Karen Danielsen Horney (1885-1952) was a German-born American psychoanalyst and the first female founder of a psychoanalytic school of thought. She earned her medical degree in 1911 and became interested in the emerging field of psychoanalysis. She was mentored by Karl Abraham, a close associate and student of Sigmund Freud. In 1920, she was part of the teaching staff at the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute. 

She boldly challenged many of Freud’s conclusions especially about women. She emphasized the impact of environment and social biases in shaping a person’s personality. Rejecting the Freudian idea of penis envy, Horney countered with the idea of womb envy where men are actually jealous of women for being able to give and sustain life through pregnancy, childbirth, nursing, and motherhood which is why men needed to feel superior in other areas of society. She argued that many of the psychological disturbances found in women were directly caused by the environment of a sexist society and influences of male-dominated culture.

In 1932, she moved to Chicago and became director of the Institute for Psychoanalysis. In 1934, she moved to New York and returned to private practice and teaching. She wrote several major theoretical works on personality disorders and neuroses which are still influential today. Because she challenged many of Freud’s ideas she was kicked out of the New York Psychoanalytic Institute in 1941, but went on to found the Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis. Shortly before her death, she founded the Karen Horney Foundation which became the Karen Horney Clinic in New York City which still provides affordable psychoanalytic and psycho therapeutic services and advanced training for graduate studies.

Excerpt from the Mission Statement of the Karen Horney Clinic: “She [Horney] was convinced that therapy geared at understanding and outgrowing difficulties would result in restoring a person to a path of personal self-realization. This basic philosophy is the guiding principle of all Clinic services. It is the foundation from which patients gain an understanding of themselves, develop the capacity to grow and change, and enrich their lives. The staff of the Clinic conducts treatment with the underlying conviction that each person has the inherent capacity to improve one’s life and become increasingly warm, spontaneous, joyful, and unafraid.”

Leta Stetter Hollingworth (1886-1939) credited the one-room schoolhouse in rural Nebraska as having given her an excellent individualized education. By 15, she was studying literature at the University of Nebraska and obtained a teaching certificate since that was one of the few jobs readily available to women. She met and married Columbia graduate, Harry Hollingsworth who persuaded her to move to New York. Seeing as New York City did not hire married women as teachers, she continued her studies at Columbia and went on to earn her Masters in Education in 1913.

She was very interested in educational psychology. In 1914, she was hired to administer Binet intelligence tests at the Clearing House for Mental Defectives. She became New York City's first civil service psychologist and was hired to run the psychological lab at Bellevue Hospital.

She continued with her Ph.D. from Columbia and her dissertation focused on dispelling the common beliefs that women had “functional periodicity” which was an unproven assumption that women were less capable of functioning during menstruation. She also took on the popular idea of the “variability hypothesis” which stated that men had a far wider range of variability in intelligence and ability meaning that men could be incredibly intelligent or incredibly non-intelligent. Women, being less variable, were relegated to only be able to achieve mediocrity. Her mentor, E.L. Thorndyke, was originally a supporter of the “variability hypothesis'' but was so impressed by Hollingsworth’s research and findings that he offered her a job at Columbia Teachers College. In addition to her teaching position, she went on to do significant research with gifted children and intelligence research. 

The Karen Horney Clinic in New York City

Hollingsworth’s 1914 Paper on “Functional Periodicity”

Back to Top