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Alfhild Tamm


Psychiatrist, psychoanalyst

Alfhild Tamm was the first female psychiatrist in Sweden. She contributed to the introduction and establishment of psychoanalysis in Sweden.

Alfhild Tamm was born in Tveta parish, south of Stockholm. She grew up in a wealthy environment at Tvetaberg manor house, where her father was the property owner. Her mother Anna came from Värmland. Alfhild Tamm and her four siblings were all taught by governesses. Her sister Märta Tamm-Götlind, like Alfhild Tamm herself, was interested in speech and linguistics. In 1918 the two sisters published an article together on the r-sound.

In 1895 Alfhild Tamm graduated from the Åhlin school in Stockholm. She subsequently studied medicine, mainly at Karolinska Institutet, but also briefly at Lund and Uppsala Universities. She obtained her medical licentiate in 1905. In the early stages of her career she worked with Bror Gadelius, Sweden’s first professor of psychiatry. In 1904 she began to work at Konradsberg hospital, and in 1908 she worked at the neurological clinic at the Serafim hospital. In between she spent a short period working at Kristinehamn hospital. However, she was unable to obtain a position as fulltime psychiatrist at the latter as it was not seen as suitable for a woman to be appointed to such a position of responsibility at that time. In 1951 Alfhild Tamm was awarded an honorary doctorate from Karolinska Institutet, which is now seen as a form of compensation for her earlier rejection.

Alfhild Tamm went abroad to improve her knowledge. For example, in 1909 she obtained a stipend from the Fredrika Bremer association in order to travel to Berlin and study psychiatry, neurology, and speech impediments. Upon her return to Sweden she opened a private surgery in Stockholm.

Alfhild Tamm developed an interest in psychoanalysis at a young age. In 1913 she travelled to Vienna in order to study not only psychoanalysis but also speech impediments. She returned to Vienna on many occasions, which placed her in centre of psychoanalytic development. She underwent trainee analysis with Helene Deutsch and Paul Federn.

Alfhild Tamm made notable contributions as a specialist in speech impediments which increased the public awareness of children with learning difficulties, speech disorders and dyslexia. She worked as a school doctor and established children’s speech disorders as a clinical specialism. Her work occurred in the borderland between education, medicine and psychology. She also worked on investigating and evaluating children to determine those who were not suited to conventional schooling. She highlighted that speech disorders could have physical as well as psychological origins, and she wrote articles on speech impediments, learning difficulties and differential diagnoses for Svenska Läkartidningen and Acta Paediatrica. She was also one of the founders of Svenska sällskapet för röst- och talvård (the Swedish association for voice and speech therapy) in 1938. Further, she was involved in establishing Nordisk tidskrift for tale og stimme in 1936.

Throughout her working life Alfhild Tamm was socially active. This included writing a series of popular science books and articles for the press. For example, in 1916 she published Talrubbningar och deras behandling. En handledning för lärare och föräldrar. Alfhild Tamm believed that it was important that children with difficulties were not only treated as medical cases. She wanted to convey knowledge of how these children developed and what their needs were. In 1947 she published the article ”Mera psykologi i medicine och mera medicin i psykologin” in Socialmedicinsk Tidskrift. The article’s title, calling for more psychology in medicine and more medicine in psychology, is characteristic of her work. Although she was a medical doctor she was also extremely significant for the development of psychology in Sweden. Själens läkarbok, 1943, contains a chapter where she argues that psychology should not just be limited to studies in sensory perception but that desires and emotions should be considered equally important. She also wrote that “psychological hygiene” should not be an area dealt with by medicine but rather that social work, psychology and education, and even the layman’s perspective, should all be central to understanding the psychological needs of children. She also emphasized the importance of including teachers in clinical work. During the 1930s she argued that both doctors and teachers should be eligible for training as psychoanalysts.

In her book Ett sexualproblem. Onanifrågan i psykoanalytisk belysning, 1930, Alfhild Tamm describes masturbation as a natural aspect of children’s development. She tried to counter prejudices regarding masturbation through better education on the topic. The majority of the book describes a popular science approach to psychoanalytical theory, in particular those parts of the theory pertaining to sexuality and children’s psycho-sexual development. This book presents her as somewhat of a people’s educator. She proposes a more permissive view of sexuality in general and of children’s masturbation in particular, and she is particularly careful to oppose the sense of guilt which is tied to masturbation. She also describes the importance of a more permissive view of homosexuality and homosexual tendencies and refers to the psychoanalytical discipline and its open view of homosexuality. She also emphasized the need for a freer view of women’s sexuality and argued for the improvement of women’s position in society.

Alfhild Tamm was a driving force behind the setting up of the Svensk-finsk psykoanalytiska föreningen (the Swedo-Finnish psychoanalytical association) in 1934, and similarly engaged in the establishment of the Svenska psykoanalytiska föreningen (the Swedish psychoanalytical association) during the Second World War. She was the chair of the former from 1934 to 1947 and, initially, was the only educational analyst. Her productivity, lengthy experience, and closeness to the psychoanalytical environment in Vienna meant that she was perfectly suited for the task. Alfhild Tamm also ran a private psychoanalytical surgery where Karin Boye and Tora Sandström, amongst others, underwent psychoanalytical treatment. Throughout 1936 she was very engaged in press debates on psychoanalysis and its relevance to clinical work.

During the last decades of her life Alfhild Tamm came to focus increasingly on issues of psychology, education, social conditions and childcare. In the aforementioned Själens läkarbok she argued that it was reprehensible to beat children. She also described how parents who beat their children may develop feelings of guilt which could, in turn, cause difficulties for them in establishing limits in their conscious or sub-conscious attempts to compensate for the disciplining actions. Alfhild Tamm thus took a progressive view on children, society and clinical methodology.

Alfhild Tamm stands out as a person who went her own way, both in her work and private life. She did not have a conventional family life, but lived with a woman called Armgart von Leth who also worked in speech therapy and contributed to setting up the psychoanalytical association. Alfhild Tamm left notable parts of her assets to Armgart von Leth.

Alfhild Tamm died in 1959 and is buried at the Norra cemetery in Solna.

Elisabeth Punzi
(Translated by Alexia Grosjean)

Published 2018-03-08

You are welcome to cite this article but always provide the author’s name as follows:

Alfhild Tamm,, Svenskt kvinnobiografiskt lexikon (article by Elisabeth Punzi), retrieved 2024-07-14.

Family Relationships

Civil Status: Unmarried
  • Mother: Anna Hildegard Tamm, född Bergendahl
  • Father: Claes Oscar Sebastian Tamm
  • Sister: Hildegard Carolina Tamm
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  • Privatundervisning i hemmet, Tveta: Guvernant
  • Flickskola, Stockholm: Studentexamen, Åhlinska skolan, privatskola
  • Universitet, Stockholm: Med.lic.examen, inkl kortare vistelser vid Lunds och Uppsala universitet, Karolinska Institutet
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  • Profession: Amanuens, Konradsberg hospital
  • Profession: Läkare, biträdande, Piteå hospital
  • Profession: Underläkare, Kristinehamns hospital
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  • Colleague: Bror Gadelius
  • Colleague: Ludwig Jekels
  • Colleague: Helene Deutsch
  • Colleague: Paul Federn


  • Finsk-svenska psykoanalytiska föreningen (fr o m 1943 Svenska psykoanalytiska föreningen)
    Medgrundare, medlem, ordförande
  • Svenska sällskapet för röst- och talvård
    Medgrundare, medlem


  • Birthplace: Tveta
  • Tveta
  • Stockholm
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  • Fritzell, Björn, Alfhild Tamm: pionjär inom svensk foniatri och logopedi, Fören. för utgivande av Svensk medicinhistorisk tidskrift, Stockholm, 2004

  • Johansson, Per Magnus, Freuds psykoanalys. Bd 3, Arvtagare i Sverige. D. 2, Daidalos, Göteborg, 2003

  • Luttenberger, Franz, Freud i Sverige: psykoanalysens mottagande i svensk medicin och idédebatt 1900–1924, Omarb. utg., Carlsson, Stockholm, 1989

  • Tamm, Alfhild, Talrubbningar och deras behandling: en handledning för lärare och föräldrar, Norstedt, Stockholm, 1916

  • Tamm, Alfhild, Ett sexualproblem: onanifrågan i psyko-analytisk belysning : läkare och uppfostrare tillägnad, Tiden, Stockholm, 1930

Further References