Another Woman Gets Robbed? What Jung, Freud, Piaget, and Vygotsky Took from Sabina Spielrein
Aldridge, Jerry, Childhood Education
I wonder how many people have ever heard the name "Sabina Spielrein." Certainly not as many as have heard the names of Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, Jean Piaget, and Lev Vygotsky. While Spielrein had numerous face-to-face encounters, some personal and some professional, with all four men, and the accounting of her life and the interactions she had with them has been the content of numerous publications (Kerr, 1993; Marton, 2002), the story of what she contributed to their lives and works has not been told. To that end, this article will concisely describe how Sabina Spielrein's life, work, and theories influenced the theories of Jung, Freud, Piaget, and Vygotsky.
The professional contributions of numerous women in the 19th and 20th centuries were marginalized or even credited to men. In essence, many of these women were callously cheated out of the credit they were due. For example, according to Sadker and Sadker (1994), Catherine Littlefield (Kitty) Greene had as much to do with the invention of the cotton gin as Eli Whitney. She "came up with the breakthrough idea of using brushes for the seeds" (p. 67). However, Eli Whitney was credited with inventing the machine and was given full title to it. At that time, "It was especially unlikely for a lady to patent an invention. Textbooks tell the story of names registered in the patent office, but they leave out how sexism and racism denied groups of people access to that registry" (p. 67).
Critical and feminist theorists have described the marginalization of women and their contributions (Aldridge & Goldman, 2007; McLaren, 2005; Sadker & Sadker, 1994; Wink, 2005). These writers have reported how men have been credited for women's contributions, and here we examine how Jung, Freud, Piaget, and Vygotsky benefited from Sabina Spielrein's ideas.
First of all, who was Sabina Spielrein? She was born in Rostov, Russia, to Jewish parents in 1885. She was the oldest of five children, with three brothers and one sister. When her only sister died of typhoid fever, Spielrein suffered from mental illness (Maehler, 2006). She was eventually admitted to Burgholzli hospital in 1904, where she was Carl Jung's first patient (Kerr, 1993).
Spielrein's condition improved "to the extent that in June of 1905, she was released from the institution and began to study medicine in Zurich" (Maehler, 2006, p. 7). While under Jung's care, the relationship between Spielrein and Jung developed into an affair (Kerr, 1993). Eventually, Jung put an end to the affair (Marton, 2002). Shortly afterwards, Spielrein "turned to the great Sigmund Freud either to confide in him, or to ask for advice" (Maehler, 2006, p. 8). Freud was "impressed by Sabina's frankness and intelligence and corresponded with both Sabina and Jung" (p. 8).
After her marriage to a Jewish doctor named Pavel Scheftel, Spielrein had a child named Renata. Pavel eventually returned to Russia while Spielrein moved to Geneva and worked as a psychoanalyst. There, she worked closely with Jean Piaget and, according to Piaget (Bringuier, 1980), Spielrein was the only person who ever psychoanalyzed him.
Eventually, Spielrein moved back to Russia and became a mentor to Vygotsky and Luria. According to Kerr (1993), "Listing the ten greatest psychologists of this century is a matter of fashion and taste, but on anyone's list five names would inevitably appear and Spielrein knew them all firsthand: Freud, Jung, Piaget, Luria, and Vygotsky. But whereas with Jung and Freud, she had been their student, and with Piaget his colleague, with Vygotsky and Luria, her role was altogether different" (p. 498). She was their mentor.
Spielrein was fond of German life and culture and did not heed the warnings about Nazi atrocities (Maehler, 2006). In 1942, she and her two daughters were among a large Jewish population who were executed when German troops invaded Rostov, Russia, where Spielrein was living at the time (Marton, 2002). …