Bleuler, Pauline
First name:
Anna Pauline
19th century
20th century
Field of expertise:
Place of birth:
Zollikon (CHE)
* 01.01.1852
† 01.01.1926
Biography print

Piano teacher, sister of Eugen Bleuler.


Anna Pauline Bleuler (1852-1926) was the first-born child of Hans Rudolf Bleuler, a Swiss farmer and silk merchant, and his wife, Pauline Bleuler. She grew up in a large family at the family homestead in Zollikon, near Zurich, together with her five-year-younger brother Eugen, who became the most prominent Swiss psychiatrist of the 20th century.


Bleuler had a talent for music and worked as a piano teacher from 1870 onwards. She experienced the first serious episodes of mental crisis and symptoms around the year of 1872 at the parental homestead. She was treated at the cantonal asylum in Breitenau (Schaffhausen) and – probably in 1874 or 1876 – at Burghölzli, the University of Zurich’s psychiatric clinic, but otherwise lived with her family and was looked after by a nurse. Scharfetter (2006: 44) describes Bleuler’s symptoms as “chronified catatonic mutism”. However, nothing is known about the early or the last years of her life due to her clinical history missing from the records.


Walter Letsch (2013: 250) studied letters written by Bleuler’s relatives. In November of 1877, her aunt Louise wrote: “During the last days, Pauline smashed the mirror and some windows, she sent off Mathilde: ‘Go home, we don’t need you.’ Pauline spends most of her time in bed.” In February of 1878, she noted: “Pauline is doing better this week, her nastiness had become absolutely unbearable; it required no less than three people to feed or dress her, for instance, father [Theodor Bleuler] had to restrain her hands, Emilie [Pauline’s nurse] held her by the head or the hair to prevent her from biting; in short, we had to be happy if she just spat at us. She twice hurled the night commode at those seeking to escape, but it shattered to pieces and was then nailed to the floor. Now she is calmer again, so Emilie can stay in the room again” (our translation). At times she was force-fed by her brother, as her father described in March, 1878: “Pauline is not doing any better, she refused to eat for some time, so we had to feed her daily by means of a device infusing milk and eggs through her nose into her stomach. Eugen [then a third-semester medical student] learned this technique from Dr Brunner [probably the family doctor] and has performed it in a masterly manner ever since” (our translation).


Eugen Bleuler himself provided further information in his 1881 work on synaesthetic perception (Zwangsmässige Lichtempfindungen durch Schall und verwandte Erscheinungen auf dem Gebiete der andern Sinnesempfindungen), published together with his friend Karl Bernhard Lehmann shortly before graduating from medical school. He sought to prove that synaesthetic phenomena are hereditary but non-pathological. Apparently, both he and his sister experienced chromesthesia (sound-to-colour synaesthesia). The study comprises 596 individual case histories and presents Anna Pauline Bleuler as “Case No. 75” with a very good musical education and “photisms related to vowels and words”. Further details were “unknown” due to the interviewee being “currently mentally insane”(cf. Apelt-Riel 2009: 14). According to Apelt-Riel, Bleuler attributed the synaesthesia to maternal inheritance, while assuming an additional “non-specified ‘psychopathic predisposition’” that his sister was supposed to have inherited from the father’s side. This hypothesis, untenable from a modern point of view, could be seen as a “compensatory defence mechanism” against the fear of hereditary mental disorder – a fear that may have been habitual in the Bleuler family (ibid.).


Some years later, in April of 1898, Eugen Bleuler became director at Burghölzli clinic. Both parents died the same year and he took care of his sister, first at the clinic and later at his official residence. During his time as a guest student at Burghölzli (Nov 1907 – Feb 1908), the American psychoanalyst Abraham Arden Brill was able to observe Anna Pauline Bleuler. He later recalled: “When I was in Zurich, Bleuler used to tell us that we could influence even the worst catatonics by suggestion. He gave his own sister as an example. She lived in his home in the hospital, and from my room across the hall I could see her walking to and fro monotonously all day long. Bleuler’s children were quite young and they seemed to pay no attention to her presence. When they wanted to climb anywhere they would use her as though she were an inanimate object, like a chair. She emanated no effort and the children had no affective relationship with her. Bleuler once had occasion to move her when she was in an acute state of excitement. He did not want to use force, and he thought he would try suggestion. He told us that he worked on her hour after hour, talking to her and urging her, and at last she dressed and went along with him. Bleuler cited that as evidence that you can do it” (1946: 24 f.).


We may assume that Eugen Bleuler’s 1903-born son Manfred, who later succeeded his father as director at Burghölzli, was among said children. The latter rarely mentioned his aunt in his scientific publications (Scharfetter 2006: 45) but did so in notes meant for his own children: “At a later stage, Pauline’s disorder expressed itself in the way that she remained more or less mute and absolutely passive; yet, looked after by a minor case patient, she was easy to handle. She also joined the family meals and my father always attended to her with great care” (cf. Letsch 2013: 250; see also, Joos-Bleuler 2011).


Nothing is known about Anna Pauline Bleuler’s later life. However, her fate can be assumed to have had a crucial influence on Eugen Bleuler’s choice of career (cf. Hell 2001: 24 f.). His experiences as a care-giving relative may also have contributed to his later eugenic views as well as to his interpretive concept of mental disorder and his stance on therapy.



Apelt-Riel, S. (2009): Der Briefwechsel zwischen Ludwig Binswanger und Eugen Bleuler von 1907 - 1939 im Spannungsfeld von Psychoanalyse und Psychiatrie in der ersten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts. Inaugural-Dissertation zur Erlangung des Doktorgrades der Medizin der Medizinischen Fakultät der Eberhard-Karls-Universität zu Tübingen.

Bleuler, E., K. H. Lehmann (1881): Zwangsmässige Lichtempfindungen durch Schall und verwandte Erscheinungen auf dem Gebiete der andern Sinnesempfindungen. Leipzig: Fues.

Brill, A. A. (1946): Lectures on Psychoanalytic Psychiatry. New York: Vintage Books 1955.

Hell, D. (2001): Eugen Bleulers Herkunft, Kindheit und Jugend – Hintergrund für seine Lehre. In: D. Hell, C. Scharfetter, A. Möller (eds.): Eugen Bleuler – Leben und Werk. Bern: Huber, pp. 19-27.

Hell, D. (2012): Herkunft, Kindheit und Jugend. In: R. Mösli (ed.): Eugen Bleuler – Pionier der Psychiatrie. Zurich: Römerhof, pp. 15-28.

Joos-Bleuler, T. (2011): Being a Member of the Bleuler Family. In: Schizophrenia Bulletin 37, (6), pp. 1115-1117.

Letsch, W. (2013): Eugen Bleulers Herkunft und Jugendzeit. In: Schweizer Archiv für Neurologie und Psychiatrie 164, (7), pp. 236-251.

Scharfetter, C. (2006): Eugen Bleuler 1857-1939. Polyphrenie und Schizophrenie. Zürich: vdf Hochschulverlag.


Burkhart Brückner


Photo: unknown (Zolliker Jahrheft 2011) / Source: Wikimedia / [public domain]. 


Referencing format
Burkhart Brückner (2015): Bleuler, Pauline.
In: Biographisches Archiv der Psychiatrie.
(retrieved on:21.06.2024)