Growing up in Vienna, I stumbled across the name Freud and all its baggage, before actually ever getting a chance to read his work objectively. When I finally did read Josef Breuer’s and Sigmund Freud’s Studies on Hysteria at university in London, I was struck by the multifacetedness and strength of their patient Anna O…, and decided to take a closer look at who was hiding behind that name.
Bertha Pappenheim, Anna O…, P. Berthold – three names, one woman. She grew up in a wealthy, Jewish family in Vienna, was Freud’s first official patient of hysteria, and a suffragette and writer in her own right. Breuer described her as “energetic, tenacious and persistent”, a girl, who “was bubbling over with intellectual vitality”. She desperately wanted to finish school and did not understand why such privilege should only be available to her brother.
During some of her “hysteric” periods, she would only speak English, while still being able to read Italian and French. When asked to read aloud, she would fluently translate the texts into English. A mind that was considered sick, an intellect that wasn’t encouraged – Bertha Pappenheim seemed trapped in the ignorance of her time.
But there is so much more to her. Once Bertha Pappenheim left Anna O… behind and moved to Frankfurt, she started to write, successfully translated Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication Of the Rights Of Woman and founded kindergartens, community homes and schools. Her biggest project was a girl’s school, where illegitimate children, as well as women, who were under the threat of prostitution or human trafficking, could find a home. Pappenheim took a stand and devoted herself to the education and development of women.
At a time when women were wives, mothers, sisters or daughters, Bertha Pappenheim was a character of her own. What most impresses me about her is that she seems to never have put herself in relation to someone else – she never gave in to societal roles, but created her own.
Johanna Zimmerer is the Event and Education Administrative Coordinator at the ACF London. She studied English and Drama at Queen Mary University London.