The Early Years – 1856-1886

About Sigmund Freud
The Early Years – 1856-1886

Born in 1815, Sigmund Freud’s father, Jakob, was an importer of agricultural produce. His enduring image is that of a father who was pleasant and generous without being much of a stickler for authority.

First marriage: Jakob Freud marries Sally Kanner; from this first marriage came:

  • Emmanuel Freud in 1834
  • Philipp Freud in 1838
  • Premature death of Sally in 1852
  • Second marriage: Rebecca who died young. No children.
  • Third marriage: Amalia Nathanson, Freud’s mother

Amalia Nathanson, aged 17, married Jakob Freud, aged 37. She was barely older than the eldest of Freud’s sons. She was a lively woman. The wide age difference between Freud’s parents was rather atypical and left a great deal of room of the expansion of the maternal personality. Sigismund Schlomo Freud was born a year after Jakob Freud’s third marriage, on 6 May 1856, in Freiberg, a small market town in Moravia. (Sigismund finally became Sigmund at the age of 22.) From this third marriage came:

  • Sigismund Schlomo (aka Sigmund) Freud in 1856
  • Julius Freud in 1857, died at 8 months
  • Anna Freud in 1858
  • Regine Debora (aka Rosa) Freud in 1860
  • Marie (aka Mitzi) Freud in 1861
  • Esther Adolfine (aka Dolfi) Freud in 1862
  • Pauline (aka Paula) Freud in 1864
  • Alexander Freud in 1866

For economic reasons the family moved to Freiberg and then Vienna, where they settled once and for all by around 1860. Freud was four years old at the time. Family and friends described Sigmund as a happy, outgoing child, brilliant at school and later at the Leopoldstädter Kommunal-Realgymnasium. Before completing his secondary studies in 1871 at the age of 17, he read, corresponded with and showed an interest in the psychological thought of Ludwig Feuerbach and Johann Friedrich Herbart. He subsequently developed an interest in politics with some childhood friends and later met the philosopher Franz Brentano, who directed his thesis in philosophy. The young Freud’s interests were clearly geared towards the psychological and social dimensions of humanity, but his discovery of Carl Brühl’s essay Nature brought to a head his sense of calling and he decided to take up medicine, against the wishes of his father, who wanted to see him take over the family business to ease his heavy family responsibilities.

  • Autumn 1873, enrols in the University of Vienna and, thanks to Karl Freidrich Wilhelm Claus, receives two scholarships to research male eels and discovers that sexual differentiation is not genetically predetermined.
  • 1876-1882, leaves the Institute of Zoology for the Institute of Physiology under the direction of Ernst Wilhlem von Brücke; publishes important research on the action of physico-chemical forces in the course of the manifestations of life.
  • 1882, the twenty-six-year-old Sigmund Freud meets and becomes engaged to Martha Bernays.
  • 1883, assistant to Dr. Theodor Hermann Meynert at the General Hospital in Vienna.
    1884, researches the pathogenesis of cocaine and writes a monograph in which he demonstrates the drug’s analgesic properties.
  • 1885 Freud is named Privatdozent (Visiting Lecturer) to the University of Vienna, thanks to the support of the brain anatomist and psychiatrist Theodore Hermann Meynert, to whom Freud is an assistant. The post brings him an excellent reputation and a private clientele. Thanks to the support of his friend, Joseph Breuer, he receives a travel scholarship that enables him to visit Paris and meet the famous neuropathologist, Jean-Martin Charcot.
  • 1886 Freud translates Charcot’s Tuesday Lessons and gives a lecture on male hysteria in Vienna.

Joseph Breuer’s patient, Anna O., made a great impression on Freud. Under hypnosis she remembered all the details of the original situation in which her hysterical symptoms appeared. After the recollection of her traumatic affects, Anna O’s symptoms disappeared. Freud spoke of this without awakening any interest in Jean-Martin Charcot. Charcot had shown that such hypnotic manifestations were real. He had created new symptoms under hypnosis and conceived a clinical classification for hysterical symptomatology.

Find out more about Sigmund Freud’s life.

Theoretical Foundations 1886-1900

The Golden Age of Psychoanalysis 1900-1913

The Second Schema: A Theoretical Rethink 1913-1922

The Age of Wisdom 1922-1939