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I Want to be Hedda Bolgar When I Grow Up

Having watched a number of my relatives slide not-so-gracefully into senescence and madness, the prospect of old age is rather daunting to me. But if I could be as sharp as Hedda Bolgar is now, should I make it to her great age, then the prospect is a good deal less grim.

So who is Hedda Bolgar? Someone well worth knowing:

Hedda Bolgar was born in Switzerland on August 19, 1909. She was the only child of two influential parents; her father was a top ranking military official and her mother was the first female journalist in Switzerland. Her family’s political position was considered controversial, as her mother was a war correspondent in Budapest during World War I and her father was involved in aiding the start of the Russian Revolution.

Bolgar completed her Ph.D. at the University of Vienna in Austria in 1934, taking courses with Karl and Charlotte Bühler, the group of psychoanalysts surrounding Freud, and members of the Vienna Circle (Wiener Kreis).

Right there is enough information to let you know she’s somebody special. Both of her parents were pathbreakers and pioneers — revolutionaries, in fact — and she came of age mentally in the intellectually nourishing environment of “Red Vienna”, so named because it was under Social Democratic control at the time, its first democratically-elected government.

But there is more, much more:

In the mid-1930s, Bolgar and Liselotte Fischer, who were close friends as well as psychodynamically oriented clinicians, collaborated with one another to develop the “Little World Test” (also known as the “Bolgar-Fischer World Test”). The test was developed as a nonverbal projective instrument through which a clinician could observe symbolic representations of human motivation, selection and creative behavior.

In 1938 at the age of 28, Bolgar was forced to flee Vienna because of World War II. As a strong public critic of the Nazi regime and being actively involved in anti-Nazi politics, she feared for her life and left on the very day of Hitler’s arrival. Upon arriving in the United States, Bolgar began a postdoctoral fellowship at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago, in order to receive her analytic training. At the time, she was the only woman in the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago. While living in the Midwest, she gave training workshops in the use of the “Little World Test.”

Leaving Chicago, Bolgar moved to New York for a couple of years. Once there, she arranged for her family and fiancé to immigrate to the United States. Unfortunately, she was unable to help her future in-laws, who perished in concentration camps at Auschwitz. Bolgar then moved to Los Angeles and gained employment as a psychoanalyst/psychologist. In 1970, she cofounded the Los Angeles Institute and Society for Psychoanalytic Studies because she felt that Los Angeles offered insufficient training for analysts.

Her husband passed away in 1973 after 33 years of marriage. One year later, in 1974, Bolgar founded the Wright Institute in Los Angeles, a nonprofit mental health training and service center that includes the Hedda Bolgar Psychotherapy Clinic, which treats people who can’t afford quality mental health services elsewhere.

At 100+ years old, Hedda Bolgar remains a practicing psychoanalyst who sees patients four days a week and teaches on the fifth day.

Whew! The first forty years of her life would make a stunning biography all by themselves. But she has lived for another sixty-plus years beyond that, and not just sitting around idly, either.

Thank you for being with us for so long, Dr. Bolgar. May you continue to be hale and sound of mind for as long as you desire.

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