Margaret Schönberger Mahler Biography

Margaret Schönberger Mahler (May 10, 1897 – October 2, 1985) was a Hungarian physician, who later became interested in psychiatry. She was a central figure on the world stage of psychoanalysis. Her main interest was in normal childhood development, but she spent much of her time with psychiatric children and how they arrive at the "self." Mahler developed the Separation-Individuation theory of child development.

Margaret Schönberger was born on 10 May 1897 into a Jewish family in Sopron, a small town in western Hungary. She and a younger sister had a difficult childhood as a result of their parents' troubled marriage. Margaret's father, however, encouraged her to excel in mathematics and other sciences. After completing the High School for Daughters, she attended Vaci Utcai Gimnazium in Budapest, even though it was unusual at the time for a woman to continue formal education. Budapest was of great influence on her life and career. She met the influential Hungarian psychoanalyst Sándor Ferenczi, became fascinated by the concept of the unconscious, and was encouraged to read Sigmund Freud.

In September 1916, Schönberger began Art History studies at the University of Budapest, but in January 1917 she switched to Medical School. Three semesters later she began medical training at the University of Munich, but was forced to leave because of tensions toward Jews. In spring 1920 she transferred to the University of Jena and it was there that she began to realize how important play and love were for infants in order for them to grow up mentally and physically healthy. Schönberger graduated cum laude in 1922. She left for Vienna to get her license to practice medicine. There she turned from pediatrics to psychiatry and, in 1926, started her training analysis with Helene Deutsch. Seven years later, Margaret was accepted as an analyst. Schönberger loved working with children; it was her passion. She loved the way the children gave her their attention and showed their joy in cooperating with her.

In 1936 she married Paul Mahler. Following the Nazis' rise to power, the couple moved to Britain and then, in 1938, to the United States. After receiving a New York medical license, Schönberger Mahler set up private practice in a basement and began to rebuild her clientele. In 1939 she met Benjamin Spock and, after giving a child analysis seminar in 1940, she became senior teacher of child analysis. She joined the Institute of Human Development, the Educational Institute and the New York Psychoanalytic Society. In 1948 she worked on clinical studies on Benign and Malignant Cases of Childhood Psychosis.

Barnard College, at its 1980 commencement ceremonies, awarded Schönberger Mahler its highest honor, the Barnard Medal of Distinction.

Schönberger Mahler died on October 2, 1985.