Lost ashes of psychology pioneer Adler to return to Austria

Alfred AdlerAlfred Adler, one of the founders of the psychoanalytic movement along with Sigmund Freud, had a heart attack in 1937 while he was in Scotland giving a series of lectures at the University of Aberdeen and died. His family asked that he be cremated and the Warriston Crematorium in Edinburgh did the honors. (The only cremation facilities in the country back then were in Edinburgh and Glasgow, so he couldn’t be cremated in Aberdeen.)

The funeral was held in Aberdeen first, and although the family were in attendance along with the university’s finest, they lost track of the body when the casket was sent south for cremation. When nobody picked them up, the ashes remained in Warriston’s wood-panelled gallery, unnoticed and unremarked, until 2007.

In 2007, the Society for Individual Psychology, the institute founded by Adler in his native Vienna in 1912 after his split with Freud, asked the honorary Austrian consul to Scotland, John Clifford, to try to find Adler’s ashes. He started the search in Aberdeen, where he found there were no local crematoria. He moved on to Edinburgh searching the records of Seafield Crematorium to no avail, then moving on to Warriston. There he found Alfred Adler listed in the records and one of the staff brought him right to the ashes.

So there was really no mix up or loss of the urn. It’s just that nobody in his family, scholars, colleagues or anybody but the Warriston people knew where the ashes were being kept.

Now arrangements have finally been made for an official hand-over of the ashes. Tomorrow, April 19th, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, George Grubb, with Mr. Clifford and members of the Society for Individual Psychology in attendance, will give Alfred Adler’s ashes to the Austrian ambassador. The ashes will then be re-interred in a grave of honor at the Central Cemetery of Vienna.

Adler was born in Vienna in 1870. He and Sigmund Freud co-founded the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society in 1911. However, their association did not last. Freud called Adler’s idea too contrary and presented all member of the VPS with an ultimatum: drop Adler or be expelled from the society. Adler took his ball and founded the Society for Free Psychoanalysis, renamed in 1913 the Society for Individual Psychology.

There Adler would develop his most famous concept, the inferiority complex, and would advocate a co-operative, democratic approach to child-rearing and the importance of the equality of the sexes, very much unlike Freud. He thought feelings of superiority and inferiority often displayed themselves in gendered terms, and compensating for these feelings then led to psychological and sociological problems. Also unlike Freud, Adler believed psychological theories could be utilized pragmatically by anyone who was interested, not just by professionals behind the desk.