I have been working on Clara Geroe’s archive for the last twelve months. It is a scholar’s joy to touch the papers, to read her writings, the crossings out and rewording, as she struggled to find her way in the English language. Vitally, the State Library of Victoria has granted me a Regional Fellowship – with funds donated by the late Marion Orme Page, to do this. I have been given a gift, an opportunity with time attached to work in a raw archive, discovering stories hidden in the darkest corners ofa suitcase of letters, boxes of reports and a shelf full of books. The library’s resources will complement this collection with others in its keeping. Geroe was not alone in her migration from deep European culture to another perched on a land with a depth of history they did not understand. Up until the early 1970s Australia’s colonial settlers called themselves ‘British’ even though many were born on Australian lands and had never seen Britain. A sort of turning away from the place they or their forbears had landed.
Geroe’s address books – there are multiple versions – help track her path. European addresses give way to British and Australian, modified again and again. Who she talked to, wrote to and remembered, are significant markers. These are clues to the woman: how she felt about her work and her very lonely task as the only fully trained psychoanalyst in Australia from the moment of her arrival in Melbourne on 12 March 1940. The way she shaped her thoughts and words, her guiding lights, and the people she loved, are part of her story. It follows the trajectory of many women whose emigration was forced upon them. Their arrival in a strange land was an abrupt culture shock. Some disembarked from the ship that brought them, took one look, and returned to Europe. Others made new careers, while others – such as the Melbourne philosopher, Raymond Gaita’s mother, and so movingly recorded in his book, ‘Romulus my Father’, were unable to manage the mental distress of migration. Clara Geroe, as she came to be known, was a highly educated, cultured woman, a product of the avant gard world of Budapest. As a result of Hitler’s rise to power in Europe she became one of a new generation of migrants – a Hungarian refugee in this colonial settler Australian place in the antipodes
Dr G. Lazar Klara trained in Budapest with the Hungarian Psychoanalytical Society. She did not have the funds to undertake the training independently, the psychoanalyst Michael Balint explained in an interview in 1966. Instead she was taken on as a patient of the Hungarian Society’s Clinic and became one of Balint’s training patients. The Bulletin of the International Psychoanalytical Association(IPA) shows that her paper, on her treatment of a young girl, presented to the Hungarian Society in 1930, was followed by ratification of her membership in 1931. Geroe’s speciality was ‘pedagogic psychoanalysis’, following the idea that children should be brought up on psychoanalytic principles. Her focus on the treatment of children led to her involvement with the children’s clinic at the Hungarian Psychoanalytical Society and later, her work with the Friends of the Children of Hungarian Labourers. In 1938 she was ratified as a ‘Trainer of Pedagogues’ by the IPA.
In her younger years Geroe was one of a number of women analysts working in Hungary during the 1920s and 1930s. Anna Borgos, a Hungarian based scholar of women in psychoanalysis, shows that Geroe along with Kata Levy, Emmy Pikler, Alice Balint Eva Rosenberg and Edit Gyomeroi and Charlotte Balkanyi and others were in frequent contact with Anna Freud. After their own emigration to Britain, many found positions in Anna Freud’s Hampstead Clinic. Geroe maintained her connection with Anna Freud for many years – seeking and finding support from Anna Freud and, in return, during the bitter years of the war, sending food parcels and gifts for the Home children. During the late 1940s she encouraged several young Australian women psychologists to further their careers in London: Ivy Bennett, Cecily de Monchaux and Maria Kawenowka. Australia’s loss was England’s gain, or in Bennett’s case, the United States. All went on to significant contributions to the psychoanalytic world, choosing to not return to Australia.
“I am up against a hard task’, Geroe wrote in 1940. Her work in Australia was to train analysts alongside her clinical work with adults and children She was, early on, an employee of the Melbourne Institute of Psychoanalysis before joining its board in 1945 and moving full-time into her own practice. For the remainder of her life until her death in 1980 she held seminars for students and interested people, gave lectures, and became involved in the New Education Fellowship. In the early years she kept up her work as a pedagogic analyst all the while meeting her commitment to the training of analysts. And slowly, brick by brick, and with the help of others and often enough, opposition, she set up the frame an institute. What kind of institute it was, and what it became, and why, will be my focus for the next little while. A book for Routledge is at the end of it, all going well. That is another gift… and the beginning of this journey. The posts that follow, along with others, will peg out the process.
Bulletin of the International Psychoanalytical Association, 1930, 1931, 1932.
Anna Borgos, (2018) Girls of Tomorrow – Women in the Budapest School of Psychoanalysis, Norman Libra, Budapest, 2018.
Raymond Gaita, ‘Romulus my Father’, 2008.
Bluma Swerdloff, The reminiscences of Michael Balint. Tanscripts of interviews ( 6.8.1965 and 7.8 1956) Oral History research office, Columbia University, copy in University of Essex Library.
Elisabeth Hanscombe said:
Wonderful to read about your journey back into Clara Geroe’s life, Christine and so beautifully written. Congratulations on a job well done.
mario L beira said:
Thank you for this informative posting on Clara Geroe.
A fascinating read about a woman who indirectly played a part in my life, and the writing of my book ‘A Dangerous Daughter’