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"Acting out the Oedipal wish": father-daughter incest and the sexuality of adolescent girls in the United States, 1941-1965.

The historical consensus on father-daughter incest during the postwar years in the United States is that it was fully and effectively denied--by social workers, courts of law, criminologists, psychoanalysts, social scientists, and ultimately the public at large. (1) Sociologists defined incest "as a rare sexual perversion, a one-in-a million occurrence," while the American Bar Association, on the advice of the psychiatric profession, informed judges that women and children "often lie" about sexual abuse and that therefore they could not be trusted. (2) Psychoanalysts and anthropologists, following the lead of Sigmund Freud and Claude Levi Strauss, characterized the incest taboo as "effective and total" and hence unworthy of attention. (3) The assembled picture is of a seamless refusal to engage with the reality of incest, a virtual "silence" created by the disbelief of children's claims and the suppression of information. (4) Psychoanalysis has long been viewed as chiefly culpable; indeed the widespread influence of psychoanalysis is thought to have been an ethical disaster for the social services. (5) Once the psychoanalytic perspective on childhood fantasy, particularly Oedipal fantasy, began to influence social workers and child serving agencies, allegations of incest, historians have argued, ceased to be believed.

It was, however, in 1955 that Kirson S. Weinberg, a rather obscure sociologist, wrote the first book-length study devoted solely to the question of incest in the United States. An attempt to look at incest in a systematic and scientific (which is not necessarily to say objective) manner, he examined the issue exhaustively: what forms were most common? How often was it prosecuted? Who were its perpetrators? What was their social class and racial makeup? What were the effects on its victims? He found, among other things, that father-daughter incest was the most common form of incest, and stated that prosecutions were not representative of actual incidence. These findings appeared only two years after Alfred Kinsey, the famous sexologist, published data that revealed that father-daughter incest occurred in closer to one in one hundred families than one in one million. (6) As Judith Lewis Herman pointed out in her groundbreaking book, Father-Daughter Incest (1981), Kinsey's statistics on father-daughter incest, unlike his information on masturbation or marital infidelity, did not become a public sensation. (7) Weinberg's book, meanwhile, made no visible impact at all on the public at large.

But Kinsey and Weinberg were not alone. Beginning in the early 1940s, psychoanalysts themselves began to take a closer look at father-daughter incest, specifically at incest that took place between fathers and adolescent daughters. Case studies appeared, papers were presented, and social scientists took up the question in numbers that, while not large, represented an unprecedented engagement with the issue in the human sciences. What led to these attempts to look at father-daughter incest afresh? Do these scattered and somewhat eclectic studies represent isolated instances of accidental "discovery," historically irrelevant aberrations, or a limited though real postwar engagement with the question of father-daughter incest? My aim in pointing out that some psychoanalysts were willing to confront father-daughter incest is not to exonerate psychoanalysis or the social workers who were influenced by it. There is no question that these social workers, as Linda Gordon has amply demonstrated, withheld judgement when confronted with complaints of incest, and failed to investigate incestuous fathers, even when they had evidence of sexual abuse. (8) What we find, however, when we look at the case records of child-serving agencies, criminal trials, psychoanalytic case histories and criminological studies is not, as one would expect, an overwhelming denial and silence--a history expunged. Instead, the picture that emerges is contradictory, complex, and historically illuminating. On the one hand, at criminal trials judges convicted, and prosecuting attorneys excoriated incestuous fathers with an indignation that shares much more with our own perspective on incest than with pre-feminist disavowals of both the fact and trauma of paternal sexual coercion. On the other, we find criminologists, anthropologists and psychoanalysts discussing father-daughter incest during this period with an equanimity that is surprising. Rather than hysterical suppression--an ongoing and active discursive collusion to define incest as "unthinkable"--father-daughter incest during the postwar period entered the record in ways that suggest it played a role in creating and sustaining important ideas about gender, family, paternal power and the sexual order. (9)

In this article I examine a wide range of historical evidence in an attempt to understand what impact psychoanalytic ideas, particularly those about the Oedipus complex, actually had on attitudes towards father-daughter incest in the United States at mid-century. I begin by looking at court cases and criminological studies in an effort to establish the impact of the rise of the psychoanalytic perspective on the prosecution of incest cases. In the second part of the article I look in depth at several published but heretofore unknown psychoanalytic case histories of father-daughter incest, as well as at the records of psychoanalytic social workers at a Boston clinic for "problem children." I argue that ideas about the Oedipus complex were not used to suppress the fact of incest among psychoanalysts (and others) so much as to reconfigure the way in which incest was interpreted during the war and postwar period. (10) Indeed psychoanalysts interpreted girls' claims of sex with their fathers as proof of the strength of female adolescent Oedipal desire--and therefore its potential enactment--rather than as evidence of the pervasiveness of incestuous fantasy among children. Moreover, part of what makes this interpretation so striking is that it took place not at a time when legal opinions about father-daughter incest were undergoing simultaneous reorientation, but instead, at a time when courts remained committed to punishing the incestuous fathers that came before them. Thus psychoanalytic and legal ideas were, if anything, somewhat at odds with one another on this question, a fact which implies that postwar society was conflicted about the issue of father-daughter incest, rather than simply bent on wholesale denial.

American psychoanalysts were open to the idea of what they called the "acting out of the Oedipal wish"--on the part of adolescent girls--in the nineteen forties and fifties for several reasons. First, it was during the postwar period that psychoanalysts began to apply themselves to the study of adolescence in general, and the social and sexual problems of teenage girls in particular. With the onset of World War II psychoanalysts became increasingly troubled by changes they were seeing in girls' behavior. Rising rates of female adolescent juvenile delinquency, the advent of "youth culture," and, not least of all the perception that paternal authority was on the wane influenced the case studies of practicing psychotherapists. In the social and sexual problems of adolescent girls, the most prominent postwar authorities on female adolescence--Helene Deutsch, Phyllis Greenacre, and Peter Blos--perceived what they thought was an alarming number of cases of Oedipal dysfunction. While in boys the Oedipus complex made only a momentary appearance at puberty, in girls the adolescent Oedipal situation was believed to be of profound complexity and psychic intensity. Hence the case histories of adolescent girls during this period are replete with Oedipal longing, frustration, conflict, and disappointment. (11)

Another reason why psychoanalysts were interested in the female Oedipus complex was because a girl's re-discovered affection for her father at puberty was believed to be an avenue of escape from her preoedipal attachment to her mother--an attachment that was increasingly perceived to be overly intense, emotionally threatening, and potentially dangerous as girls entered into adolescence. Anxieties about the impact of mothers on children were particularly acute in the United States, where David Levy's ideas about "maternal overprotection" (first published in 1943) were widely influential and studies on the impact of mothers--the "cold" mother, the "rejecting mother" and the "seductive mother"--were ascendant. (12) The advent of the peculiarly American problem of "momism"--as it was described both within the social sciences and popular culture--was part of a larger cultural attack, as Rebecca Plant has recently shown, on the idealization of motherhood that began during the interwar years. The glorification of maternal self-sacrifice, the traditional social status accorded middle-aged mothers, and even the sanctity of the mother-child bond underwent dramatic and often scathing assault in the nineteen forties. It was an attack set in motion, at least in part, by the repudiation of sentimentality itself inherent in the rising cultural power of the social sciences. (13) Psychoanalysts, then, tended to see father-daughter incest in terms that were overshadowed by larger fears of neuroses caused by "too much" mothering. When viewed, as it was, relative to the danger that the mother presented, any activity with the father--including sex--was perceived to be somewhat benign.

Discussions of incest between fathers and adolescent daughters also took place within the context of the rise of sexual liberalism. (14) Over the course of the twentieth century girls were granted increasing autonomy from parents on sexual matters. With the disappearance of the chaperone, the rise of dating, and later the phenomenon of "going steady," teenage girls had, by the nineteen fifties, a great deal of social and sexual freedom. (15) However, as the work of Pamela Haag and Elizabeth Lunbeck has shown, psychoanalytic social workers, from the turn of the century forward, used notions of hidden, unconscious sexual drives to explain female promiscuity. (16) By seeing female sexual experiences as determined by irrational choices and uncontrollable behavior rooted in the subconscious, psychiatric social workers, as Haag has argued, effectively denied young women the sexual self sovereignty upon which liberal notions of self-ownership are based. Hence at the very moment when young, unmarried women began to be granted a (somewhat) larger range of sexual choices, the problem of sexual coercion correspondingly declined in the outlook of social workers who were confronted with unwed pregnancy, rape, and sexual abuse. As Victorian notions of "victimhood" and seduction, and its attendant connotations of moral and spiritual failure, were replaced by psychotherapeutic notions of Oedipal and other forms of disturbance, the psychological makeup of the "problem girl" herself became the central concern of the social service agencies, juvenile clinics, and other institutions that were charged with maintaining sexual order. (17) The psychoanalytic perspective on father-daughter incest, I would like to suggest, further eschewed issues of force, consent, and coercion by situating the genesis of incest itself within the psyche of the adolescent girl. The effect of diagnoses that viewed incestuous experiences as symptomatic of a girl's relationship to both parents--the mother from whom she wished to escape and the father by whom she wished to be rescued--was to render her sexual identity less fully her own. Father-daughter incest became yet more evidence of the fundamentally familial, affective, and subconsciously driven nature of female sexuality.

The exercise of paternal authority as the social foundation for male dominance--or "patriarchy"--has been described as theoretically (and monolithically) incapable of sustaining information about father-daughter incest. The admission of incest, particularly on the scale that it probably occurs, it has been argued, would represent a fundamental "challenge to the ideology of male dominance." (18) This assumption has led to a great deal of study on how secrecy serves to protect male sexual prerogatives--books such as The Secret Trauma: Incest in the Lives of Girls and Women and The Best Kept Secret: Sexual Abuse of Children, have taught us how the middle classes in particular have maintained the fiction that incest "just doesn't happen." (19) I do not wish to challenge the notion that secrecy has played a major role in preserving paternal power. (20) However, what needs to be better understood--brought out of the closet, as it were--is the ways in which acknowledged acts of incest have been important in establishing and maintaining patriarchy as well. In Michael Foucault's formulation, incest "occupies a central place" in western culture; "it is constantly being solicited and refused; it is an object of obsession and attraction, a dreadful secret and an indispensable pivot." (21) However, the problem with Foucault's focus on the role of incitement and refusal, as Karen Sanchez-Eppler has pointed out, is that it fails to come to terms with the impact of the experience of incest. (22) Similarly, other theorists of western culture, from Freud to Derrida, according to Ellen Pollack, "privilege incestuous desire as the natural ground of cultural reproduction, but ... also systematically deny a conceptual place to the possibility of incestuous practices." (23) Incest, in other words, has mostly been treated as a desire that society denies, a perspective that precludes discussion of the social fact of incestuous abuse as well as its discursive function.

If, then, acts of incest and their interpretation have an important place in the history of gender and the family, we must ask, Which acts of incest? Motherson, sister-brother (which was very conspicuous in 17th century England, for instance), or father-daughter? (24) If father-daughter, how old were the daughters? Were they adults, adolescents, or children? (25) How did those incestuous acts and their interpretation function in relationship to other ideas about the family, gender, sexuality, and the social order? When we look closely at the available information about incest in the 1940s and 50s in the United States, we learn primarily about incest that occurred between fathers and adolescent daughters. Which is not to say that this was necessarily the most prevalent form of father-daughter incest, but simply that this form of incest was brought to light, and drew attention to itself, in ways that other forms of incest did not. Most importantly, rather than representing a wholesale threat to male dominance, postwar discussions of father-daughter incest actually helped to further entrench notions about the sexual power and developmental importance of fathers to daughters. Which is to say, the patriarchal power of fathers over daughters.

Judgements on Incest: Punishment and Frequency

The extent to which incest was statistically denied during the postwar period has been overstated. Kirson Weinburg's "one in a million" statistic was the official tally for prosecutions, not actual incidence. In stating that figure Weinberg himself noted that prosecutions could not possibly be used to measure how often incest actually occurred. (26) Indeed most postwar criminologists and sociologists, as well as some psychoanalysts, introduced their studies with an assertion, as did Kate Friedlander in her 1947 book The Psycho-Analytical Approach to Juvenile Delinquency, that "incestuous relationships between father and daughter ... are much more common than would appear from court statistics, for obvious reasons." (27) Those reasons, according to observers, were a daughter's fear of her abuser, the overwhelming power of fathers, and feelings of helplessness and shame.

Moreover, while prosecutions of incest cannot be used to assess how frequently incest actually occurred, it can be used as a gauge of how vigorously state authorities enforced laws against incest. According to Weinberg's statistics, legal concern remained fairly constant over the course of the twentieth century, with prosecutions remaining the same rather than declining after the widespread influence of psychoanalytic thought on professional social workers during the Progressive period, as one might expect. (28) In a study of sex offenders conducted in California in 1951, Karl Bowman found that the number of men found guilty for incest was low (1.7% of convicted sex-offenders) but held steady between 1945 and 1951. (29) The historian Philip Jenkins has found that incest accounted for 4% of the charges against sex offenders in New Jersey in 1949, and 3% of charges against sex offenders in Indiana between 1949 and 1956. (30) When charges of incest were brought in California, the conviction rate was significantly higher than for rape, or "lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor," and just as high as for sexual misdemeanors falling under "contributing to the delinquency of minors." (31) 75% of the incest cases that were brought before the court in California in 1951 ended in conviction. On the one hand, this high conviction rate reflects the fact that, unlike other "morals" cases, charges of incest could not be reduced to a lesser charge. On the other, the high conviction rate also reflects a tendency to believe rather than discredit the prosecuting witness. (32)

Thus the advice given to judges by the American Bar Association in 1936 that complaints of sexual abuse often stemmed from a girl's "erotic imagination" seems to have had a limited impact on incest trials--precisely the cases where one might assume that Freudian ideas would be most relevant. (33) Similarly, in describing the details of 159 cases of father-daughter incest, Kirson Weinberg never questioned whether incest victims were telling the truth. "In father-daughter incest," he writes, "the daughters were the most frequent informants. Many daughters told their mothers or siblings and some informed cousins, neighbors, or personal friends ... some relatives went with the daughters to the authorities; other relatives had the father arrested themselves. (34) That these "informants" might have been lying apparently never occurred to him, for in his ensuing discussion of these cases he never doubts the stories as they were related by the (usually adolescent) daughter.

Weinberg's assumptions about female incest victims are mirrored in criminal trial testimony from Chicago, Illinois father-daughter incest cases from 1944 through 1960. (35) Arguments were only transcribed for cases tried on appeal, hence full transcripts are only available for just over a dozen trials. However, appellate cases tended to be those for which the father's attorneys mounted a vigorous defense. The trial transcripts show that lawyers did everything in their power to discredit the moral character, believability, and sympathetic qualities of the daughter, a girl usually between the ages of fourteen and sixteen. While defense attorneys frequently attempted to establish that girls were lying, none relied on psychoanalytic ideas to suggest that such lies were based on Oedipal wishes. Instead, tactics for discrediting the daughter's testimony included insinuations that her memories had been "implanted" by a police matron, or that she wished to blame her father for her own sexual indiscretions. (36) For instance, in a case involving a fifteen year old girl in 1944, the defense questioned the girl's integrity by introducing evidence of promiscuity. The girl, Nora Thompson, as I shall call her, had been previously brought before the juvenile court for "running around with soldier boys" and spreading venereal disease, for which she was sent to a juvenile home. The defense also called Nora's high school teacher to testify, who claimed that she would "not believe Nora under oath," because, she said:
 she was very, very disobedient, she never wanted to comply with the
 rules; she was not what you might call a good citizen in the school at
 all; she was untruthful, and just would not obey no matter what you
 talked to her. (37)

After this testimony had been presented, the defense lawyer called the father's brother, sister and mother to the stand, all of whom had been living with Nora at the time of the incestuous attacks. Each testified that they had never heard Nora "holler" when she was alone with her father, that Mr. Thompson was a conscientious father and a good provider, that they did not personally believe that the attacks had taken place, and that Nora was impossible to handle. Despite such testimony, in this as in the other eleven appeals, the judge found the defendant guilty and sentenced him to a prison term of a minimum of three and a maximum of seven years (this sentence was on par with the national average). In all of the cases, the girl's sworn statement was the sole evidence upon which the father was convicted. Often, the daughter was testifying about events that happened over a year previous--testimony that was inadmissible in cases involving stranger rape--and her testimony frequently contradicted the testimony of her own mother.

Judges did not, as a matter of course, reveal what lead them to believe the complaining witness, though several did admit the difficulty of adjudicating cases in which the only evidence was the testimony of the complainant. One judge summed up a case tried in 1953 saying, "it is true that the case hinges on the testimony of one witness and that there is no corroboration of that witness, [however] the court is of the opinion that she was telling the truth, and the court has no reasonable doubt of the truth of her story and hence, the court has no reasonable doubt of the guilt of the defendant and there will be a finding of guilty here." (38) Judges were allowed to base a conviction on the uncorroborated statement of the complaining witness, as one judge put it, "providing it is of such a nature that it is convincing." (39) In an attempt to provide such testimony, attorneys had to provide every detail of sexual abuse that occurred on a specific date, at a given time, in a stated location. One particularly violent story, recited by a fourteen year old girl, was elicited by an attorney:
 "... I jumped off the couch and then he pulled me back and hit me in
 the forehead with his fist. And then I start hollering and running
 around the room. But then, he hit me in the chest with his fist and
 then he hit me in the stomach ... and then I ran, I got to the window
 and he stopped me and he said that if I didn't shut up that he was
 going to push me out ... and then he said he was going to do it to me,
 if he had to kill me ..." (40)

It is likely that the graphic nature of such testimony affected judges; hence the sureness with which some of them disposed of the cases before them.

The dispatch with which these judges handled their individual cases, however, needs to be considered in light of the difficulty that most girls faced in attempting to bring charges into court in the first place. Moreover, prosecutions for incest were still rare when compared to what other statistical findings tell us about the frequency of father-daughter incest during the postwar period. (41) Social workers, as we shall see, did not encourage girls to bring their claims forward, and encounters with juvenile clinics or psychiatric social workers could be a girl's only contact with figures of authority outside of her family. However, these cases show us that the state did indeed have an interest in prosecuting father-daughter incest rather than simply denying or ignoring it; that there were reasons apparent to judges to err on the side of believing girls over and above those adults who had custody over them; that, in fact, many judges had sympathy for girls who claimed incestuous abuse; and, finally, that Freudian notions of Oedipal desire and "wishful" fantasy did not lead all judges and social workers to deny girls' claims of incest. The effects of ideas about the Oedipus complex were more subtle, more complex, and far more insidious.

Incest and the Adolescent Oedipus Complex

While prosecutions for incest remained constant, and Kinsey's surprising statistics on father-daughter incest did not seem to have much effect on the general public or on criminologists, one group of thinkers did begin to pursue father-daughter incest more seriously than they had before: psychoanalysts. Within psychoanalysis a sustained, singular attention to case histories of father-daughter incest represented a departure in the priorities and interests of the field. (42) Though a few analysts considered cases of father-daughter incest before 1940, they did so only within the context of general inquires into the sexual experiences of children with adults. Prewar case histories, moreover, mostly involved girls below the age of ten. In all of the cases published between 1940 and 1965, in contrast, authors concentrated on incestuous encounters that occurred during the "prepuberty" and adolescent stages, from the ages of ten through eighteen.

None of the postwar psychoanalysts stated why they chose to investigate father-daughter incest. The "sex crime panic" of the postwar period, as Estelle Freedman has shown, inspired many social scientists to study the problem of "sex psychopaths," and interest in father-daughter incest might have been inspired by the frequent and electrifying headlines in the national media about pedophiles and sexual predators. (43) But perhaps a better way to understand interest in father-daughter incest in particular (which did not garner attention in the white, mainstream media) is to examine the questions and ideas that animated the case histories themselves. For whatever appealed to psychoanalysts about the subject, the studies of incest that appeared in the nineteen forties and fifties were firmly rooted in postwar formulations of female adolescence (as opposed to ideas about adult male sexuality). Psychoanalysts unanimously believed that in order to understand father-daughter incest, one had to look at the way in which girls experienced the return of Oedipal drives at puberty. Female Oedipal desire became a way of understanding, coming to terms with, and in some striking cases, even normalizing behavior that violated what Freud termed "the horror of incest." (44)

Though Freud speculated on the role of the incest prohibition in the founding of early human culture in Totem and Taboo (1913), the problem of actual incest, particularly father-daughter incest, became somewhat of a moot point within psychoanalytic thought when, as the now familiar story goes, he rejected the "seduction theory" at the turn of the century. In 1896, at the beginning of his career, Freud published "The Aetiology of Hysteria," an article linking hysteria in adult women to memories of "sexual seduction" or "premature sexual experiences" in childhood. (45) But a few years later he began to question this theory, claiming that a "disproportionately large" number of women had reported childhood sexual abuse, and thus that much of what he had been hearing must have been "falsifications" of experience. (46) He perceived in these fabrications the traces of childhood fantasy; and it was on this fundamental insight that he based his theory of the Oedipus complex. He then proceeded to reject the theory of childhood sexual seduction, replacing it with the idea that reports of sexual abuse grew out of the fact of universal childhood incestuous fantasy. This change in outlook contributed to an emphasis in early years of the psychoanalytic movement on the nature of fantasy, as opposed to the impact of actual trauma, or "childhood experiences," sexual or otherwise, on the human psyche. (47) It is in part Freud's famous "rejection of the seduction theory"--his conclusion that memories of childhood sexual seduction, particularly incestuous seduction, were based upon childhood fantasy--that has led historians to see a similar process at work in the interpretation of incest in the nineteen forties and fifties.

Given the importance of incestuous fantasy (as opposed to experience), it is all the more striking that psychoanalysts began to take up the question of what they somewhat redundantly called "consummated incest" (actual incest as opposed to the "incest wish") at this time--a moment when Freudian orthodoxy was ascendant. (48) The difficulty of addressing the topic can be felt in the air of defensiveness that pervaded some of the earlier analyses, which went to some length to prove that the cases under review were "not all fantasy." (49) The anxiety was justified. One group of authors, presenting a study of eleven cases of father-daughter incest at the annual meeting of Orthopsychiatry in 1953, was sharply criticized by a respondent who began her comments with the observation, "most of us have trained ourselves to skepticism toward the claims of young girls who maintain that they have been seduced by their fathers, since we recognize the strength and reality value such fantasies can assume particularly in adolescence." Hence it was unfortunate, she continued, that the authors "say little about the evidence on which they base their impression that incest actually occurred." (50) This criticism was put forward, it should be noted, with the knowledge that half the fathers in the study were already serving time in jail, having been tried and convicted of incest in a criminal court.

This kind of critique, however, was rare, and, more importantly, missed the point of these analyses, which did not seek to discredit the notion of adolescent incestuous fantasy so much as to re-interpret its effects in a new way. They did so by describing incest as an event that grew out of, rather than negated, the fact of female adolescent Oedipal fantasy. According to psychoanalysts studying father-daughter incest during and after World War II, instances where sex occurred between a father and daughter represented a less common, albeit more powerful, trajectory of Oedipal desire: the transformation of fantasy into reality, rather than the transformation of fantasy into falsification. Hence in these case histories incest was referred to as "acting out of the Oedipal wish" or "manifest Oedipal behavior," designations that located the genesis and trajectory of incest firmly within the developmental fantasies and desires of the adolescent girl herself. (51) In a sense, these authors were trying to show that fabrication and consummation were not mutually exclusive possibilities--at least when it came to the question of the adolescent Oedipal imagination. Whether girls fabricated incestuous sex, or incestuous sex actually occurred, an Oedipal desire was transformed into an act: in one case it was transformed into "pseudologia" or a lie, through the act of speech, in the other, it was consciously pursued through sexual "acting out." (52) These girls, according to this postwar perspective, had managed to take their incestuous fantasies and transform them into a conscious, deliberate forms of experience.

Above all, articles on father-daughter incest were faithful to the postwar formulations of female adolescence, couching incest within the specific challenges of normal female development. On all fronts, case histories of incest mirrored and enlarged dominant ideas on girls' psychological trajectory: her adolescence begins with an attempt to disengage form her mother; simultaneously, she starts to fantasize about her father; her new erotic attachment to her father is either healthy or disturbed, depending upon her psychological state upon entering into the Oedipal stage; this psychological state, in turn, is predicated upon prior, preodipal experiences with the mother that occurred during early childhood. Despite the determinative nature of the girl's preodipal experiences, the Oedipus complex at puberty was assumed to be of an overpowering nature. In fact, it needed to be if the girl was to shift her attachment from her mother to her father. Hence the presence of an active and ongoing father-daughter eroticism was easily assumed--an eroticism that could, in the minds of these analysts, easily lead to sex. Indeed, the question that informed case histories of incest was not "why does incest happen?" but instead, "given the ubiquity of incestuous adolescent fantasy, why does incest not happen more often?" As one review of the literature put it in 1962, "psychiatric studies on incest ... have left unsolved the question of why incest occurs only in some cases, indeed in relatively few considering the prevalence of the problems described as favoring incest." (53)

Finally, while psychoanalysts necessarily located the father at the scene of the crime, they considered neither his psychology nor the impact of incest on his identity as a father. So overwhelming was the consensus that incest represented a problem on the part of daughters rather than fathers that not a single incestuous father was subjected to a psychiatric interview in any of the articles on father-daughter incest for almost the entire postwar period. Indeed there is a veritable gap in the literature on the question of incestuous fathers, one that lasted from 1938--when Ernst Jones briefly considered the subject--until 1962 when a Canadian psychiatrist took up the question anew, having searched the recent literature for clues on the subject in vain. (54) Inasmuch as the father was reflected upon at all, he appeared, contradictorily, as a threatening figure because of the established fact of having committed incest, but utterly innocent insofar as the etiology of the incest was concerned. Mostly, he was insignificant. He acted, but only within the context of his daughter's "acting out." The "acting out" was set into motion by conflicts with her mother in combination with the mobilization of her Oedipal desires with the onset of puberty.

Oedipal Revenge

In 1955, Lillian Gordon published "Incest as Revenge Against the Pre-Oedipal Mother" in The Psychoanalytic Review. In the article Gordon recounts the story of her patient, Helen, who was twenty years old at the time that Gordon began seeing her. Although she had been brought up in a middle class family, she was working as a nude model and occasional prostitute, and had trouble maintaining lasting, monogamous relationships with "appropriate partners." The patient, who had been referred to Gordon by a male analyst was at first disappointed, according to Gordon, at the prospect of seeing a woman. Gordon initially believed that Helen's "violently hostile attitude toward the mother-analyst" was a "full blown acting out of the Oedipal situation." (55) But, as the analysis progressed, she came to realize that the hostility represented more "than desire for father and Oedipal envy or hatred of mother." (56) Rather than desiring her father and wishing for her mother to be out of the way, Helen's problem, Gordon believed, was that she remained masochistically tied to her mother; this, despite the fact that Helen had been involved in an incestuous relationship with her father over the course of many years.

Helen was, Gordon writes, "offered an Oedipal relationship to her father" from an early, unspecified age. (57) But it was during adolescence that she began to consciously pursue an incestuous relationship with her father. Helen established this "pattern," according to Gordon, as a "vengeful use of the Oedipal relationship to get even" with her mother. The desire to "get even" grew out of her feelings of "oral deprivation." A brother had been born in her childhood who was delicate and needed special foods; "mother thus deprived her by feeding him better." In addition, Helen complained that her mother was "cold, unloving and 'vague.'" (58) Helen's sexual behavior thus reflected both the fact that her needs had not been met, as well as a desire to communicate her feelings of frustration and longing to her mother--through "shocking" or upsetting her by having sex with her father. Helen's sexual/romantic feelings for her father are described as having been quite powerful during adolescence. She felt that her father was "a very handsome man looking much like the King of England," and she liked "to go out with him alone, imagining him to be her boyfriend." (59) Even so, Gordon writes, the "successful affair with father ... could not help Helen, who had remained masochistically attached to mother, feeling strongly deprived by her, with vengeful, self-destructive wishes predominating." (60) No matter the sexual allure of the relationship with the father, nor the sexual experience itself, the affective power of the relationship with her mother still prevailed. Gordon foregrounds Helen's Oedipal feelings by making them the most attractive proximate route for her feelings; those feelings, however, were enacted in the shadow of stronger feelings for her mother, from which Helen--like all young women--must find a specifically paternal escape.

The relative value that Gordon placed on the "Oedipal relationship" versus pre-Oedipal/ maternal attachment shows just how little was believed to be at stake in the act of incest itself: the impact of incest with the father on the psyche was described as negligible compared to the deprivation at the hands of the mother. Gordon begins by stating that, in general, "Oedipal attachment [is] a 'rescue station'" from the relationship with the mother, who in the child's fantasy has become "the dangerous 'giantess of the nursery.'" (61) In attempting to escape into the "less dangerous Oedipal relationship," she explains, some children carry over into that relationship the problems and anxieties of the earlier relationship with the mother. In Helen's case, she says, the "activity with father" was a conduit for carrying out the "revenge wishes against mother for pre-Oedipal frustrations." (62) Because of the strength of her attachment to her mother, Helen needed to find an indirect way to express her hostility. Incest was the solution. It was, in Gordon's words, an "admission of the lesser crime." That is, Helen used one impulse--the desire to have sex with her father--to ward off another, "less tolerable" impulse--her hostile feelings towards her mother. (63) Thus the Oedipal relationship remained a "refuge" from the mother, even when the father's sexual transgression irrevocably altered the terms of that rescue. In fact, there was no relationship between daughter and father to speak of here, only her conscious wish for sex with him. The father was the sexual object, the mother, the emotional aim. In Gordon's final analysis, the act of incest was simply an elaboration of mother-daughter conflicts working themselves out through normal Oedipal drives. "Acting out the Oedipal situation," according to Gordon, represented an event that grew out of an unusually heightened apprehension of very ordinary impulse. (64) "Manifest Oedipal behavior" she says, was "not symptomatic of a psychotic process" in adolescent girls because of the naturally pressing nature of her Oedipal longing. (65) Incest was thus a potentiality for any adolescent girl, for it was a function of a ubiquitous psychological desire, rather than impulses and activities that reflected behavior that was alien to "normal" psychology. Incest was an event that existed at the far end of normal Oedipal behavior--behavior that had everything to do with the emotional needs of the adolescent girl, and nothing at all to do with the psychology of the incestuous father.

Gordon's analysis of father-daughter incest was representative of a group of cases that appeared between 1940 and 1961, including "Incest: The Revenge Motive," (1959) and "Genesis of Overt Incest" (1961), that viewed incest as an Oedipal development reflecting preodipal problems. (66) The most influential of these was "The Family Constellation and Overt Incestuous Relations Between Father and Daughter," published in The American Journal of Orthopsychiatry in 1954 (the study that originally met with such skepticism at the annual meeting of Orthopsychiatry). The conclusions of the authors, Irving Kaufman, Alice L. Peck and Consuelo Tagiuri, were based on the case histories of eleven girls ranging in age from ten to seventeen, all of whom were referred to the Judge Baker Guidance Center in Boston, a private agency for troubled children. In all of the cases the sexual relationship was prolonged, lasting a year or more in most instances. Rather than analyzing any of the cases in detail, Kaufman and his co-authors argued that the group as a whole illustrated an intriguing pattern of interfamilial psychodynamics.

The origin of the trouble in these families lay in the mother's relationship to her own parents, or the maternal grandparents. The maternal grandfathers all deserted the family in some way, either through divorce, living away from home or extreme alcoholism. The maternal grandmothers were described as "stern, demanding, controlling, cold and extremely hostile women." (67) The effect of the grandmother's hostility on the mothers was to make them feel worthless and desperate for approval. Ironically, in their search for validation the mothers became masochistically tied to the maternal grandmothers, and, like Helen in Gordon's study, were literally and psychologically unable to move away from them. The "whole insidious process" was then repeated in the relationship between the mothers and their daughters. The process began when the mothers singled out one of their daughters, encouraging her to take on responsibility for the management of the household and caretaking for the rest of the family, while they themselves relinquished their responsibilities. They then deserted their own husbands sexually. In turn, the husbands deserted them--by becoming involved in incestuous relationships with their daughters. One example the authors provided was of a mother who, whenever she quarreled with her husband, went upstairs to sleep with the maternal grandmother, leaving the children alone with the father, who was usually drunk. It was during one of these episodes, when the mother "deserted in this fashion," that the father began to "have relations" with his daughter. (68)

In describing why the daughters themselves responded to this situation by, in his words, "acting out the Oedipal wish," Kaufman used the same logic as Gordon: these girls were abandoned and ill treated by their mothers, hence the incest represented a response to maternal deprivation and disappointment. Only here, instead of trying to enact revenge against their mothers, the girls simply sought some sort of affection from their fathers as a form of compensation. "The girls reacted to their mothers' unconscious desire to put them in the maternal role. They at the same time received gratification from the fathers as the parents who loved them in this pathologic way." (69) The researchers found, through a battery of tests, that the girls directed their hostility at their mothers, whom they described as "cruel, unjust and depriving" while they "often idealized" their fathers, whom they described as "nurturant," "weak," "ineffectual," and, much less often, "frightening." (70) The girls valued their fathers not for the sexual relationship they had with them, but for the parental attention they received. "These girls had long felt abandoned by the mother as a protective adult," Kaufman writes, "this was their basic anxiety." And because they were motivated by the desire for affection rather than sex, their pre-Oedipal relationship with their mother needed to be understood as the precipitating factor that informed the "acting out" of the Oedipal relationship with the father. "Although the original sexual experience with the father was at a genital level, the meaning of the sexual act was pregenital and seemed to have the purpose of receiving some sort of parental interest." (71) In other words, though these girls sought out incestuous sexual congress, what they suffered from was a need for succor and nurturance characteristic of young children, not adolescents.

In both Gordon and Kaufman's study, then, incest provided a solution to the problem of maternal hostility in the psyche of the adolescent girl. Whether an "admission of the lesser crime" or a hunt for parental interest, these girls somehow calculated, according to these analysts, that the gratification that incest offered would outweigh the guilt and anxiety that it exacted. This logic was extended, and even endorsed, in an article in which the authors themselves decided that this kind of trade-off was a legitimate route to psychological health. In "On Consummated Incest," published in The International Journal of Psychoanalysis (1950), Matilde Wencelblat De Rascovsky and Arnoldo Rascovsky presented the case of Susanna, a woman who came to them at the age of twenty-six. She had been involved in an incestuous relationship with her father since the age of ten. The incest began when her mother was away on a six month's trip to Europe, was resumed after a brief hiatus just after Susanna's marriage at the age of twenty-two, and continued on through the present day. Susanna also sought out fleeting sexual relations with doctors and teachers, and was diagnosed as suffering from "a nymphomaniac compulsion." Typically enough, "her history showed as a main element an extremely frustrated relationship with the mother" who was described as "a cold woman who had not suckled her daughter, and whose influence had been preponderantly negative." The frustrated situation with the mother had led "to the oral search for the father," and then a "whole series of substitutions represented by doctors and teachers." Susanna suffered a great deal, going through husbands and lovers one after the other. Nonetheless, at the end of the article the authors concluded:
 We believe that the actual consummation of the incestuous relation,
 which constitutes a secondary process derived from a former grave
 state of melancholy, diminishes the subject's chance of psychosis and
 allows better adjustment to the external world. In some cases in which
 there is an incestuous situation of great intensity, but in which
 consummation has not taken place, we have seen a similar constellation
 but with intense accentuation of manic-depressive psychotic traits
 (emphasis added). (72)

In other words, incest diminished a girl's chances of developing a psychosis. (73) Not only was father-daughter incest caused by maternal failure, it could be anodyne to it, a genuine measure of psychic relief. The cumulative effect of such ideas--Gordon and Kaufman's notion of "acting out the Oedipal wish" and Rascovsky and Rascovsky's assertion that "consummation" could contribute to "adjustment to the external world"--was to render father-daughter incest somewhat banal. It became one among any number of behaviors available to adolescent girls for coping with the problem of psychological deprivation--particularly deprivation at the hands of the mother.

Sex or Incest? The Desires of the Adolescent Girl

Yet for all the acceptance of father-daughter sex, or of Oedipal desires that could be easily transformed into sexual acts, these case histories present a surprising perspective on the notion of female adolescent sexuality overall. They did not simply succeed in enlarging, hence normalizing the notion that adolescent girls actively and consciously wished to have sex with their fathers. They also achieved the opposite: as a group, the articles diminished the role of female adolescent sexual drives, as well as "Oedipal drives," by consistently predicating the wish for sex upon a "regressive" need for pre-Oedipal forms of parental affection.

In the most widely-read pre-war article on the sexual abuse of children, "The Reaction of Children to Sexual Relations with Adults," published in the American Journal of Orthospsychiatry in 1937, Lauretta Bender and Abram Blau included two cases of father-daughter incest in an influential survey of sixteen children who had "engaged in precocious sex activities with adults." (74) After describing the varying sexual episodes that brought these children to the attention of authorities, they concluded that the children were not entirely "innocent" parties. In some instances they had actively seduced the adults, and many of them enjoyed these experiences. Above all, the children "possessed unusually strong desires." It had been demonstrated, they claimed, that children who participate in precocious sexual behavior with adults were motivated "by complex conscious and unconscious drives, and that among these the sex urges are of primary significance." (75) According to Bender and Blau, children who had sexual experiences with adults, including girls who committed incest, were seeking out and responding to the desire for sex; incest was but one form of receiving sexual gratification. What distinguished incest from other sexual experiences with adults was that it was the most "confusing," because, they believed, "incest experiences undoubtedly distort the proper development of their attitude toward members of the family." Incest was a contradiction to, rather than an extension of a familial relationship--even a relationship that contained an Oedipal component.

By contrast, during the postwar period, as we have seen, psychoanalysts assumed that adolescent girls sought out incestuous experience because of the nature of their "attitude" towards their fathers. Sexual experiences were pursued as a form of intrafamilial experience: on the one hand, as a way to speak to or satisfy issues of maternal attachment, on the other, as a way to satisfy desires that related to the father as a father; in other words, as an aspect of the Oedipal. Put another way, sexual excitement was secondary to the drive for incest in the case histories of the postwar period, whereas incest was secondary to the drive for sex in the prewar work of Bender and Blau.

The distinction raises a number of important questions. What did it mean that during the nineteen fifties incest was thought to stem from familial over and above sexual desires (at least on the part of adolescent girls)? What happened to the autonomous, libidinal desires of the adolescent girl in such descriptions of sex? To the definition of the Oedipus complex itself? Indeed, in the reasoning of these cases, it becomes difficult to discern what, exactly, was meant by the "Oedipal" in the "acting out the Oedipal wish." For instance, Kaufman claimed that the longing that the adolescent girls in his study had for their fathers--the longing that led to actual sex--was unrelated to sexual drives; it was fundamentally "pregenital." At the same time, he maintained that the original wish for sex grew out of the adolescent Oedipus complex--a complex that is, of course, sexual by definition. This inconsistency is important because it brings together Oedipal with pre-Oedipal needs; Oedipal desires became indistinguishable from what one writer on the subject called "affectional needs." (76) Indeed, as a group the case histories of incest during this period all linked the girl's desire for sex both to her Oedipal desires and to her pre-Oedipal needs.

The Oedipus complex, as it is defined by psychoanalysis, is no more and no less than the libidinal attachment to the parent of the opposite sex. But when postwar psychoanalysts used the notion of an "Oedipal relationship" to describe incest, they were referring both to a sexual relationship based on these drives, and the drive to have other, "oral," needs--or the need for nurturance--met. Those needs were neither connected with nor eventually transferred from the mother to the father. Nor did the search for the satisfaction of such needs in the person of the father transform the definition of the father figure. What was transformed, however, was the implicit definition of the female sexual drives. Because the girl's sexual desires were activated by her affective needs, sexuality itself became a secondary process, compensatory and vitally less important. So at the same time that a girl's Oedipal relationship to her father was privileged, her libido was, ironically, deemed less of a powerful force.

The process of sexualizing the father-daughter relationship not only affected the meaning of that relationship, it also affected the meaning of the sexual. For the sexualization of the father-daughter relationship inevitably produced the familialization of sex as well. Sexuality, at least for the adolescent girl, was invaded by intrafamilial psychic attachment. No longer a purely libidinal impulse, but an alloy of familial needs, female adolescent sexuality was fundamentally transformed. By privileging the Oedipus complex in girls to such a degree that it served as the basis for incestuous sex, a girl's sexuality became more than ever dependent upon and defined by her relationship to the family.

Psychoanalytic Social Workers Analyze the Adolescent Girl

In the therapists' notes of the Judge Baker Children's Guidance Center in Boston we can see how aspects of these opinions on incest informed the assumptions of the day to day interpretations of psychoanalytic social workers. The center offered psychotherapy and counseling for "problem children" throughout the postwar period. In most cases girls were brought to the clinic by their parents. Mothers and fathers complained that their daughters were "headstrong," "promiscuous," "unmanageable," that they "stayed out late," or that they were simply "depressed." (77) In these case histories, dating from 1947 to 1957, girls' problems were not associated with the dangers of "sex delinquency" (as they had in the prewar period) but instead with the dangers of the adolescent girl's Oedipal imagination in instances where her relationship with her father was compromised in some way. (78) As in the published case histories, father-daughter incest was viewed within the context of a constellation of family problems, and rarely touched off particular alarm. What did interest social workers, however, was the ongoing sexual relationship of their teenage patients to their fathers. Indeed, all other forms of father-daughter crisis--whether paternal absence, unpredictable behavior, or "seductiveness"--were thought to be of much more concern than sexual abuse. For instance, in one case in which a girl complained about a father climbing into bed with her, psychotherapists decided that the girl was suffering from "guilty" feelings because her "Oedipal wishes" had come true. (79) A lack of interest in the effects of father-daughter incest and an excessive interest in girls' Oedipal feelings were mutually determinative: danger lay not in the act of incest itself but in the multiplicity of ways that incestuous desire intruded upon the psyche of the adolescent girl.

What Pamela Haag calls the demotion of "considerations of power or coercion, either physical or verbal as narratively uninteresting"--particularly regarding rape--in the notes of social workers began in the nineteen twenties and thirties. (80) According to Haag the decline in interest in rape in the clinical vignettes of psychotherapists was bound up with nascent notions of the "private self as sexually free" in the years between 1910 and 1930. (81) Girls who got into "sex trouble" during this period were presumed to have been able to provide consent (or to "say no"), but because of their ineptitude or haplessness, failed to manage situations with men properly, and thus ended up in a "jam." (82) Girls were held accountable for protecting themselves in a modern system of thought that viewed women as autonomous agents rather than helpless victims of male lust. Moreover, during this period girls themselves began to narrate their own experiences of sexual coercion as tales of personal incompetence. What is important about this shift in thinking for our purposes is that by the mid-nineteen forties therapists had ceased, in the name of "sexual modernity," or sexual liberalism, to pay as much attention to girls' sexual misadventures, even when girls were brought in for "promiscuity," and whether or not those sexual events occurred with boyfriends, "dates," or with their own fathers. The decline in social workers' attention to the problem of sexual coercion helped open the way to a perception of danger that was psychic in nature and Oedipal in origin, a form of analysis that, with the growth of ideas about Oedipal desire at adolescence, became dominant in the nineteen forties and fifties.

Therapists worried in particular about Oedipal relationships that were complicated or somehow compromised, and spilled a great deal of ink--sometimes into the hundreds of pages--on the sexual minutiae of father-daughter involvement: a girl does not want her father to touch her; a girl worries that her mother is jealous of her relationship with her father; a father listens in on his daughter's intimate telephone conversations with her girl friends; a girl describes "an openly Oedipal relationship" at home, calling herself 'father's second wife,'"; a father talks about sex too often. (83) One episode that therapists found particularly significant was recounted as follows:
 Julie has always been self-conscious with father and wouldn't let him
 come into the bathroom to shave if she were there and if he happened
 to see her in her underwear she would be very distressed. Recently
 father has tried walking in on Julie to see what her reaction would
 be ... Julie and father engaged in a bit of horseplay and father
 picked Julie up and put her in the tub and turned the water on. Julie
 seemed to delight in this. (84)

The fascination with the quotidian physical intimacy involved in a father and adolescent daughter living together--especially compared to the relative lack of concern about incest--is instructive. The "worker's impressions" of this case were: "one suspects that [the father's] own needs in relation to Julie are intensifying her Oedipal conflicts ... [it is] an alarming situation ... the girl certainly wants to get away from the danger represented by her relationship to her father." (85) In another, similar case history, the therapist concluded that the girl "needs protection ... because the father is very seductive on the one hand, and punishing on the other." (86) In yet another, in which a sixteen-year old girl was "hanging around the bus station" late at night and "talking with the drivers," the psychotherapist concluded that the girl was sexually aroused by the drivers because of the lack of a "father figure" in her life and was "in need of protection against the parent." (87) That is, the girl needed protection against a father who was not present. All of these therapists expressed a very real concern for these patients. They were "alarmed" by the girl's predicaments, were overtly anxious about the "danger" they were in, even suggested that the girls needed "protection."

But protection from what? Certainly not sexual coercion, which did not enter into the discussion. Instead, they needed protection from their own Oedipal feelings. These girls appeared to be at risk because of dysfunction in their own psyches in situations where fathers may not have been behaving well, but were certainly not putting their daughters in any physical danger or breaking the law. In these case histories, analysts were willing to concede that a father's behavior could be problematic or influential. However, his behavior was significant only because of the kinds of Oedipal fantasy it might arouse in their adolescent daughters. That which a father's behavior suggested to the adolescent girl was far more significant to therapists than actual paternal transgression. This psychoanalytic perspective reflected a powerful set of assumptions about the consequential nature of the female adolescent Oedipal imagination. What mattered was that these girls felt endangered because of an Oedipus complex that was overwhelming. With an ingenious sleight of hand these analyses--which called for protection against Oedipal disturbance as opposed to incestuous coercion--managed to successfully domesticate the dangerous and make dangerous the average domestic situation simply by privileging the power of the adolescent girl's Oedipal desire over and above the actions of the father, no matter how coercive or transgressive.

Psychoanalysis and the Courts: Situating the History of Incest

That psychoanalysts could and did make claims about the Oedipal etiology--and in some cases, even the beneficial qualities--of father-daughter incest is all the more striking because they made them in a society that viewed father-daughter incest as a heinous crime. How could psychoanalysts make such arguments? One is tempted to see a simple lack of intellectual caution made possible by their unassailable position as scientists--a position that was at its dizzying apotheosis in the 1950s. But more likely the answer lies in the enormity of the profession's investment in the impact of Oedipal drives on human personality. All father-daughter relationships were inherently--even heavily--sexualized at the moment of adolescence these psychoanalysts suggest, and father-daughter incest represented instances where normal adolescent female sexual desire and family pathologies would collide.

The psychoanalytic viewpoint, however, stood in stark contrast to perspectives on incest produced in other professions and other academic disciplines. Kirson Weinberg saw father-daughter incest in terms similar to our own--as a sexual form of predation at the service of paternal power. He claimed that fathers who committed incest with their daughters "dominated ... the family" and that the incest itself was a part of a pattern of "intimidation and control of other family members." (88) Similar ideas about the emotional violence and traumatic betrayal of father-daughter incest were dramatically invoked by a prosecuting attorney in his closing arguments for an incest trial that took place in 1961. He claimed that the girl's trust, love and "bond" with her father "had been destroyed ... inch by inch, and moment by moment, during the entire years this victim lived under the influence of this man." Indeed, such a statement about the relationship of incest to the notion of parent-child "bonding," would seem to suggest some progress towards more contemporary ideas about incest, especially when placed alongside the utterly anachronistic logic of the psychoanalysts. (89) The dissonance between the psychoanalytic, social scientific, and legal perspectives on father-daughter incest suggest a society that was deeply at odds with itself over the question, rather than a society that was in full agreement about the implausibility of claims of incestuous transgression and the subsequent pain and suffering it could cause.

In the mid-1960s pyschoanalysts seem to have lost interest in father-adolescent daughter incest--even though the rate of father-daughter incest cases brought before the state remained fairly constant. (90) Clinical studies and surveys would burst onto the scene a decade later, with the rise of feminism in the mid-1970s. (91) When feminists did "pull incest out of the closet" in the 1970s, however, we must realize that in the immediate postwar period--the period during which silence on the subject has been presumed to haved reigned--social workers, psychoanalysts, and courts of law theorized, passed judgement upon, and struggled with father-daughter incest within their own professional circles. Their conclusions about father-daughter incest both reflected and helped produce the contradictory, erotically charged, privileged father-adolescent daughter relationship that was such an important element of the postwar family.


1. This interpretation is put forward by Judith Lewis Herman in Father-Daughter Incest (Cambridge, 1981). See also Elizabeth Pleck, Domestic Tyranny: The Making of American Social Policy Against Family Violence From Colonial Times to the Present (New York, 1987); Linda Gordon, Heroes of Their Own Lives (New York, 1988), p. 208.

2. Pleck, Domestic Tyranny, p. 156. Philip Jenkins, Moral Panic: Changing Concepts of the Child Molester in Modern America (New Haven, 1998), p. 34.

3. Ibid., p. 207.

4. Louise Barnett, in Ungentlemanly Acts: The Army's Notorious Incest Trial uses the word "unthinkable" when discussing an incest case from 1879. According to Barnett this sensibility lasted from the late nineteenth century through the 1970s (New York, 2000), p. 214-225. The notion that "a radical feminist consciousness pulled incest out of the closet" is put forward by Linda Gordon in "The Politics of Child Sexual Abuse: Notes from American History," Feminist Review, no. 28 (Spring, 1988), p. 56. For evidence of a "cultural silence" about sexual abuse within the family at the turn of the century, see Mary Odem, Delinquent Daughters: Protecting and Policing Adolescent Female Sexuality in the United States, 1885-1920 (Chapel Hill, 1995), p. 62.

5. Elizabeth Pleck, Domestic Tyranny, p. 146.

6. In Father-Daughter Incest, Herman presents Kinsey's findings as 1 out of every 100. Kinsey did not present his numbers in this format. Kinsey claimed that 24 per cent of his sample (1075 women) were "approached while they were pre-adolescent by adult males." Of that 24 percent, 4 percent were "approached" by their fathers. Alfred Kinsey, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (Philadelphia, 1953), p. 116-118.

7. Herman, Father-Daughter Incest, p. 16.

8. Gordon, Heroes of Their Own Lives, p. 222.

9. Jacques Derrida, "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences," quoted in Ellen Pollak, Incest and the English Novel, 1684-1814 (Baltimore, 2003), p. 5. The word "unthinkable" is regularly applied to incest.

10. Which is not to say that the psychoanalytic perspective did not also serve to downplay the violent nature and/or moral offensiveness of incest. It did. For a discussion of the ways in which psychoanalysis suggested that the experience of incest or sexual abuse was not particularly damaging or traumatic see note 36.

11. Rachel Devlin, Relative Intimacy: Fathers, Adolescent Daughters, and Postwar American Culture (Chapel Hill, 2005), chapter 1.

12. David Levy, Maternal Overprotection (New York, 1943); Rose W. Coleman, Ernst Kris, and Sally Provence, "The Study of Variations of Early Parental Attitudes," The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, VIII (1953): 20-47. See also, Ernst Kris, "Notes on the Development and on Some Current Problems of Psychoanalytic Child Psychology," The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, V (1950): 24-46.

13. Rebecca Plant, "The Repeal of Mother-Love: Momism and the Reconstruction of Motherhood in Philip Wylie's America," Ph.D. Dissertation (Baltimore, 2001).

14. On girls and sexuality during World War II, see John D'Emilio and Estelle Freedman, Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America (New York, 1988) p. 261. Beth Bailey argues that sexual liberalism increased more gradually over the course of the postwar period than has previously been assumed. See Sex in The Heartland (Cambridge, 1999).

15. Beth Bailey, From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth Century America (Baltimore, 1988).

16. Pamela Haag, "In Search of 'The Real Thing': Ideologies of Love, Modern Romance, and Women's Sexual Subjectivity in the United States, 1920-1940," The Journal of the History of Sexuality 2 (1992); Elizabeth Lunbeck, The Psychiatric Persuasion: Knowledge, Gender, and Power in Modern America (New Jersey, 1994).

17. On the professionalization of social work and attitudes towards unwed mothers see Regina Kunzel, Fallen Women, Problem Girls: Unmarried Mothers and the Professionalization of Social Work, 1890-1945 (New Haven, 1993); Rickie Solinger, Wake Up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race Before Roe V. Wade (New York, 1992).

18. Herman, Father-Daughter Incest, p. 22.

19. Elizabeth Wilson, "Not in this House: Incest, Denial, and Doubt in the White Middle Class Family," The Yale Journal of Criticism 8 (1995): p. 43. Diana E.H. Russell, The Secret Trauma: Incest in the Lives of Girls and Women (New York, 1986); Florence Rush, The Best Kept Secret: Sexual Abuse of Children (New York, 1980).

20. A convincing study of ways in which scientists denied the possibility of incest when confronted with venereal disease in children at the turn of the century is in Lynn Sacco, "Sanitized for Your Protection: Medical Discourse and the Denial of Incest in the United States, 1890-1940," Journal of Women's History 14.3 (2002): 80-104.

21. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, vol. 1 (New York, 1978), 108-109.

22. Karen Sanchez-Eppler, "Temperance in the Bed of a Child: Incest and Social Order in Nineteenth-Century America," American Quarterly, v. 47.1 (March 1995): 8-9.

23. Pollak, Incest and the English Novel, p. 16.

24. Ellen Pollak, Incest and the English Novel, 1684-1814.

25. For a discussion on depictions of incest between fathers and preadolescent daughters, see Karen Sanchez-Eppler, "Temperance in the Bed of a Child."

26. Kirson S. Weinberg, Incest Behavior (New York, 1955), p. 37-38.

27. Kate Friedlander, The Psycho-Analytical Approach to Juvenile Delinquency: Theory; Case Studies; Treatment (London, 1947), p. 173. See also Sved Riemer, "A Research Note on Incest," The American Journal of Sociology XLV (July, 1939): 566; "The Background of Incestuous Relationship," in Clyde B. Vedder, Samuel Koenig and Robert E. Clark, eds., Criminology: A Book of Readings (New York, 1953), p. 301; John W. Rhinehart, M.D., "Genesis of Overt Incest," Comprehensive Psychiatry II (December, 1961): 338; B. Karpman, The Sexual Offender and His Offenses (New York, 1954).

28. Weinberg, Incest Behavior, p. 39.

29. Karl Bowman, California Sex Deviation Research (California, 1953), p. 13.

30. Philip Jenkins, Moral Panic, p. 86-88.

31. Acts falling under "contributing to the delinquency of minors" included soliciting, homosexual contacts, exhibitionism, peeping and loitering near children's playgrounds. Karl Bowman, California Sex Deviation Research., p. 44.

32. Ibid.

33. Pleck, Domestic Tyranny, p. 156.

34. Weinberg, Incest Behavior, p. 42.

35. I would like to thank Dawn Flood who first alerted me to the existence of these trial transcripts.

36. People of the State of Illinois Vs. Charles Le Roy, Ind. No. 60-3932, 1960. People of the State of Illinois Vs. Mark Weisman, Ind. No. 57-222, Criminal Court of Cook County, 1957. People of the State of Illinois Vs. John Thompson, Ind. No. 44-561, Criminal Court of Cook County, 1944.

37. People of the State of Illinois Vs. John Thompson, Ind. No. 44-561, the Criminal Court of Cook County, 1944.

38. People of the State of Illinois Vs. Mark Weisman, Ind. No. 57-222, Criminal Court of Cook County, 1957.

39. People of the State of Illinois Vs. John Thomson; The People of the State of Illinois Vs. Sebastion Ryan, Ind. No. 61-1098, 1961.

40. The People of the State of Illinois Vs. Charles Le Roy, Ind. No. 60-3932, Criminal Court of Cook County, 1960.

41. Kinsey, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, p. 118; Judith Lewis Herman, Father-Daughter Incest, p. 13.

42. Prewar studies mostly concentrated on the question of mother-son incest. See especially, Karl Abraham, "Neurotic Exogamy," Psychoanalytic Review VIII (1921): 101-120; Otto Rank, Inzest Motiv in Dichtung und Saga (Leipzig, 1926), cited in Blanchard, The Adolescent Girl (New York, 1920), p. 123.

43. Estelle Freedman, "Uncontrolled Desires: The Response to the Sexual Psychopath, 1920-1960," Kathy Peiss and Christina Simmons, eds., Passion and Power (Philadelphia, 1987), pp. 199-225.

44. Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo (New York, 1950), p. 3.

45. Sigmund Freud, "The Aetiology of Hysteria," The Complete Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. James Strachey, SE (London, 1962) III, p. 191-221.

46. Interestingly, some studies of father daughter incest begin with a re-telling of Freud's abandonment of the seduction theory--probably as a way to let the audience know that they were already aware of the questions the study of father-daughter incest could raise. See especially Hector Cavallin, "Incestuous Fathers: A Clinical Report," The American Journal of Psychiatry 122 (April 1966): 1132-1138; Irving B. Weiner, "Father-Daughter Incest: A Clinical Report," Psychiatric Quarterly 36 (1962): 607-632. John H. Gagnon, "Female Child Victims of Sex Offenses," Social Problems XIII (1965): 176-192. Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, The Assault On Truth: Freud's Suppression of the Seduction Theory (New York, 1984), p. 129

47. Masson, Assault on Truth, p. 133. For a discussion of the distinction between Freud's emphasis on "instincts and constitutional factors" as opposed to the "social environment" or "external influences," which became important to psychoanalysts and psychoanalytically influenced intellectuals in the United States in the 1930s, see Mari Jo Buhle, Feminism and Its Discontents: A Century of Struggle with Psychoanalysis (Cambridge, 1998), p. 88 and ff. Many have disputed how and to what extent Freud actually did abandon this theory. David Wilbern, for examples, argues that Freud continued to employ ideas about abuse and psychic trauma, however, he did so selectively in "Filia Oedipi: Father and Daughter in Freudian Theory," in Lynda Boose and Betty S. Flowers, eds., Daughters and Fathers (Baltimore, 1989). See also Elizabeth Pleck on this question in Domestic Tyranny, p. 153.

48. Nathan G. Hale, Jr., The Rise and Crisis of Psychoanalysis in the United States: Freud and the Americans, 1917-1985 (New York, 1995), p. 231-244; p. 133 and 284.

49. J. Butler Tompkins, M.D., "Penis Envy and Incest: A Case Report," Psychoanalytic Review 27 (1940): 319-325.

50. Irving Kaufman, M.D., Alice L. Peck, M.S.W., and Consuelo K. Tagiuri, M.D., "The Family Constellation and Overt Incestuous Relations Between Father and Daughter," American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 24 (April, 1954): 266-278.

51. Kaufman, "The Family Constellation and Overt Incestuous Relations Between Father and Daughter," p. 277, and Lillian Gordon, "Incest as Revenge Against the Pre-Oedipal Mother," Psychoanalytic Review 42 (1955): 291.

52. On the tendency for adolescent girls to resort to "pseudology" see Deutsch, The Psychology of Women, p. 125; Phyllis Greenacre, "The Prepuberty Trauma in Girls," The Psychoanalytic Quarterly 19 (1950): 278-300.

53. Bruno Cormier, M.D., Miriam Kennedy, Jadwiga Sangowicz, M.D., "Psychodynamics of Father Daughter Incest," Canadian Psychiatric Association Journal VII (October, 1962): 205. The sense that these analysts failed to see incest as an extraordinary event is reinforced by the fact that none of the analyses described the experience of father-daughter incest as traumatic for the daughter. Several authors asserted that the guilt and anxiety aroused by the incest did not occur until after the sexual activity had been terminated, and thus deduced that any psychological disturbance was motivated by the fact of having violated a social taboo rather than the impact of the sexual transgression itself. The fact that the incest often continued over a course of several years suggested to many that the daughters were "gratified" by the experience. Paul Sloane, M.D. and Eva Karpinski, "Effects of Incest on the Participants," American Journal of Orthopsychiatry XII (October 1942): 666-673. This perspective on incest owed something to the psychoanalytic consensus on childhood sexual trauma first put forward by Karl Abraham in 1907. According to Abraham, it was only the guilt about having done something wrong, rather than the experience of sexual attack itself, that gave rise to the psychological disorders that followed childhood sexual abuse. It was believed that some children simply desired sexual contact with adults. However, it is worth noting that the articles on incest produced between 1940 and 1965 contributed to this perspective, even further entrenched the sense that sexual experience with adults could be counted as a social problem involving girls rather than adult men, and thus could not be counted as a type of uninvited assault that damaged the psyche. Psychoanalytic studies of incest--which outnumbered more general psychoanalytic inquires into sexual abuse during this period--contributed to the notion that sexual abuse was not traumatic primarily by linking it to normal Oedipal desires. Hence these studies of incest did affect the larger question of the impact of sexual abuse on children and adolescents. Karl Abraham, "The Experiencing of Sexual Traumas as a Form of Sexual Activity," The Selected Papers of Karl Abraham (London, 1965), p. 47-63.

54. Ernest Jones, Papers on Psychoanalysis, 4th ed. (Baltimore, 1938). Cormier, "Psychodynamics of Father Daughter Incest."

55. Lillian Gordon, "Incest as Revenge Against the Pre-Oedipal Mother," Psychoanalytic Review 42 (1955): 284.

56. Ibid., p. 206.

57. Ibid., p. 287.

58. Ibid.

59. Ibid., p. 288.

60. Ibid.

61. Ibid., p. 284.

62. Ibid.

63. Ibid., p. 291-292.

64. Ibid., p. 284.

65. Sylvan Keiser, "A Manifest Oedipus Complex in an Adolescent Girl," The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child 8 (1953) p. 99; Gordon, p. 292.

66. See especially Harry S. Howard, "Incest: The Revenge Motive," The Delaware State Medical Journal XXXI (1959): 223-225; John W. Rhinehart, M.D., "Genesis of Overt Incest," Comprehensive Psychiatry II (December, 1961): 338-349.

67. Irving Kaufman, M.D., Alice L. Peck, M.S.W., and Consuelo K. Tagiuri, M.D., "The Family Constellation and Overt Incestuous Relations Between Father and Daughter," American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 24 (April, 1954): 266-278.

68. Ibid., p. 271.

69. Ibid., p. 276.

70. Ibid., p. 267.

71. Ibid., p. 277.

72. Matilde Wencelblat De Rascovsky and Arnoldo Rascovsky, "On Consummated Incest," The International Journal of Psychoanalysis XXXI (1950): 45-46.

73. Rascovsky and Rascovsky's conclusions were, it is perhaps worth noting, referenced elsewhere. See Cormier, "Psychodynamics of Father Daughter Incest," and Irving B. Weiner, "Father-Daughter Incest: A Clinical Report."

74. Lauretta Bender, M.D. and Abram Blau, M.D., "The Reaction of Children to Sexual Relations with Adults," The American Journal of Orthopsychiatry XII (July, 1937): 500-518. This article was especially critical to Kinsey when interpreting reports of child abuse, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, p. 121, note 20. See also Paul Sloane and Eva karpinski, "Effects of Incest on the Participants." Karl Bowman, California Sex Deviation Research.

75. Lauretta Bender, M.D. and Abram Blau, M.D., "The Reaction of Children to Sexual Relations with Adults," The American Journal of Orthopsychiatry XII (July, 1937): 500-518.

76. John W. Rhinehart, M.d., "Genesis of Overt Incest," Comprehensive Psychiatry II (December, 1961): 338-349.

77. Based on a reading of approximately 50 files, and a close reading of 19 case histories of girls recorded in the files of The Judge Baker Children's Center, Boston, Massachusetts, 1947-1957. Because these are recent cases, they have not yet been released to a library collection. The Judge Baker Children's Center is understandably concerned about the confidentiality of these cases, as in some instances they discuss persons who may still be living. All names, as well as locations or other identifying information has been excised from my notes. Case numbers have been reassigned according to my own system of classification and do not correspond with case numbers as they appear in the Judge Baker Children's Center files. Case number 37583N, fourteen year-old girl, "Bernice,"; Case Number 37575N, "Julie" (1946); Case Number 37576C, eighteen year-old girl, "Jill" (1947); Case Number 49210C, sixteen year-old girl, "Alice" (1956).

78. Elizabeth Lunbeck, The Psychiatric Persuasion: Knowledge, Gender, and Power in Modern America (New Jersey, 1994).

79. Case number 37576C, 18 year-old girl, "Jill" (1947). An extensive examination of the circumstances and social workers' discussion of this case have been removed from this article on the request of the Judge Baker Children's Center.

80. Pamela Haag, Consent: Sexual Rights and the Transformation of American Liberalism (Ithaca, 1999), p. 167.

81. Ibid., p. 173.

82. Ibid., p. 166.

83. Case Number 37575N, eighteen year-old "Julie," (1946); Case Number 37580D, sixteen year-old girl, "Lucy," (1947); Case Number 37575N, eighteen year-old "Julie," (1946); Case Number 23423A, sixteen year-old girl, "Jane," (1963); Case Number 23421C, eleven year-old girl, "Karen," (1953).

84. Case number 37575N, eighteen year-old girl, "Julie," (1946).

85. Ibid.

86. Case number 37580D, sixteen year-old girl, "Lucy," (1957).

87. Case number 37583N, sixteen year-old girl, "Bernice," (1947).

88. Weinberg, Incest Behavior, p. 63.

89. The People of the State of Illinois Vs. Sebastion Ryan, Ind. No. 61-1098, Criminal Court of Cook County, 1961.

90. The first article to include the psychology (and culpability) of incestuous fathers--the first of its type--appeared in The Archives of General Psychiatry in 1966, though it considered fathers within the context of an examination of the pathology of all members of the family in which father-daughter incest occurred N. Lustig, J.W. Dresser, S. W. Spellman, and T.B. Murray, "Incest," Archives of General Psychiatry XIV (Jan., 1966): 31-40.

91. Judith Herman's book, Father-Daughter Incest made an enormous impact when it appeared in 1983, not only within the academy but on the public perception of the trauma, social cost, and shockingly high rates of paternal incestuous abuse. Linda Gordon's classic, Heroes of Their Own Lives, stands as an interpretive monument to the experiences, courage and often resiliance of girls who suffered incestuous abuse during the years before World War II.

By Rachel Devlin

Tulane University

Department of History

New Orleans, LA 70118
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