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Margaret S. Mahler papers

Call Number: MS 1138

Scope and Contents

The Margaret S. Mahler Papers contain personal and professional correspondence, subject files, writings, presentation materials, administrative files, awards, certificates, photographs, grant files, testing materials, videotapes, and film, documenting Mahler's career as a researcher and practitioner of child psychoanalysis. The papers highlight Mahler's American career beginning in 1938 until her death in 1985. Mahler's personal papers include correspondence, scrapbooks, photographs and family papers of her sister, Susanna Schoenberger, and Mahler's husband, Paul Mahler. The papers do not contain the research data or film data from Mahler's tic syndrome studies, child psychosis studies, or the separation-individuation studies. These materials are located in the Margaret S. Mahler Psychiatric Research Foundation Papers, Manuscript Group # 1139, and are currently restricted.

The Margaret S. Mahler Papers were donated to Manuscripts and Archives by Mahler in 1979 and the Margaret S. Mahler Psychiatric Research Foundation in 1983. The papers are arranged in thirteen series: I. Correspondence and Subject Files; II. Presentation Files; III. Writings; IV. Professional Associations; V. Awards and Certificates; VI. Photographs; VII. Scrapbook, Postcards and Greeting Cards; VIII. Family Papers; IX. Foundation Materials (restricted); X. Grant Files; XI. Testing Materials; XII. Videotapes and Film; XIII. Writings of Others; and Appendix A. Audiotapes and Duplicated Videotapes.

The bulk of the material dates from the 1940s through the 1970s. The first three series comprise a major portion of the collection. Whenever possible, original order of the Mahler papers was maintained.

Series I, Correspondence and Subject Files, contains routine professional correspondence and subject files which were maintained by Mahler. Correspondence between Mahler and colleagues highlights Mahler's importance in the discipline of child psychoanalysis. Mahler did not restrict her professional correspondence to members of the psychoanalytic and psychiatric communities; many of her correspondents include educators, social workers, child development theorists, and others, such as Benjamin Spock, T. Berry Brazelton, all concerned with the developmental well-being of the child. Files concerning the administration of the Masters Children's Center, where Mahler conducted her research from 1959 to 1969, are located in this series. Correspondence with editors of professional journals and publishing companies to which Mahler submitted her work may also be found in this series. Additional information regarding specific writings may be found in Series II, PRESENTATION FILES and Series III, WRITINGS.

Mahler's personal correspondence with family and friends in Europe and with colleagues who later became personal friends is also included in this series. Correspondence from Mahler's parents, sister and relatives comprise most of the documentation. This correspondence describes life in Hungary and Austria, before, during and after World War II. While in England in 1937-1938 Mahler made several attempts to secure safe passage out of Hungary for her parents, and out of Austria, where her sister was studying music. Post-war communication from Hungary was limited, and in the early 1940s, Mahler made several attempts to contact her family through the American Red Cross, the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society, and the Immigration Migration Service. Mahler discovered that her father died before Nazi occupation of Sopron, and her mother was taken to a Nazi work camp where she perished. Susanna Schoenberger lived in Austria during the war and survived. Correspondence from other relatives, including members of Paul Mahler's family, describe war-time and post-war England and Australia.

This material is arranged alphabetically by correspondent or subject. The general correspondence is also arranged alphabetically within the folder. Mahler's outgoing correspondence is located at the end of this series along with her address book, calendars and diaries.

Series II, Presentation Files, contains notes, drafts of discussions, lectures and papers presented by Mahler. Supporting documentation and programs, if any, provide a context for the presentation. Mahler maintained files for specific presentations made at professional associations, conferences on psychoanalysis, as speaker to social work groups, and as lecturer to aid societies and to philanthropic organizations. The bulk of the material dates from 1946-1984 when Mahler actively presented her work in child psychoanalysis and was approached to make many presentations. Mahler's teaching files for her lectures at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute and the Philadelphia Psychoanalytic Institute, along with materials pertaining to her work with the Infant Study Group of the Psychoanalytic Research and Development Fund, which contains transcripts of discussions concerning members research, are located at the end of this series.

This material is arranged chronologically and is identified by title, sponsoring organization, and type of presentation.

Series III, Writings, contains notes, rough drafts, final drafts, preprints, reprints, manuscripts and volumes for Margaret Mahler's publications. Material is arranged chronologically within the following subseries: Articles, Reviews, Scientific Papers: Published; Articles, Reviews, Scientific Papers: Unpublished; Manuscripts: Published; Manuscripts:Unpublished; Volumes; Works-In-Progress; Bibliographies; and Oral Histories, and Memoirs.The bulk of the material dates from 1942-1983.

In 1924 Margaret Mahler began publishing articles describing her work on sedimentation rates of children at the Kinderklinic at the University of Vienna. Mahler's publications reflect her research interests at specific points in her career. Material from the 1920s and 1930s focuses on her work in pediatrics and presentation of her work with the Rorschach test. The 1940s and 1950s publications describe Mahler's work studying Gilles de la Tourette's disease, commonly known as the tic syndrome, and her developing interest in researching child psychosis. Mahler began comparative studies between control groups of normal children and psychotic children, and published her findings throughout the 1960s and 1970s in articles as well as her books On Human Symbiosis and the Vicissitudes of Individuation (1968) and The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant. The latter part of her career was spent refining her articles and developing new areas of research.

Mahler's works-in-progress, and bibliographies provide a glimpse of the research avenues Mahler pursued through 1981, and the materials of other researchers she considered important to her work.

Mahler was interested in documenting her life and career and was interviewed several times. Transcripts of these interviews are located in this series. Included are copies of the transcripts for Mahler's oral history at Columbia University, a transcript of interviews with social historian Nancy Chodorow, and interviews with several colleagues for the Pioneers Panel held at the International Association for Child Psychiatry and Allied Professions conference in August 1974. In addition to these interviews, Mahler began to work on her memoirs with Harold Collins in 1969. In 1980-1981 Mahler worked with Doris Nagel to produce material pertaining to her childhood and early career. In 1984 she and Paul E. Stepansky began a collaboration which led to the publication Memoirs of Margaret S. Mahler (1988). Files containing research and background material are located in this series. In addition to the transcripts, audio tapes of these interviews have been transferred to and are available in the Historical Sound Recordings Department in Sterling Memorial Library.

Series IV, Professional Associations, contains administrative files, agendas, correspondence, convention programs, general notices, minutes, newsletters, position papers, reports and rosters for the professional associations to which Mahler belonged. The bulk of the material dates from the 1970s and is arranged alphabetically by the corporate name of the association. Additional correspondence for the associations may be found in Series I, CORRESPONDENCE AND SUBJECT FILES.

Margaret Mahler was an active member of several international, national and regional professional organizations related to psychiatry and psychoanalysis. As a member she received the general correspondence, notices and newsletters sent to all members. Administrative files maintained by Mahler as vice president of the New York Psychoanalytic Institute and as president of the New York Psychoanalytic Society document the activities of the organizations during her tenure. These files contain correspondence, committee reports and minutes. Also included in this series are transcripts of the Kris Study Group of the New York Psychoanalytic Institute. Study group sections concentrated on discussions of research by study group members.

Series V, Awards and Certificates, contains awards presented to Mahler by various professional associations and institutions in recognition of her advances in the discipline of psychoanalysis. The awards are arranged alphabetically by granting association or institution. Medals presented to Mahler are also located in this series.

Certificates are arranged chronologically and include education, identification and membership certificates dating from 1916 to 1985. Mahler's diplomas and medical licenses, marriage certificate, and naturalization papers are located in this series.

Series VI, Photographs, largely documents the personal life of Margaret Mahler. Arranged by subjects, PHOTOGRAPHS includes portraits and candids of Mahler, her sister, her husband and friends. Included are photographs of Mahler's properties in New York City and Brookfield, Connecticut, her beagle Peppy and photographs of her travels. A large portion of the series includes photographs of the children of colleagues and children of family friends. Also included are individual photographs of colleagues and friends. A limited number of photographs pertain to professional conferences which Mahler attended. This series includes both black and white as well as color photographs. Negatives, slides and transparencies are located at the end of this series.

Series VII, Scrapbook, Postcards, Greeting Cards, contains scrapbook materials maintained by Mahler from 1941-1977. Scrapbook material contains correspondence from Anna Freud, Ernst Kris, Mary O'Neil Hawkins, Willi Hoffer, Benjamin Spock, and LeRoy M. A. Maeder, among others. Newspapers clippings and conference programs comprise the remainder of the scrapbook material. Copies of this correspondence are found in Series I, CORRESPONDENCE AND SUBJECT FILES. Margaret Mahler collected postcards to document the majority of her travels. These are arranged alphabetically by geographical location. Greeting cards contain get-well cards, holiday cards, sympathy cards, and all occasion cards from 1938-1985. Cards are arranged by type, then chronologically.

Series VIII, Family Papers, is divided into the following four subseries: Paul Mahler, Susanna Schoenberger, Memorabilia, and Photographs. Paul Mahler was a chemist who managed a family cordial factory in Hungary before World War II and then held several positions in the United States, working for Geigy Corporation upon his death in 1956. Material includes correspondence, legal and financial records, passports, Mahler's grade book and Ph.d. dissertation, as well as photographs of his family and friends. Material is arranged alphabetically by type of material. Susanna Schoenberger material includes certificates and diplomas, correspondence, passports and receipts which document her life as a musician in Austria and her relationship with her sister. Also included in Schoenberger's material is a copy of a paper delivered by her father Dr. Gusztav Schoenberger and inscribed to Susanna Schoenberger. Memorabilia consists of Mahler's stationary and prescription pads, conference badges, and membership cards along with some artwork Mahler kept. Photographs contain prints of Paul Mahler's family.

Series IX, Foundation Materials, includes correspondence, subject files, administrative and financial records, and photographs pertaining to the work of the Mahler Foundation and the Margaret S. Mahler Psychiatric Research Fund.

Series X, Grant Files, contains applications, correspondence, draft and final summary reports and progress reports for grants submitted by Mahler and her co-workers. General files maintained by Mahler to support the drafting of proposals and reports are also included in this series. The material dates from 1955 through 1969. Most of the material documents the two grants "Symbiotic Child Psychosis: Relation to Personality Development," and Mahler's NIMH "Study of Normal Separation-Individuation." Files are arranged chronologically by project.

Series XI, Testing Materials, contains standard test materials including the Illinois Test of Psycholinguistic Abilities, the Rorschach Test cards, the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, and the Weschler-Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC). In addition, Mahler kept the text and cards of two German tests: Hans Zulliger's "Behn-Rorschach Test" and "Der Z Test." Manuals as well as actual testing devices are included in this series.

Series XII, Videotapes and Films, contains visual materials documenting Mahler's career. Videotapes are divided into three sections: Lectures, Oral History, and Study Materials. The lectures contain material Mahler presented at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute in 1977 and at the Manhattan Psychiatric Center in 1979. The oral history section includes three interviews between 1970 and 1980. Interviewers include _________ Langford, Raquel Berman and Eleanor Galenson. Study material includes condensed versions of the research film from Mahler's Masters Children's Center studies. Films consists of 16mm film taken at Arden House, a settlement house complex in 1954. Film includes Mahler with children and Mahler with Edith Jacobson, director of Arden House.

Series XIII, Writings of Others, contains manuscripts, copies of manuscripts, preprints, and reprints sent by the authors to Mahler for critique or as a collegial courtesy. The writings in this series have been annotated by Margaret Mahler. Similar material which was not annotated by Mahler has been weeded from the papers. The material is arranged alphabetically by the last name of the author.

Appendix A, Audiotapes, lists audiotapes transferred from the Mahler papers to the Historical Sound Recordings department, Sterling Memorial Library, and has not been encoded. Appointments must be made through Manuscripts and Archives to listen to this material in Historical Sound Recordings. The audiotapes are divided into six sections: Foundation Material, Oral History, Presentations, Study Material, Personal, and Unidentified tapes. The Foundation material includes tapes of the Board and Executive Committee meetings of 1980-1981, as well as a copy of the Brochure Committee meeting of 1978 for the Margaret S. Mahler Psychiatric Research Foundation. Oral History tapes include the Milton Senn interview of 1977, the Evelyn Ringold interview for the Columbia Oral History Project in 1977, the Raquel Berman interview of 1979, interviews with Doris Nagel in 1980-1981 which provided much of the background for Mahler's Memoirs, and interviews with Selma Kramer, Darlene Levy, and Peter Neubauer in 1981-1982. Tapes of the "Pioneers Panel" at the International Association for Child Psychiatry and Allied Professions in 1974, the "Meet the Author Panel" at the 1977 American Psychoanalytic Association and a tape of Mahler discussing "Infantile Psychosis" complete the Presentations section. Study Material is comprised of a tape of Mahler discussing her work "Introduction to Anna and Susan." Included in the Personal section is a tape documenting Mahler's 80th birthday party. There are three unidentified tapes in this series.


  • 1822-1987


Conditions Governing Access

Original audiovisual materials, as well as preservation and duplicating masters, may not be played. Researchers must consult use copies, or if none exist must pay for a use copy, which is retained by the repository. Researchers wishing to obtain an additional copy for their personal use should consult Copying Services information on the Manuscripts and Archives web site.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright for unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by Margaret S. Mahler has been transferred to Yale University. These materials may be used for non-commercial purposes without seeking permission from Yale University as the copyright holder. For other uses of these materials, please contact

Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Margaret S. Mahler, 1979, the Margaret S. Mahler Psychiatric Research Foundation, 1983, 1987, 1988, and Dr. Fred Pine, 1997.


Arranged in thirteen series with one appendix: I. Correspondence and Subject Files, 1918-1985. II. Presentation Files, 1930-1984. III. Writings, 1924-1984. IV. Professional Associations, 1950-1984. V. Awards and Certificates, 1916-1985. VI. Photographs, 1890s-1985. VII. Scrapbook, Postcards, Greeting Cards, 1941-1985. VIII. Family Papers, 1822-1985. IX. Foundation Materials, 1972-1985. X. Grant Files, 1959-1977. XI. Testing Materials, 1926-1963. XII. Videotape and Film, 1960-1977. XIII. Writings of Others, 1944-1985. Appendix A: Audiotapes, 1974-1981.


85.75 Linear Feet (193 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers consist of correspondence and subject files, presentation files, writings, photographs, videotapes, audiotapes and film documenting Margaret Mahler's career as a child psychoanalyst, clinical researcher, and author. The papers highlight Mahler's American career beginning in 1938 until her death in 1985. The materials encompass Mahler's varied research topics, her professional activities at the international, national, regional and local levels, and her writings. Materials relating to her professional work in Europe prior to 1938 are limited. Mahler's major correspondents include psychoanalysts, social workers, child development theorists, editors, and publishers of her books and articles. These papers do not include the raw data from her studies. The papers document Mahler's personal life through correspondence with her relatives in war-time and postwar Hungary, through photographs, a scrapbook, postcards, and family papers.

Biographical / Historical

Margaret Schoenberger Mahler, child psychoanalyst and originator of the separation-individuation theory of child development, was born in Sopron, Hungary on May 11, 1897. The first daughter of Dr. Gusztav Schoenberger, a physician and public health official, and Eugenia Wiener Schoenberger, Margaret S. Mahler benefitted from the social and political position of her father's community standing. She received her elementary education in Sopron and Budapest and was encouraged by her father to pursue an academic career.

In Budapest in 1913 she met the parents of her classmate Alice Szekely-Kovacs and was first introduced to psychoanalysis. The Kovacs family, prominent in Budapest, often entertained members of the Hungarian psychoanalytic and academic communities. It was in the Kovacs household that Mahler met the psychoanalysts Sandor Ferenczi and Micheal Balint, and anthropologist Geza Roheim, among others.

After her graduation in 1916 Mahler left Budapest to pursue a medical education. Struggling with a desire to pursue a medical career but fearful of her father's disapproval, Mahler began studies in art history upon matriculation at the University of Budapest. She concedes in her memoirs that art history was "an acceptable feminine field," which she felt compelled to enter. "I seemed intent on making it as difficult for myself as possible to pursue my 'male' career goal." After one semester of art history Mahler applied to medical school and was accepted in January of 1917. Mahler and several classmates transferred to the University of Munich in 1919 to begin clinical training in pediatrics. Mahler was a stellar student and received co-assistantships to work with two prominent pediatricians at the university: Professor Pfaundler, Chairman of the pediatrics department and Dr. Rudolf von Degwitz, who experimented with measles vaccine. The von Degwitz experience cemented Mahler's interest in experimental/clinical work, which was to guide her future career. Anti-Semitic activity, coupled with economic conditions, influenced Mahler's decision to leave the University of Munich in 1920 and matriculate at the State University of Turingen at Jena. Here she continued her clinical training under Jussef Ibrahim at the Jena Child Clinic. At the Clinic, Mahler served as a co-assistant treating ruminating and pylorospastic infants. She observed Ibrahim's methods and learned the importance of play and child contact within a clinic setting. Mahler continued to distinguish herself academically and clinically. Upon completion of additional work at the University of Heidelberg, Mahler graduated magna cum laude in 1921. In 1922 she received her medical degree. Mahler elected to obtain her medical license in Vienna, because she was not a German citizen and could not practice medicine in Germany.

Upon receiving her medical license in 1923, Mahler worked for Clemens von Pirquet as a research and statistical assistant at the Pirquet Children's Clinic in Vienna. She supplemented her income by establishing a pediatrics practice. In addition, Mahler worked for the Leopold Moll Institute for Mother and Child Care where she accompanied groups of tubercular children on trips across the Adriatic to Italian spas during the summers of 1923-1926. These individual experiences provided Mahler with the opportunity to observe two different philosophies concerning the treatment of diseased children. At von Pirquet's clinic, the atmosphere was sterile, the children were left in cribs without the benefit of individualized contact from the nurses. At the Moll Institute, the emphasis was placed on bodily contact with the ill children. Moll trained his own nurses and assigned them to individual children with instructions to provide maternal care. Mahler observed that the children at Moll's institute benefitted from the contact and the mortality rate at Moll's institute was well below that at von Pirquet's. Mahler hypothesized that both physical and mental factors determined the healthiness of children.

At the time of her Vienna work Mahler was approached by Willi Hoffer to contribute to his new interdisciplinary journal, Journal for Psychoanalytic Pedagogy (Zeitschrift fur psychoanalytische Padaqogik). Hoffer introduced Mahler to August Aichorn, best known for his work with delinquents in Vienna. Aichorn managed a network of child clinics which provided therapeutic counseling for "delinquent" or abused and misunderstood children. Aichorn's technique was considered revolutionary for its focus. Mahler joined Aichorn on his visits to the clinics and with the children. This contact with Aichorn proved pivotal to Mahler's developing child psychoanalytic career.

In 1926 Mahler applied to the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute. She was interviewed by Paul Federn and Grete Bibring, who supported Mahler's training for membership. Mahler began her analysis with Helen Deutsch, a prominent member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute, and a friend of Sandor Ferenczi, whom Mahler was acquainted with from the Szekely-Kovacs family circle. This analyst/analysand relationship did not last long and Mahler turned to Aichorn to aid her in completing her analysis. Aichorn secured her readmittance into the training program, analyzed her for three years, turning to Willi Hoffer to complete her analysis. In 1933 she became a member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute.

During the 1930s Mahler conducted Rorschach training for many American analysts who came to Vienna to study. Americans Margaret Ribble, Margaret Hawkins O'Neil and Helen Ross, all specialists in child delinquency, came to Vienna to train with Aichorn. In addition, Mahler lectured on and conducted Rorschach testing at the state university in Vienna. She collaborated with Judith Silberpfennig on a study of the Rorschach in diagnosing organic brain damage. Many of Mahler's early publications resulted from this project. Mahler organized the first psychoanalytic child guidance clinic (Ambulatorium Rauscher-Strasse) in Vienna and was the head from 1933-1938. In 1936 Mahler met and married Paul Mahler, a chemist, who was a junior partner in his family cordial factory. With the impending force of Nazism engulfing Germany and Austria, Mahler made efforts to leave Austria as early as January 1937. In 1938, Margaret and Paul Mahler left Austria and relocated in England, through the intervention of Lady Leontine Sassoon and the psychoanalysts of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute. The Mahlers were granted six month visas and authorization to continue their emigration to the United States. In England, Mahler conducted Rorschach tests, attended Anna Freud's seminars at the Hampstead Child Clinic, and studied English. In October 1938 Margaret and Paul Mahler set sail for the United States.

With the aid of American analysts and other European emigrés in New York City Mahler set about establishing her psychoanalytic practice. She was befriended by Caroline Zachary, then Director of the Bureau of Child Guidance of the New York City Board of Education and head of the Institute of Human Development. Mahler conducted Rorschach testing for Zachary at the IHD and its affiliate, the Educational Institute. Zachary introduced Mahler to Edith T. Schmidt and Benjamin Spock in 1939. It was Spock who first referred child patients to Mahler.

The New York psychoanalytic community did not welcome the recent emigrés. In 1939 an effort was made within the New York Psychoanalytic Society to encourage the emigrés to venture to other geographic locations to establish their practices. Mahler politely, but characteristically refused the idea that she should establish her practice in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Additionally, the emigrés were strongly urged not to practice psychoanalysis before obtaining their medical licenses. Mahler passed the state medical board exam on her first attempt. In 1940, she presented her paper "Pseudoimbecility: A Magic Cap of Invisibility" to the New York Psychoanalytic Society. She was accepted into the New York Psychoanalytic Society based on her presentation, and the Psychoanalytic Quarterly published the lecture. Mahler became the chief consultant to the New York State Psychiatric Institute, Children's Services at Columbia University and was appointed an associate in psychiatry at Columbia University. Mahler published papers, lectures and pamphlets pertaining to various aspects of child psychosis from 1942. In 1943 she published with Leo Rangell, in Psychiatric Quarterly, the results of a study they conducted on children with tics: "A Psychosomatic Study of Maladie des Tics" (Gilles de la Tourette's Disease). She published pamphlets for the New York State Committee on Mental Hygiene and lectured at various local aid societies including the New York School of Social Work, the Schilder Society and the Jewish Board of Guardians. Mahler spoke at professional associations as well, such as the New York Psychoanalytic Society, the American Psychoanalytic Association and the American Society for Research in Psychosomatic Medicine.

Mahler continued to work with children who had multiple tics and this led to the discovery that some children admitted to the New York State Psychiatric Institute became psychotic at puberty. In collaboration with Dr. Jean Luke, Mahler published in 1946 "Outcome of the Tic Syndrome" in the Journal of Nervous Mental Disease. In subsequent studies Mahler focused on childhood psychosis and its manifestations, presenting and publishing numerous papers on childhood psychosis in the late 1940s. In 1948 she presented her work with J.R. Ross and Zaira deFries at the American Orthopsychiatric Association and in 1949 published "Clinical Studies in Benign and Malignant Cases of Childhood Psychosis (Schizophrenia-like)."

In 1950 Mahler began to concentrate her research efforts on the study of child psychosis. She became affiliated in 1955 with the newly organized Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University, serving as the main consultant to children's services, as well as holding conferences on child psychosis. In 1959 she became a clinical professor in psychiatry. At this time she also became affiliated with the Philadelphia Psychoanalytic Institute where she was the chairperson of the child analysis training program from 1950-1960. Mahler also taught classes and conducted advanced seminars in child analysis. In addition, she supervised analyst trainees.

Mahler's research efforts centered in New York, where she and Manuel Furer, fellow Einstein faculty member, founded a therapeutic nursery for psychotic children. This nursery was established to continue the work Mahler began at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. In 1955 Mahler and Furer applied to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to support a study of the natural history of symbiotic child psychosis. At the time of this initial application, Mahler and Furer realized that the focus and resources of the newly established Albert Einstein College of Medicine would not support their research efforts. Upon being granted funding by the NIMH, Mahler and Furer returned that money, with the hope that once an appropriate site for the nursery was located, the NIMH would again fund the project. In 1956 two buildings at the Masters School in New York City became available which suited Mahler's research needs. Mahler and Furer reapplied to NIMH in 1959 and again received the initial funding they earlier returned.

The "Study of the Natural History of Symbiotic Child Psychosis" conducted at the Masters Children's Center from 1957-1964 began as a study of five very disturbed children and their mothers. Mahler discovered shortly after beginning the study that one child was psychotic and would require individual attention. The project was undertaken in the tripartite design meaning the child, therapist and mother became involved in the therapy. To supplement the work conducted by the therapist, the mother was also required to see a social worker involved with the study. Mahler's contention was that the child developed through a series of phases which allowed the child to begin to recognize itself as an individual entity from the mother. For reasons unknown to Mahler, some children did not carry out the steps which lead to individuality, or the steps were retarded for a particular reason. If the children did not move through these phases, they became deeply disturbed, some psychotic. Mahler reasoned that if the mother took an active role in the therapy, she could facilitate the process for the child. This relationship was crucial for allowing the child to develop a relatively normal symbiotic relationship with the mother, and then carry out the individuation and separation from the mother which the disturbed and psychotic children lacked.

Mahler's theory by which a child becomes an entity with a personal sense of identity was first reported in 1954 when she presented with Bert Gosliner, their work in "On Symbiotic Child Psychosis: Genetic, Dynamic and Restitutive Aspects." In 1960, Mahler and Furer reported their findings in "On the 'Symbiotic Syndrome' in Infantile Psychosis" at the Pan American Medical Congress. In 1968, On Human Symbiosis and the Vicissitudes of Individuation was published describing their findings from this study as well as subsequent studies relating to the development of the separation-individuation theory.

Questions arose from the Mahler/Furer study: Why does a relatively small percentage of children not firmly develop a sense of identity during the first three years? Why does the majority? When does this formation of identity take place? Mahler and Furer realized the need to conduct another study with a group of psychotic babies, their mothers and a control group of "normal" babies and their mothers. In 1962 the Field Foundation supported this pilot study which marked Mahler's transition from focusing on developing psychotic children to that of children with normal development. Mahler continued her studies with support from the NIMH. In 1960 Fred Pine joined the Masters Children's Center from the Hudson Guild Settlement, and John McDevitt joined the staff in 1965 from the Yale Child Study Center. With Pine and McDevitt, Mahler continued to conduct her studies on the development of the separation-individuation of the "normal" child. This "normal" study was conducted through the early 1970s, and the findings from this study were reported in the seminal work, The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant, published in 1974. After the publication of The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant Mahler continued to study the development of normal children. Work from the original study continues through the Margaret S. Mahler Psychiatric Research Foundation.

Mahler continued to present and publish her findings during the 1970s and early 1980s. Mahler delivered the Freud Anniversary Lecture at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute in 1971. The Philadelphia Psychoanalytic Institute honors Mahler with the Margaret S. Mahler Symposium Series. She was named visiting professor of child psychoanalysis at the Medical College of Pennsylvania and professor emerita of psychiatry at Columbia University in 1974. Mahler has received awards from the New York Psychoanalytic Society, the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Psychoanalysis, the New York Council on Child Psychiatry, and she has been honored by many other institutions of higher education. Margaret S. Mahler died in October 1985 at the age of eight-eight. In August 1986, her ashes were placed with her husband's next to her mother and father's gravesite in the Jewish Cemetery in Sopron, Hungary.

Guide to the Margaret S. Mahler Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Nanci A. Young with Daniel Wickberg Han Tran and Tony Lavelle
June 1989
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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