Gertrude Joan Aull (1910 - 1993)
by Laurence J. Nolan, Wagner College
In 1956, Gertrude Joan Aull was named the first chair of the newly formed psychology department at Wagner College in New York City. The department had three members; Aull was the only woman and held the only doctorate. Four years prior, Aull had published the only English language translation of the Hungarian psychoanalyst Lipot Szondi’s Experimental Diagnostics of Drives, which described his controversial psychoanalytic theory of familial genetic unconscious and his controversial “Szondi test” to a skeptical American audience. She had also recently completed her graduate studies in Gestalt psychology at the New School for Social Research. Aull shaped the curriculum at Wagner for generations of students and was active in New York psychoanalytic circles for decades.
Aull was born in Offenbach, Germany, in 1910. In 1930, she enrolled at the University of Kiel to study law and then in 1931 went on to study at the University of Berlin. It was at Berlin where she picked up studies in psychology: on her résumé she states that she studied at the university’s Psychologisches Institute (1934-1935) where the co-founder of Gestalt psychology Wolfgang Köhler was director. She left Berlin for Vienna in 1935 to escape the Nazi regime (while raised Protestant, she and her husband each had one Jewish parent). At the University of Vienna she studied psychology and psychoanalysis. When Germany annexed Austria in 1938, they and their infant daughter fled to Italy where they remained for two years until transport to the United States was arranged with help from the American Friends Service Committee.
After living briefly in Indiana and New Jersey (where she worked in a Newark war plant soldering electronic equipment), Aull resumed her studies in psychology by enrolling in the New School for Social Research in New York where the “University in Exile” had been founded in 1933 to house mostly Jewish refugee faculty from Nazi-occupied Europe. Many prominent psychologists such as Max Wertheimer, Solomon Asch, and Mary Henle were there. Indeed, in her Wagner College personnel file, Aull reported that she was a research assistant for Asch (1946-1947). While a student, Aull taught psychology at City College of New York (1947-1950). She earned her MA in psychology in 1950 under the supervision of the Gestalt psychologist Henle and in it demonstrated the value of collecting introspective data to complement observation of behavior (Henle & Aull, 1953).
In 1950 Aull also began teaching psychology in the education department at Wagner College which had been founded in 1883 by Lutheran ministers and still had a number of German faculty members. At that time (according to the college Bulletin), almost 20 percent of Wagner’s faculty were women. She was promoted to associate professor in 1956 and to full professor in 1957 (of 22 faculty holding that rank, 3 were women by 1958). At Wagner, Aull developed the psychological testing course (still required of students today) which emphasized both theory and application and a course entitled “Perception, Learning & Motivation” which was Gestalt in its emphasis. From 1954 to 1958 Aull also served as what she called a “guidance counselor” to Wagner College students while acquiring additional psychoanalytic training. She completed her doctorate in psychology in 1954; her dissertation was entitled “Sentence completion testing: A descriptive analysis” in which she described Helen Block Lewis as her advisor. Lewis was a social psychologist who later became a psychoanalyst and worked for the integration of psychology and psychoanalysis (Singer, 1988).
In 1958, Aull left Wagner to recover from an illness and then went into private practice as a psychoanalyst. By doing so, she followed in the footsteps of a recent wave of American women psychoanalysts who, while similar in age to Aull, had mostly trained as physicians, not had academic careers, and (although many had trained in Europe) had not been war refugees (Thompson, 2001). Unlike these women, but like other non-physicians, Aull could not train in institutes affiliated with the American Psychoanalytic Association. She reported in the 1965 Who’s Who of American Women that she was in “private practice as a psychoanalyst” and an affiliate of the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis (NPAP) from 1955. NPAP was founded in New York by Theodor Reik to train non-physician psychoanalysts. Aull remained in private practice for 30 years. In 1962, she became training supervisor at the Metropolitan Center for Mental Health, a center founded that year to provide affordable mental health services to the community. Aull was appointed a senior associate of the Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Studies in New York in 1971. Aull’s clinical publications suggest that she was willing to experiment with unconventional techniques such as the use of “dual therapy” (Aull & Kew, 1966) and use of therapist silence as an intervention (Aull & Strean, 1967). Aull died in Greenwich Village, New York City in 1993.
Aull, G., & Kew, C.E. (1966). Treatment by two therapists. The Pastoral Counselor, 4, 23-30.
Aull, G., & Strean, H.S. (1967). The analyst’s silence. The Psychoanalytic Forum, 2, 71-87.
Henle, M., & Aull, G. (1953). Factors decisive for resumption of interrupted activities: The question reopened. Psychological Review, 60, 81-88.
Singer, J. L. (1988). Psychoanalytic theory in the context of contemporary psychology: The Helen Block Lewis memorial address. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 5, 95-125.
Thompson, N. L. (2001). American women psychoanalysts 1911-1941. The Annual of Psychoanalysis, 29, 161-177.