Brief History of the Collection
A brief history of the Sigmund Freud Papers at the Library of Congress.
The papers of Sigmund Freud have been assembled over many years, principally through the collecting efforts of the Sigmund Freud Archives (SFA). The organization was founded in 1951 by a group of New York analysts, including K. R. Eissler, Heinz Hartmann, Ernst Kris, Bertram David Lewin, and Herman Nunberg, to collect Freud letters and writings that were at risk of being lost or destroyed in the aftermath of World War II. Because Freud did not generally retain copies of his outgoing correspondence, letters written by him were geographically dispersed among his many correspondents. Over decades of collecting, the Archives has succeeded in obtaining many original Freud items through gift and purchase. When unable to acquire original documents, it has solicited copies, transcripts, translations, and printed editions. In addition to collecting Freud correspondence and writings, the SFA has assembled secondary material documenting Freud’s life and work. K. R. Eissler supplemented this record by conducting numerous interviews with Freud family members, associates, students, and patients, largely during the 1950s.
The SFA is a collecting body, but not a repository or research facility. Therefore, in 1951, the SFA signed an agreement to give the collection to the Library of Congress. The first donation arrived at the Library in 1952. The collection has since grown to more than 48,000 items, perhaps 20,000 of which were either written or owned by Sigmund Freud or members of his family.
Gifts to the collection have also been made by members of Sigmund Freud’s family as well as by others who knew him. The largest of these donations came from his daughter Anna Freud who transferred many of her father’s papers in her possession to the Library in 1970. Her parents’ voluminous courtship correspondence or “Brautbriefe” was included in the gift. Written on an almost daily basis between 1882 and 1886, the letters detail Freud's activities, associations, and aspirations during the period following his graduation from medical school to the establishment of his private practice in Vienna. Anna Freud subsequently bequeathed to the Sigmund Freud Archives the remainder of her father’s papers at her death in 1982. Included in the large bequest was her own correspondence with her father as well as a series of fourteen pocket notebooks kept by him between 1901 and the 1930s. The Sigmund Freud Archives placed the contents of the bequest on deposit at the Library of Congress in 1986, converting it to a gift during the Library’s bicentennial year in 2000. Over the years, the Library of Congress has purchased items for the collection. Notable among the Library’s purchases were holograph manuscripts of Freud’s writings owned by the American Psychoanalytic Association. These writings were added to those donated by Anna Freud and Sigmund Freud Archives.
The collection has been variously organized and described over the years. In 1991 it was arranged in seven letter series (A, B, C, D, E, F, and Z) in accordance with restrictions and conditions that applied to the collection at that time. Material within each series was organized as family papers, general correspondence, subject file, writings, supplemental material, and interviews and recollections. When the bulk of the restrictions expired in 2000, the lettered series were abolished and the papers were rearranged in ten series: Family Papers, General Correspondence, Subject File, Writings, Supplemental File, Interviews and Recollections, Addition, Artifacts and Painting, Closed, and Oversize. Very few items remain closed in the collection. Photocopies with patient names redacted are available in the open series for each closed item from the Family Papers, General Correspondence, and Writings series and for most of the Subject File.
The Library of Congress Manuscript Division houses the collection’s manuscript material and its few artifacts. During the 1970s and 1980s, other formats were transferred from the collection to other Library of Congress divisions where they could receive specialized care. More than six hundred individual photographs and several photograph albums, drawings, and engravings were transferred to the Library’s Prints and Photographs Division. Films including home movies of the Freud family made by Princess Marie Bonaparte and audio recordings, principally from K. R. Eissler’s interviews, were transferred to the Library’s Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division. Finally, some of Freud’s early and scarce publications as well as those parts of his library that were given to the Library of Congress were transferred to the Rare Books and Special Collections Division.
In 2015, the Library of Congress received funding from The Polonsky Foundation to digitize the collection. Scanning of the entire collection apart from a largely posthumous supplemental file commenced in the spring of 2016, sixty-five years after the agreement between the SFA and the Library was signed. Three successive executive directors of the Sigmund Freud Archives—Harold P. Blum, Anton O. Kris, and Louis Rose—were early proponents and sustaining supporters of making the collection available online. Emanuel E. Garcia, K. R. Eissler’s literary executor, enhanced the online edition by opening ahead of schedule all but five of the remaining closed Eissler interviews. The project was completed in the winter of 2016-2017 with the launch of this online edition of the papers.