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Wilhelm Reich

Psychoanalyst, author, sexologist and inventor Wilhelm Reich was born in Dobrianychi, Austria-Hungary (now Ukraine) on March 24, 1897. After a difficult childhood, he joined the Austrian Army in 1915 and fought in World War I. After the war, he earned a medical degree from the University of Vienna in 1922. He ascended quickly within the psychological community, having joined Sigmund Freud’s inner circle as an undergraduate student. As a researcher, Reich’s theories resulted in significant contributions to the field, particularly about how the physical body expressed psychological states. Reich promoted the availability of contraception regardless of marital status, abortion, and divorce, Coining the term ‘sexual revolution,’ Reich believed that sexual liberation could relieve mental illness and political oppression. He viewed sexuality, the orgasm in particular, as a cure for many of society’s ailments and brought these views to America in the 1940s and 1950s. Reich’s work was, however, increasingly overshadowed by his increasingly erratic behaviour and outlandish claims surrounding his theory of Orgone Energy, which he believed could be released by his invention, the Orgone Energy Box. Rejected by Freud, dismissed from the International Psychoanalytic Association, fired from his teaching position at The New School in New York City, and discredited by Einstein, the distribution of Reich’s Orgone Boxes were banned by a US court ruling, his self-published books banned, and Reich incarcerated before his untimely death in incarceration. Reich died of a heart attack in a Pennsylvania penitentiary on November 3, 1957.

Wilhelm Reich’s archive is housed at the Countway Library of Medicine. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.