Alfred Adler Institute of Northwestern Washngton

Alfred Adler in San Francisco

by Daniel Benveniste, Ph.D.

(Daniel Benveniste, Ph.D. is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist in private practice in San Francisco, California. For several years, he conducted research in the history of depth psychologies in the Bay Area. This article was published in the NASAP Newsletter, Volume 25, Number 2, February, 1992. He describes Adler's visits and lectures in 1929 and 1936, and Adler's plan to establish his Western headquarters in California.)

In the course of my research into "The Origins of Psychoanalysis in San Francisco," I've recently discovered that Alfred Adler was among the earliest of the emigre depth psychologists to lecture in the Bay Area. The first of the emigre analysts to settle in San Francisco arrived between 1936 and 1939. They included Bernhard Berliner, Siegfried Bernfeld, Suzanne Bernfeld, Anja Maenchen, Emanuel Windholz, and Erik Erikson - all Freudians. In addition, visiting emigre analysts, including Franz Alexander, Otto Rank, and Alfred Adler, gave lectures and held seminars in the San Francisco Bay Area. While the late 1930's saw the arrival of most of these emigre analysts to this area, Adler's two visits, in 1929 and 1936, occurred before most of the others had arrived.

Alfred Adler arrived for his first visit in San Francisco on February 3rd 1929. The following day the San Francisco Chronicle ran an article, entitled "lnferiority Complex Cause of all Ills -Prohibition Just remorse, Says Adler." It summarized Adler's notion of the 'inferiority complex' and its various social manifestations. It reported Adler's assertion that prohibition would never succeed in America, and it listed Adler's schedule of lectures in the coming days. In this article, Adler is quoted as saying, "The United States is like an ocean. An individual has infinite possibilities for development in such a country but he has also greater difficulties to overcome. The incentive to ambition is great but the competition is also very keen. In Europe they are still swimming around in a bathtub; life is circumscribed, opportunities are few and the need for such knowledge is limited." (1)

In a second S.F. Chronicle article, dated February 10, 1929, Adler is quoted extensively describing the suffering in post World War I Austria. He speaks of the 100,000 Viennese who are unemployed; of the psychologists, medical doctors, social workers, and teachers who are staffing the clinics for the children of poor families; and of the lack of money to pay these professionals. He is quoted as having said," I felt throughout the War as a prisoner feels. The only solution to the problem of future wars is for science to organize the world so as to make war unnecessary, and to educate mankind to become more socially adjusted and more interested in each other." (2)

Alfred Adler delivered his first Bay Area lecture on Wednesday, February 6, 1929, in Wheeler Auditorium on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. It was entitled "Understanding Human Nature." He gave a second lecture Thursday evening at the University of California Extension Auditorium in San Francisco. In this lecture he developed his ideas about American culture and prohibition. On Friday evening he delivered a lecture at Wheeler Auditorium in Berkeley, where he spoke about various social problems.

Prior to his Friday evening lecture in Berkeley (at 4: 15 pm), Adler gave a lecture at Mills College (in Oakland) in their Alumnae Hall, This lecture was entitled "Individual Psychology." The next evening (Saturday, February 9, 1929) Adler was the guest of honor ,at a dinner hosted by Dr. Ethel Sabin-Smith, the Director of the Psychology Department at Mills College. After dinner (at 8:00 pm), Adler delivered a lecture, again in Alumnae Hall. His topic for this lecture was "The Inferiority Complex." (3) Adler also gave a course on psychology, at Mills College, which had been arranged for by Dr. Aurelia Rhinehardt. (4) An interview and summary of his lectures as Mills College was published in the Mills College Weekly on February 13, 1929. Upon discovering this article, I sent a copy to Dr. Heinz Ansbacher.

On July 25th 1936 Alfred Adler returned to the San Francisco Bay Area and brought with him his son Kurt Adler and his daughter Alexandra Adler. It was an extended visit for the Adler's during which Alfred Adler taught a summer course at the Williams Institute in Berkeley (4) In addition to his work at the Williams Institute, he also spoke at U.C. Berkeley where he addressed schoolteachers and discussed with them how to deal with children presenting behavior problems in their classrooms.

On August 12, 193 6 he delivered a lecture on the radio at NBC Studios. The lecture was sponsored by the California State Chamber of Commerce. In his lecture he compared the independence of people in America to the relative dependence of those in Europe. He also spoke in support of psychological education for children. He gave another lecture on August 12,1936 at the Argonaught Club in San Francisco before the Directors and Medical Staff of Mt. Zion Hospital. His lecture was on child guidance and its contribution to the development of personality.

In a newspaper article dated July 25, 1936, Adler's feminist stance became evident. In this article, condescendingly titled (by the reporter) "A Laugh for the Little Woman," Adler is quoted as having said, "Women have been treated as weaker by men and gradually they got the habit. They begin to recognize limitations which do not exist mentally." (5)

When I asked Dr. Alexandra Adler about this 1936 visit she recalled being in San Francisco but confessed that the details of this trip, fifty-five years ago, had escaped her. When I asked Dr. Kurt Adler about this trip, he too remembered coming to San Francisco but the details were vague for him as well. When I asked if he recalled the content of his father's lectures he replied, - I didn't participate in the lectures. "No? Where were you?" I asked. "Riding horses!" he exclaimed.

It was on this second trip to San Francisco that Alfred Adler was said to have fallen in love with California and the San Francisco Bay Area. Speaking of Alfred Adler's second visit to the San Francisco Bay Area, Phyllis Bottome says, "A most energetic and delightful band of people worked with him; and still work for his ideas. It was the only personal wish the writer ever heard Adler express - to return to California every summer and perhaps to let it take the place of his beloved Vienna." (4)

On Thursday January 28, 1937 an article, entitled "Adler Chooses: Returns to Berkeley," appeared in The Daily Californian, the U.C. Berkeley student newspaper. The article reported Cora L. Williams announcement that Alfred Adler had chosen Berkeley as his Western Headquarters. (6) A two-week seminar with Alfred Adler was planned by Cora L. Williams to take place that summer at the Williams Institute from August 16-27, 1937. Unfortunately, on May 28, 1937, only three months before this planned return to the Bay Area, Dr. Alfred Adler suffered heart failure and died in Aberdeen, Scotland at the age of 67.

Subsequently a number of Alfred Adler's students settled in the San Francisco Bay Area. Rollo May, Ph.D. studied with Adler in Vienna in the early 1930's and later settled in Marin County just north of San Francisco. Though he speaks highly of Adler and cites his work, May doesn't identify himself primarily as an Adlerian. Anthony Bruck, on the other hand, not only studied with Adler but identified himself as an Adlerian. He, like Rollo May, also settled in Marin County. Edward Schneider was another Adlerian who had studied with Adler in Europe. He came to San Francisco in the early 1950s and was for a time associated with Lincoln University. Blanche Weill studied with Adler and practiced in the East Bay (Berkeley/Oakland area) in the mid- 1950s. Sophia de Vries, Ph.D., a classical Adlerian, studied with Alfred Adler form 1935 to 1936 and settled in San Francisco in the early 1950s. Her closest student and colleague is Henry T. Stein, Ph.D.

Dr. Stein is a classical Adlerian psychotherapist in San Francisco. He is the Director of the Alfred Adler Institute of San Francisco where he teacher courses and is a training analyst in classical Adlerian psychotherapy. He is also the editor of "Adlerian Classics: Newsletter from the Alfred Adler Institute of San Francisco." He is also working diligently to revive interest in Adler's work and create an Adlerian renaissance here in the San Francisco Bay Area and throughout the United States.

Recalling Adler's fondness for San Francisco and watching the work being done now in this area, one cannot help but wonder what the San Francisco psychotherapeutic community would have looked like had Adler lived long enough to fulfil his vision of establishing the San Francisco Bay Area as his Western Headquarters. In any case, the vision of a Western Headquarters appears to be well on its way to fulfillment under the able guidance of Dr. Henry Stein.

Some of the biographical material contained in this article was gathered by Henry Stein and his associates, Jennifer Wanner, M.S., and James Wolf, M.A. As a Freudian psychotherapist, doing research on "The Origins of Psychoanalysis in San Francisco" I have found my contacts with the local Adlerian community to be characterized by professionalism, scholarly rigor, clinical competence, and personal warmth. I am grateful to Dr. Stein, Ms. Wanner, and Mr. Wolf for their scholarly research, their on-going enthusiasm for this project, and their willingness to share their data.

I hope this article will provide them, and others in the Adlerian community, with a sense of continuity and some articulation of the linkages in the chain of descent from Alfred Adler in Vienna to their own creative work as Adlerian psychotherapists here in the San Francisco Bay Area.



(1) San Francisco Chronicle, February 4th, 1929, "Inferiority Complex Cause of all Ills - Prohibition Just Remorse, Says Adler."

(2) San Francisco Chronicle, February 10th, 1929, "Noted Scientist tells of Serious Austrian Problems: Dr. AdlerSays Nearly 100,000 Are Unemployed, but Progressive Work Goes On Despite Handicaps and Limitations."

(3) Mills College Weekly, January 23 (anonymous), & February 13, 1929 (by lane Reeve), "Vienna Psychologist Comes as College Guest in February" & "Famous Psychologist is Guest on Campus."

(4) Bottome, Phyllis (1939) Alfred Adler: Apostle of Freedom, London, Faber and Faber Ltd. P. 233. (5) San Francisco Chronicle, July 26, 1936, "A Laugh forthe Little Woman."

(6) The Daily Californian, January 28, 1937, "Adler Chooses: Returns to Berkeley." NASAP Newsletter Don Dinkmeyer, Jr., Ph.D., Editor 65 East Wacker Place, Suite 400 Chicago, IL 60601-7203

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