In 1931, N. Lionel Blitzsten founded the Chicago Psychoanalytic Society. The other initial members were Karl Menninger, Thomas French, Helen McLean, Margaret Gerard, and Leo Bartemeier. Women have played a major role in the Society over the years. It is notable that, even in an era during which women were largely excluded from professional life, two of the founding members were women. Today, in 2022, as this brief history is being written, the current president is a woman, Lucy Freund.
Blitzsten was the central figure in the pre-history of the Society. He became interested in psychoanalysis as early as 1915 when in medical school. In the 1920s, he studied psychoanalysis in Europe and had psychoanalyses with Otto Rank, a member of Sigmund Freud’s inner circle, and Franz Alexander, a young psychiatrist who was a favorite pupil of Freud’s. Back in Chicago, he became a psychiatry faculty member at Northwestern University Medical School and maintained a private practice. He was listed as a Training Analyst under the auspices of the International Psychoanalytic Association. For several years, he was the only psychoanalyst west of New York City. He formed a study group not only for psychiatrists but also for academics, students, artists, and writers. Karl Menninger described it as “a kind of salon which was often distinguished by wit and brilliant discussion in which [Blitzsten] was always at the center.” The Chicago Psychoanalytic Society was a successor of the study group.
In 1932, a group of Chicago city leaders, many who had been influenced by Blitzsten, founded the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis (renamed the Chicago Psychoanalytic Institute in 2018). Alexander, who had been Blitzsten’s analyst in Berlin, served as the original Director of the Institute, and continued in that position until 1955. The Institute’s main function is providing training programs for psychoanalysts and psychoanalytic psychotherapists, and it also offers various services, such as a clinic. The Chicago Psychoanalytic Society is an independent institution, separate from the Institute. The Society specializes in organizing presentations for psychoanalysts, psychotherapists, and the general public. The Society complements the Institute by both providing activities that support the Institute’s educational mission and maintaining a separate voice for psychoanalysis in Chicago. Many Society members are also faculty members at the Institute. The Society is affiliated with the American Psychoanalytic Association, and in the past all or almost all of the Society’s members were members of the Association. The Society in recent years has been reaching out to all in the Chicago community interested in psychoanalysis, and now a large percentage of the members are independent of the Chicago Psychoanalytic Institute and the American Psychoanalytic Association.
From the beginning, the Society has selected its Presidents for short terms, usually two years. As a result, fresh ideas continually infuse the Society. A number of the psychoanalysts most influential not only in Chicago but nationally and internationally have served in that position, including Karl Menninger, Joan Fleming, Roy Grinker, Heinz Kohut, Irene Josselyn, John Gedo, Therese Benedek, David Terman, George Moraitis, Jeffrey Stern, and Arnold Goldberg.
For more than 90 years the Society has played a vital role in invigorating psychoanalysis in the Chicago area.
References: M. Gitelson, “N. Lionel Blitzsten 1893-1952,” Bulletin of the Amer. Psychoanalytic Assoc., 1953, 90: 189-192. J. Kavka, “Fifty Years of Psychoanalysis in Chicago,” in Psychoanalysis: The Vital Issues, 1984. R. P. Knight, N. Lionel Blitzsten: Psychoanalyst, Teacher, Friend, 1961. K. Schechter, Illusions of a Future, 2014.