A short biography of Sigmund Freud

by Julia Evans on September 23, 1939

The following shows some of the turning-points in Sigmund Freud’s work. Events such as the publication of important papers, interactions with colleagues and a few domestic are also included.[i]

6 May 1856    Birth at Freiberg in Moravia

1860    Family settles in Vienna

1865    Enters Gymnasium (secondary school)

1873    Enters Vienna University as medical student

1876-82           Works under Brücke at the Institute of Physiology in Vienna

1877    First publications:  papers on anatomy and physiology

1881    Graduates as Doctor of Medicine

1882    Engagement to Martha Bernays

1881-85           Works in Vienna General Hospital, concentrating on cerebral anatomy:  numerous publications

1884-87           Researches into the clinical uses of cocaine

1885    Appointed Privatdozent (University Lecturer) in Neuro-pathology

October 1885- February 1886

Studies under Charcot at the Salpětrière (hospital for nervous diseases) in Paris.

Interest first turns to hysteria and hypnosis.

1886    Marriage to Martha Bernays

Sets up private practice in nervous diseases in Vienna.

1886-93           Continues work on neurology, especially on the cerebral palsies of children at the Kassowitz Institute in Vienna, with numerous publications.

Gradual shift of interest from neurology to psychopathology

1887    Birth of eldest child (Mathilde)

1887-1902       Friendship and correspondence with Wilhelm Fliess in Berlin. Freud’s letters to him during this period, published posthumously in 1950, throw much light on the development of his views

1887    Begins the use of hypnotic suggestion in his practice

About 1888     Begins to follow Breuer in using hypnosis for cathartic treatment of hysteria. Gradually drops hypnosis and substitutes free association

1889    Visits Bernheim at Nancy to study his suggestion technique

1889    Birth of eldest son (Martin)

1891    Birth of second son (Oliver)

Monograph on Aphasia

1892    Birth of youngest son (Ernst)

1893    Birth of second daughter (Sophie)

Publication of Breuer and Freud “Preliminary Communication’: exposition of trauma theory of hysteria and of cathartic treatment

1893-98           Researches and short papers on hysteria, obsessions, and anxiety

1895    Jointly with Breuer, Studies on Hysteria:

case histories and description by Freud of his technique, including first account of transference

1893-96           Gradual divergence of views between Freud and Breuer

Freud introduces concepts of defence and repression and of neurosis being a result of a conflict between the ego and the libido

1895    Birth of youngest child (Anna)

Project for a scientific Psychology: included in Freud’s letters to Fliess and first published in 1950. An abortive attempt to state psychology in neurological terms; but foreshadows much of Freud’s later theories.

1896    Death of father – aged 80.

Introduces the term ‘psychoanalysis’

1897    Freud’s self-analysis, leading to the abandonment of the trauma theory and the recognition of infantile sexuality and the Œdipus complex.

1900    The Interpretation of dreams, with final chapters giving first full account of Freud’s dynamic view of mental processes, of the unconscious, and of the dominance of the ‘pleasure principle’.

1901    The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. This, together with the book on dreams, made it plain that Freud’s theories applied not only to pathological states but also to normal mental life.

1902    Appointed Professor Extraordinarius

1905    Three essays on the Theory of Sexuality: tracing for the first time the course of development of the sexual instinct in human beings from infancy to maturity

About 1906     Jung becomes an adherent of psychoanalysis

1908    First international meeting of psychoanalysts (at Salzburg)

1909    Freud and Jung invited to the USA to lecture

Case study of the first analysis of a child (Little Hans – aged 5): confirming inferences previously made from adult analyses, especially as to infantile sexuality and the Œdipus and castration complexes

About 1910     First emergence of the theory of ‘narcissism’.

1911-15           Papers on the technique of psychoanalysis.

1911    Secession of Adler

Application of psychoanalytic theories to a psychotic case: the autobiography of Dr Schreber

1913-14           Totem and Taboo: application of psychoanalysis to anthropological material

1914    Secession of Jung

On the History of the Psychoanalytic Movement Includes a polemical section on adler and Jung

Writes his last major case study, of the ‘Wolf Man’ (not published until 1918)

1915    Writes a series of twelve ‘metapsychological’ papers on basic theoretical questions, of which only five have survived.

1915-17           Introductory Lectures: giving an extensive general account of the state of freud’s views up to the time of the first world War.

1919    Application of the theory of narcissism to the war neuroses.

1920    Death of second daughter

Beyond the Pleasure Principle; the first explicit introduction of the concept of the ‘compulsion to repeat’ and of the theory of the ‘death instinct’

1921    Group Psychology Beginnings of a systematic analytic study of the ego

1923    First onset of cancer

The Ego and the Id. Largely revised account of the structure and functioning of the mind with the division into an id, an ego, and a super-ego

1925    Revised views on the sexual development of women

1926    Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety Revised views on the problem of anxiety

1927    The Future of an Illusion A discussion of religion: the first of a number of sociological works to which Freud devoted most of his remaining years

1930    Death of mother (aged ninety-five)

Civilisation and its Discontents This includes Freud’s first extensive study of the destructive instinct (regarded as a manifestation of the ‘death instinct’)

Freud awarded the Goethe Prize by the city of Frankfurt

1933    Hitler seizes power in Germany: Freud’s books publicly burned in berlin

1934-38 Moses and Monotheism: the last of Freud’s works to appear during his lifetime

1938    Hitler’s invasion of Austria. Freud leaves Vienna for London

An Outline of Psychoanalysis. A final, unfinished but profound, exposition of psychoanalysis

23 September 1939: Death in London


[i] Adapted from Lytton Strachey, page 25, of ‘Two short accounts of Psycho-Analysis: Five lectures on Psycho-Analysis & The Question of Lay Analysis, Sigmund Freud, Pelican, 1962