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Akhtar, S. (2000). Selma Kramer (1920–2000). Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 81(6):1231-1233.

(2000). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 81(6):1231-1233

Selma Kramer (1920–2000)

Salman Akhtar

Selma Kramer, the renowned child psychoanalyst and the pre-eminent exponent of Mahler's separation-individuation theory, died in Philadelphia on 9 January, 2000. She was just a few months short of her 80th birthday at the time of her death.

Selma was born on 27 April, 1920, in Philadelphia. She was the second of the three children of Morris and Jennie Kramer. Her sister, Carolyn, was three years older and her brother, Morton, was five years younger than she. Selma's parents' household was a conventional, middle-class, Jewish one. Her father ran a pharmacy and her mother, a part-time piano teacher, worked alongside her husband, ‘the doc’, in a café that was added to the pharmacy during the Depression years. Selma frequently spent long afternoons in the pharmacy and this had a significant impact upon her. In her own words: ‘Growing up in my father's pharmacy taught me to become a quiet observer and listener, because of the multitude of interesting things I could take note of, as long as adults did not discover my curiosity’.

Two other factors channelled this curiosity towards the field of medicine. First was her beloved grandmother's death during her childhood. Second was her brother's bout of meningitis, which left him deaf when she was 9. Selma's burgeoning curiosity as a youngster thus became coupled with compassion (especially marked towards her brother). Early exposure to anti-Semitism (an elementary school-teacher told her that she did not know that Jewish girls could be that smart) also sensitised her to the emotional aftermath of facing injustice and cruelty.

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