued developing his attachment theory which he based on a variety of subjects, including cognitive science, developmental psychology, evolutionary biology and control systems theory. He wanted to formulate a theory different from the Freudian models which were, according to him, outdated. The main theme of his attachment theory was that a strong physical and emotional bond to a preferred attachment figure, usually the mother, is crucial for the child's normal social and emotional development. Children's ability to connect to another individual gives them a sense of stability and security and increases their chances of survival. The development of attachment theory had a lasting influence on psychology, education, child care and parenting.
Bowlby's last work was an analytical biography of Charles Darwin. Published after Bowlby's death, at age 83 in 1990, the book examined whether Darwin's mysterious illness may have been psychosomatic.