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Eder, M. D. (Montague David) (1866-1936)
by Gaipa, Mark


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Montagu David Eder (1866-1936)

Social reformer, medical doctor, psychoanalyst, Zionist: Eder led a remarkably busy and productive life. He was a political idealist and revolutionary, but one who was continuously engaged in the pedestrian work of relieving human suffering. A pioneer in the fields of school-hygiene, psychology and war neuroses, Eder was also a key figure in establishing Palestine as the Jewish homeland. His work in numerous fields brought him into contact with the most influential people of his day—including Orage and his circle. All of his associates had high praise for him.

Eder was born in London to a middle-class Jewish family, one that attended synagogue but was assimilated into British social life. He was schooled privately in London and later in Belgium and Germany. In his twenties, Eder attended medical school while sharing a bohemian apartment in Bloomsbury with Israel Zangwill, his cousin and close friend. In 1891 Eder received a Bachelor of Science degree from London University, and he earned his medical degree four years later. For the next ten years Eder lived mostly abroad: first practicing medicine in South Africa (Johannesburg, 1895-1896), then in South America (Columbia), where he had a number of adventures with natives in the Andes and Amazon. In 1905 Eder returned to London, where he maintained a regular medical practice that, beginning about 1912, increasingly involved clinical psychoanalysis. Eder volunteered as a doctor during the war, and in 1916 he worked with shell-shocked soldiers in Malta. The book he wrote about his experiences—War-shock, published in 1917—was one of the first texts on wartime neuroses. After the war, Eder lived on an orange farm in Palestine, where he served as a political officer and medical doctor for the Zionist Commission. Around 1923, Eder returned to England, where he remained active in both Zionism and psychoanalysis until his death, from a heart attack, in 1936.

Politics and Medicine

Eder's involvement in politics, which preceded his becoming a doctor, probably determined his lifelong commitment to public health and the social application of medicine. As though a testament of this early political commitment, Eder bore on his forehead a scar that he received, as a boy, in the “Bloody Sunday” riots of 1887. Early on, Eder became a member of the Independent Labour Party (I.L.P.) and the Fabian Society; in 1889 he served as secretary to the Bloomsbury Socialist Society. After his return from South America, Eder helped found the London Labour Party. In these years before the war, he would regularly travel across England lecturing to people about the need for social and economic justice for all. His socialist politics also found expression in his professional concern for the working classes. Eder practiced medicine in British slums in 1905, and in 1907 he established the first school clinic (the Bow Clinic) in London for poor children. Over the next few years Eder provided medical services here and then at the Margaret MacMillan School Clinic. In 1910 he established and edited the journal School Hygiene, which brought the health of England's poor children to the nation's attention. During the war, Eder spent over a year working part-time as a medical inspector in London's East End schools.

Eder and The New Age

In his pre-war years, Eder was an important contributor to The New Age. His work regularly appeared in the paper from 1907-1917, amounting to about 50 signed articles. Eder also attended editorial meetings that Orage organized in his Fleet Street offices. Eder's writing for the journal largely addressed medical and psychological topics, including school hygiene and the link between socialism and medicine, but he also wrote about politics, literature, and religion. In volume 3 (1908), Eder published a multiple-article series on “Good Breeding or Eugenics”; here Eder voiced his adamant opposition to eugenic sterilization. In 1908 The New Age Press published his treatise The Endowment of Motherhood, in which Eder argued for a social safety net for new mothers just before and after they gave birth. And in 1916 he wrote for the magazine an appreciative review of Beatrice Hinkle's translation of Jung's Psychology of the Unconscious.

Eder as psychoanalytic pioneer

Eder was well into his forties when he seriously embraced psychoanalysis. This new interest in the unconscious and its primitive instincts may have been bolstered, however, by Eder's earlier work in child development and perhaps even his first-hand experiences with natives in South America. In 1912, when Eder began his analytic practice in London, he probably became the first practicing psychoanalyst in England. His new practice met with great resistance and skepticism from other members of the British medical community. Eder responded by vigorously promoting Freud's and Jung's ideas, in both the scientific and the popular press. In 1913 Eder became the first secretary to the London Psychoanalytic Society (for which Ernest Jones acted as president); he also went on to produce English translations of Freud's books about dreaming: On Dreams in 1914, and Dream Psychology: Psychoanalysis for Beginners in 1920. Drawing upon his own clinical researches, Eder published 36 scientific papers on psychoanalytic topics. In the 1920's, Eder was a committed member of the British Pyscho-Analytical Society. In 1923, he spent 8 months in analysis with Sandor Ferenczi in Budapest.

Eder as Zionist

Eder's commitment to Zionism, like his commitment to psychoanalysis, came late in life, this time when Eder was in his early fifties. Though he espoused atheism, Eder identified himself throughout his life as culturally and racially Jewish. Before the war, his political activism was concerned mainly with socialist causes (Eder was also a member of Zangwill's Jewish Territorial Organization, which offered itself as an alternative to the Zionist Movement). But even in his early years Eder's activism worked on behalf of the Jewish people—in 1908 he participated in a contingent from the J.T.O. that visited Cyrenaica (in Northern Africa) as a possible site for the new Jewish state, and he also reported on the possibility of a site in Brazil. After the war, when Zionism had achieved new momentum, Eder joined the Zionist Commission in visiting Palestine; he stayed for four years, providing relief work and needed social services, and he presided as the head of the Zionist Executive in Jerusalem until 1923. Through the 1920's, Eder held prominent positions with numerous Jewish committees: back in Europe he served as a member on the World Zionist Executive (1923-1928), and later acted as president of the English Zionist Federation (1930-1932). Eder also contributed—as a writer and editorial-board member—to New Judea, the paper of the World Zionist Movement. For many years Eder worked on behalf of Hebrew University, which dedicated a library to Eder after his death. Finally, when Jews faced increasing persecution in Germany in the early 1930's, Eder helped find medical positions in England and the Commonwealth for hundreds of Jewish refugees.

Testimonials about Eder

Dorothy Richardson described Eder as “one of the kindliest human beings I have ever known” (16). Writing after his death, Rebecca West characterized him as “such a strange mixture of charm and solid sense—an ideal combination I never saw elsewhere. I can't think of anybody I can imagine leaving a bigger hole in the world” (131). D. H. Lawrence—who was close friends with Eder and his wife Edith, and who sought his companionship in his travels beyond Europe—wrote of Eder that there is “something right about him” (120). Ernest Jones, the psychologist, claimed that Eder “would sacrifice all he had, time, money, labour and health, without a moment's reflection, not only for social, but also for any personal causes that engaged his sympathy” (111). And Freud, reflecting back upon Eder after his death, wrote that he was “distinguished by a rare combination of absolute love and truth and undoubted courage, together with toleration and a great capacity for love” (9).

—Mark Gaipa

Sources

  • “David Eder” (obituary). London Times: March 31, 1936, p. 11.
  • Hobman, J. B., ed. David Eder: Memoirs of a Modern Pioneer. London: V. Gollancz, 1945.
  • Sacher, Harry. Zionist Portraits, and Other Essays. London: A. Blond, 1959.
  • Steele, Tom. Alfred Orage and the Leeds Arts Club, 1893-1923. Brookfield, Vermont: Scolar Press, 1990.
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