I have special affection for Harmon S. Ephron. I met “Sol” as he was known at a meeting of the Princeton Psychoanalytic Society. His acuity of observation, irony, and joyful humor brought life to a sometimes staid affair. He was, in other words, the life of the party. In the years following our introduction, Sol was my mentor, personal psychoanalyst, and friend. I had been through one analysis as part of my training at the American Institute for Psychoanalysis, but I had a great deal to learn from this remarkable man. At Sol’s death, I wrote an obituary for the American Journal of Psychoanalysis that was published in an abbreviated version due to page limits. The following is the full version of the obituary:
Harmon S. Ephron, one of the founders of the Association of Advancement of Psychoanalysis and the American Institute for Psychoanalysis, died at his home in Kendall Park, New Jersey on February 12th, 1992. He was 97 years old. Dr. Ephron served as psychoanalyst, supervisor, and mentor to literally generations of psychoanalysts.
Harmon, who was called “Sol”, a version of his middle name, by his family and friends, was one of the famed five psychoanalysts who resigned the New York Psychoanalytic Society in protest over the Society’s effort to curb the technical and theoretical innovations of Karen Horney. In the early years of the Association, he co-taught Institute courses with Karen Horney and Erich Fromm at the New School for Social Research.
Harmon S. Ephron, the eldest of three children, was born November 18, 1894 in Kingston, N.Y. His parents were immigrants from Russia who struggled to provide food and shelter to their family. Sol vividly remembered his mother’s warmth and sacrifice and painfully recalled his father’s ubiquitous anger. The Jewish immigrant communities of Perth Amboy and St. Louis where he grew to maturity provided a counterpoint to the often tense drama of his immediate family. Sol frequently recalled the rich mosaic of his extended family, the street scenes and Yiddish theater which established for him an enduring curiosity about the broader world. From childhood through young adulthood, he labored in assorted jobs from errand boy to “printer’s devil” and finally to “journeyman printer.” He held an honorary membership card in the Typographical Union to the end of his life. Only through extraordinary effort and energy did Sol disengage from manual labor to pursue his genuine interest, the life of the mind; and only then did he discover that others, besides his mother, appreciated his wit and deep natural curiosity.
In 1919, Sol’s fascination with psychoanalysis was sparked by a lecture on Dostoyevsky and psychoanalysis for which he paid a 10 cent admission. In 1984, he told a reporter for the New Brunswick Central Post (Otto, p. 3A) he was “fascinated that people could understand human nature and help.” Sol began to read book after book on psychoanalysis as he worked as a typesetter and as a social worker. In the mid-1920s he tried a stint at New York Law School for a year, but quit because “I loved the practice of law, but I couldn’t stand the commercial aspect.”
Sol’s comment derived from his deep commitment to social justice and his first-hand experience of the exploitation of labor and society’s limitation of human potential. By his 34th birthday he was committed to be a psychoanalyst and therefore a medical doctor. In 1928 he was admitted to Cornell Medical School. In an interview with the New Brunswick Home News (Molnar, 1984, pp. J1-J2) on his 90th birthday, Sol quipped, “When I told Cornell that I wanted to be a psychiatrist, they grabbed me because I was the only one in the four years… going to medical school who wanted to be [a psychiatrist].” During his years in medical school, he supported a wife and two children, “I went to medical school nine to five. After that, I’d go to the settlement house and work there until midnight. Then, I studied medicine until 3 or 4 in the morning. There were times when I took an exam that I was like wood.”
In 1932 Sol commenced his long anticipated psychiatric residency at the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital in Towson, Md.. During these years, Harry Stack Sullivan was conducting his research in schizophrenia and Sheppard-Pratt became a Mecca for enlightened psychiatry. As Sol observed, “Sheppard-Pratt became the first healing treatment hospital….Up until then, hospitals for the mentally ill had been mainly custodial (Otto, 1984, p. 3A).”
Following his residency, Sol undertook training at the New York Psychoanalytic Society. His first analyst was Abraham Kardiner whom he described to me as “therapeutically inert.” After six months of five times a week analysis and his analyst’s complete silence, Kardiner finally uttered an observation. Sol recalled how he responded, “I jumped off the couch and declared ‘how profound, how significant, you have penetrated to the core of the matter’, and I left.” Two years latter, Kardiner confided to Sol, “I’m better now.” But Sol had since chosen Karen Horney as his analyst. He described Karen Horney as “solid, significant, a person of immense importance, a connoisseur of character.” Since Sol was a man of character, he never wavered in his commitment to the scientific requirement for openness and dialogue in psychoanalysis, and so, in protest against discrimination against Horney’s ideas, he resigned his membership in the New York Psychoanalytic Society together with Karen Horney, Clara Thompson, Sarah Kelman, and Bernard Robbins. He then became instrumental in the Neo-Freudian psychoanalytic movement.
In 1943, Sol was one of the founders of the Postgraduate Training Program in Psychoanalysis at New York Medical College, the first psychoanalytic training program ever to be instituted in a medical college. He served as Training and Supervising Psychoanalyst there for over 25 years. Later he was twice president of the Society of Medical Psychoanalysts. During these years, he entered a third analysis with Theodore Reich. Sol’s interest in the inner world was never merely academic or technical. For him, analysis was not an already achieved state of affairs, but a continuous process.
In 1954, Sol married his second wife, Patricia Carrington. Together, Sol and Pat published numerous papers and made significant contributions to the study of REM sleep and dreaming, and the use of meditation as an adjunct to psychoanalysis, as well as technical approaches to psychotherapeutic interventions. In 1973 when he was 79 years old, Sol was appointed Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UMDNJ/ Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, then known as Rutgers Medical School, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and he and Pat left New York City to live in Kendall Park, N.J., a few miles from Princeton.
During his years in the Princeton area, Sol continued his clinical practice, supervised mental health professionals and clinical students at the medical school, and continued to conduct seminars. With the wear of years, his mind and spirit were remarkably agile, his clinical acumen undiminished, and his capacity for humor and good-will unconstrained by hardship and the inevitable cumulative failings of the body. Perhaps Sol’s most painful disability was his failed vision which deprived him of reading. The life of the mind was his passion.
In his old age with his wry self-knowledge, canny wisdom and deep understanding of human nature, Sol possessed a particular beauty. Like the sun at its setting fills the sky with a panorama of color, he radiated the presence of a spirit who lived and embraced life to its fullest.
On the occasion of his death, his wife, Patricia Carrington wrote, “When he did go (the quality of life for him during the last 4 weeks, bedridden now and quite helpless, had dropped to zero) during the last few moments a beautiful contentment spread over his face and a gentle smile. He had not only accepted but actually embraced what was happening. In typical Harmon Ephron fashion–he did every part of this thoroughly.”
Dr. Harmon Saul Ephron is survived by his wife, Patricia Carrington Ephron, Ph.D.; his daughter, Ethel Ephron Sherman of St. Louis, Mo.; his son, Eugene H. Ephron, M.D. of Vista, Ca.; six grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
Molnar, M. (November 18, 1984). At 90, psychiatrist still a dreamer, still a doer. New Bruswick Home News. Pp. J1-J2.
Otto, M. (November 8, 1984). A career spent plumbing depths of human mind. New Bruswick Central Post. P. 3A.
This is the full text of a Memorial for Harmon S Ephron. I am grateful to Patricia Carrington Ephron for her review of this paper and her editorial suggestions and corrections. A shorter version appeared in: van den Daele, L.D. (1992). Memorial for Harmon S. Ephron. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 52, 378.