I met Lawrence Jacob Friedman in 1980 when I entered the American Culture PhD Program at Bowling Green State University where he then taught as a professor in the History Department. Given the interdisciplinary nature of this program, I completed coursework in both English and History, although my focus was always on the history and culture of American childhood. I took several seminars from Larry, including one on Robert Coles’ Children of Crisis (1968). Larry directed my dissertation, which evolved into my first book, Children, Culture and Controversy (1988). I dedicated this book to Larry. Although I pursued a career as an English professor, I have continuously followed Larry’s career as a historian.

The Making of a Historian

Larry was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1940. Both of his parents were Jewish and members of the Communist Party, so he grew up in a politically active family. Even as a teenager, Larry disliked the dogmatism of the Communist Party, but he shared his parents’ abhorrence of Joseph McCarthy and his ilk. Larry’s parents admired the writings of the Jewish humorist Harry Golden, and they owned a copy of his Only in America (1958). Larry read this book and was influenced by Golden’s support of the civil rights movement. His parents also had The Family of Man, which is based on a photographic exhibition that opened in 1955, sponsored by the Museum of Modern Art. Larry was moved by the photographs in this book, and he still counts it among his favorites. His family moved to California when Larry was a child, but he often spent his summers in Cleveland with his grandfather. Larry and his grandfather went to baseball games together, and this experience contributed to Larry’s lifelong passion for baseball.

Larry’s formal education had a rocky start. As a boy, he did not initially like school, but he had a teacher who introduced him to Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). Larry’s positive response to this novel helped him become more engaged in

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his studies. When he entered the University of California, Riverside, his goal was to become a lawyer, but he ended up focusing on American history. He went to graduate school to study history at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he earned both his MA (1965) and PhD (1967). Among his most memorable experiences as a student were the days he spent as a young Freedom Rider in the American South during the early days of the civil rights movement. These experiences left an indelible mark, causing him to ponder the reasons behind racism.


Larry’s first book, The White Savage: Racial Fantasies in the Postbellum South (1970), came out while he was an assistant professor of history at Arizona State University. In The White Savage, he delves into the psychological motivations of White Southerners who were invested in suppressing African Americans in the initial decades after the Civil War. Although Larry does not make many specific references to psychoanalytic theorists, he draws on psychoanalytic concepts, such as projection. As he thoroughly documents in the book, some White Southerners projected their own aggressive and libidinal impulses onto African Americans, and this response influenced their racist attitudes toward African Americans.

Larry joined the faculty of the History Department at Bowling Green State University in 1971 as an associate professor. In 1975, he published his second book, Inventors of the Promised Land. This book delves into the origins of the “patriotic crusade” following the end of the American Revolutionary War. Although this book is a work of intellectual history, Larry explores the psychological motivations of the people who led this patriotic crusade. In fact, this approach is reflected in the title of the book’s first section: “Outward Hope and Inner Torment: The Dilemmas of the Patriotic Crusader.” Not long after the publication of this book, Larry was promoted to the position of Full Professor of History and American Studies.

Larry’s interest in combining history and psychology is also reflected in Gregarious Saints: Self and Community in American Abolitionism, 1830-1870, which Cambridge University Press published in 1982. He was completing this book when I first met him, so I heard him talk about it on several occasions before it actually saw print. When Larry discussed this book, he often mentioned that he drew on theories related to social psychology, the psychology

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of self, and group psychology when writing it. I specifically remember him mentioning Heinz Kohut’s The Analysis of the Self (1971) during one of these discussions. In this book, Larry shows that for some abolitionists, their sense of self was tied to their interactions as members of the abolitionist community. He shows, for example, how the dynamics of social psychology played a role in the willingness of some abolitionists to advocate violence as a tool to end slavery.

Around the same period that Larry was completing Gregarious Saints, he developed a more focused interest in psychological theorists, which led him to study psychoanalytic theory at the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas. In August 1981, he took a sabbatical leave and signed up for the Menninger Interdisciplinary Studies Program. While he was there, he met Karl Menninger, and they often engaged in long conversations about history, literature, and the evolution of the Menninger Foundation. Larry ended up co-dedicating Gregarious Saints to Karl Menninger. Larry’s experiences at the Menninger Foundation and his relationship with Karl resulted in a significant shift in Larry’s career as a historian. Up until this point, he focused most of his scholarship on 19th century American history, but he decided to focus his next book on the history of the Menninger Foundation.

This decision rippled through to me. At this point, I was completing my dissertation under Larry’s direction, and I was looking for full-time employment. The archivist position at the Menninger Foundation was vacant at the time, and Larry suggested that I apply for it. I did, and I got the position. From 1983 until June of 1984, I served as the Menninger Foundation’s official archivist; in this capacity, I helped Larry while he was conducting some of the archival research for his book Menninger: The Family and the Clinic, which Knopf published in 1990. Even though I had already taken courses from Larry and had read some of his scholarship, this was the first time that I saw his research process up close. I remember being very impressed with his thoroughness. When Larry was critiquing the chapters of my dissertation, he often asked: “Where’s your evidence?” Watching him do the research for his Menninger book, I came to understand how much he values evidence-based claims. He read thousands of letters written by Karl Menninger and other people associated with the place, and he examined the records from meetings going back to the very beginnings of the Menninger Clinic. If he could not find a letter or a

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document, he sent me on a mission to locate it. In the end, he spent years collecting and analyzing evidence.

In researching and writing Menninger: The Family and the Clinic, Larry moved in a new direction in terms of combining history and psychology. Instead of using psychological concepts and theories to help explain the behavior of people from the past, he decided to use his skills and insights as a historian to shed light on the evolution of a psychiatric hospital and the family behind it. During this process, he showed how psychological concepts and theories are shaped in part by historical events. One of my favorite examples is the chapter titled “Karl Menninger and the Émigrés.” In this chapter, Larry discusses the relationship between Menninger and a group of mostly Jewish psychoanalysts who were fleeing Europe as a result of the rise of Nazism. Menninger recruited a number of these European émigrés and offered them positions in Topeka. These émigrés brought with them psychoanalytic concepts that were not yet widely accepted in America. As Larry documents, this page from the history of the Menninger Foundation helps explain why Topeka became a center for the promulgation of psychoanalytic theories in America. The publication of Menninger: The Family and the Clinic served as a turning point in Larry’s career. Most of his earlier publications focused on American history during the 19th century, but with Menninger, he turned his attention to the 20th century. The success of this book also played a role in Larry being named a Distinguished University Professor in 1991.

Larry’s ongoing interest in the relationship between European and American psychoanalytic communities led him to Erik H. Erikson, the topic of his next book project. His work on this coincided with his move to the History Department at Indiana University where he taught from 1993 until 2009. Taking the same thorough research approach that he did with Menninger, Larry spent ten years traveling between Europe and America investigating how Erikson made the transition from being a young psychoanalyst from Vienna named Erik Homburger to becoming Erik Erikson, America’s preeminent psychoanalytic theorist and writer. The result of this research is Identity’s Architect: A Biography of Erik H. Erikson, which Harvard University Press published in 1999.

Given my interest in the history and culture of childhood, I particularly like Larry’s two chapters that deal with the writing and impact of Erikson’s Childhood and Society. Larry was the one who first introduced me to Childhood and Society when I was a graduate

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student, and I have shared this book with many of my graduate students over the course of my career. Larry explains how this book grew out of Erikson’s experiences in Boston and New Haven during the late 1930s. He shows the connections between Erikson’s efforts to establish a new identity as an American and his thoughts about identity formation. In other words, Larry explains how the formulation of a psychological concept of identity formation is rooted in historical events. But he does not stop there; he goes on to discuss how the concept of identity formation took root in American psychological circles.

Toward the end of Identity’s Architect, Larry discusses Erikson’s role as a public intellectual during the 1960s. As Larry points out, Erikson regularly spoke out during this period on pressing political issues, such as the Vietnam War. Erikson drew on his background in psychology in his work as a public intellectual, and this intrigued Larry. Larry’s interest in how psychoanalysts and psychologists sometimes function as public intellectuals is reflected in his most recent book, The Lives of Erich Fromm: Love’s Prophet, which Columbia University Press published in 2013. In many ways, Identity’s Architect and The Lives of Erich Fromm are sister volumes. Both are biographies of prominent psychoanalysts who grew up in Europe and then moved to America as young men. In both of these biographies, Larry delves into the social forces that shaped these men and discusses the lasting impact of their writings. However, in The Lives of Erich Fromm, Larry shows how Fromm embraced the role of a public intellectual.

Larry’s biography of Fromm includes several chapters that deal with Fromm’s interest in political issues. As Larry points out, Fromm set out to shape political discourse by writing overtly political works such as Escape from Freedom (1941) and The Sane Society (1955). Larry also demonstrates that Fromm drew on his psychological insights when advising political leaders, such as President John F. Kennedy. In writing The Lives of Erich Fromm, Larry shows yet another way in which history and psychology can speak to each other. Through his scholarship on Fromm, Larry provides an intriguing example of how psychoanalysts and psychologists can shape the course of history through direct involvement in the political sphere.

Conference on Public Intellectuals

Shortly after retiring from Indiana University in 2009, Larry moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts. He began teaching in

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Harvard’s Interdisciplinary Mind, Brain, and Behavior program as well as serving as a visiting scholar in Harvard’s History of Science Department. In April 2009, Harvard’s Department of the History of Science sponsored an event titled “Ideas, History, and Political Action: A Conference in Honor of Lawrence J. Friedman.” As expressed in the official program, “This conference brings together Larry’s many former students, friends, fellow political activists, and colleagues in a celebration of his career.” I attended and presented a paper titled “Theodore Roosevelt as a Reader and Promoter of Children’s Literature.” This conference was a tremendous success. Afterward, Larry and several of the participants decided to make the conference an annual event, and so the Conference on Public Intellectuals was born. Larry served as the director of the conference, but he needed some help with the conference logistics. I ended up playing this role. These conferences met annually through 2017.

During the Public Intellectuals conferences, Larry often spoke about his new research project on the One World Movement. I always enjoyed hearing Larry’s presentations and talking with him afterward about his research on the various people associated with the One World Movement, including Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and E. B. White. I know that Larry wants so badly to finish his One World book, and I know that our fractured world would be a better place if we all had access to Larry’s insights into the dangers of hyper-nationalism. Those of us who were lucky enough to have heard Larry talk about this project are already wiser for it.


Over the course of his career, Larry has made lasting contributions to American history, psychobiography, and psychohistory, but there is more to his career than his long string of impressive publications. As one of his former students, I know that Larry is also an excellent teacher. He asks his students hard questions, encourages them to transcend disciplinary boundaries, and insists that they engage in primary research. As one of his collaborators at the Conference on Public Intellectuals, I know that Larry has a deep commitment to civic engagement and political action. He is a first-rate scholar, but he is also an activist. Larry is now in his 80s, but he still holds to the values that led him to be a Freedom Rider when he was a young man in the 1960s. As one of Larry’s friends, I know that Larry has made my life richer, but I am not alone. Having

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read the contributions to this Festschrift, I am pleased to learn that Larry has made a positive difference in the lives of many people.

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Mark I. West

Mark I. West, PhD, is Professor of English, as well as the recent Chair of the Department of English at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where he has taught since 1984. In addition to performing administrative duties, he regularly teaches courses on children’s and young adult literature. He has written or edited 19 books, the most recent of which is Theodore Roosevelt and His Library at Sagamore Hill (2022). Before entering academia, he worked as an early childhood educator and professional puppeteer. His email address is .

How to Cite This:

West, M. I. (2023). Essays in honor of Lawrence J. Friedman. In M. I. West, P. H. Elovitz, & N. D’Andria (Eds.), Lawrence Jacob Friedman Festschrift. Clio’s Psyche, 29(3), 260-266

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