Dr. Clara Mabel Thompson (1893-1958).
With the possible exception of Norman Mailer, Clara Thompson is the most historically influential person buried in Town Cemetery. She was one of the early advocates of interpersonal psychoanalysis — an approach that examines the influence of others on a patient’s development. That the people in your life should have had a role in shaping your personality sounds obvious now, but it constituted an important departure from classical Freudian analysis. Dr. Thompson was born in Providence, and educated at the Women’s College in Connection with Brown University and at Johns Hopkins University. She worked at St. Elizabeths Hospital, a government psychiatric hospital in Washington under the direction of Dr. William Alanson White. At the suggestion of Dr. Harry Stack Sullivan, Dr. Thompson underwent analysis and study with the renowned psychoanalyst Sándor Ferenczi in Bupadest, from 1928 to 1933. Back in the States, from 1934 to 1941, Dr. Thompson taught at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute (now the New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute). She purchased her Provincetown home, 599 Commercial Street, in 1942. The next year, Dr. Thompson helped found the William Alanson White Institute, originally as a branch of the Washington School of Psychiatry. Her co-founders included Dr. Sullivan and Erich Fromm, the author of Escape From Freedom, a milestone of psychosocial political analysis.
Dr. Thompson was for many years the lover of the artist Henry Major, who was married all the while to Erzebet “Erzsi” Alexander, a sister of the Hungarian psychoanalyst Dr. Franz Alexander, known as the “father of psychosomatic medicine.” Erzsi Major was driving to Cape Cod in August 1948 to obtain Henry’s signature on divorce papers when — distracted by an insect that had flown into her car — she lost control of the vehicle and was fatally injured when it crashed into a tree, Ilonka Venier Alexander wrote in The Life and Times of Franz Alexander: From Budapest to California (2015). Henry died the next month at the home of Dr. Thompson, whom The Advocate decorously described as “an old friend.” She was buried next to him a decade later. I regret that I do not yet know who sculpted the monument at Dr. Thompson’s grave, but its anthropomorphic quality is unmistakable. And quite appropriate.
Find a Grave Memorial No. 171701163.