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Margaret Frances Jane Lowenfeld (4 February 1890 - 2 February 1973) was a British-born pioneer of child psychology and psychotherapy, a medical researcher in paediatric medicine, and an author of several publications and academic papers on the analysis of child development and play. Margaret developed a number of educational techniques which bear her name and have achieved worldwide recognition.

Early YearsEdit

Margaret Lowenfield was born in Lowndes Square in Knightsbridge, London on 4 February 1890. Her father, Henryk (Henry) Loewenfeld, who was from Silesia, had arrived in England in the early 1880s. Although almost penniless he soon became a wealthy businessman through a variety of ventures, including the buying up of rundown theatres in the West End of London and starting a brewery selling non-alcoholic beer in Fulham at the time the temperance movement took hold. He married, Alice Evans who was British in 1884. Margaret was educated locally at a Church of England school and later attended Cheltenham Ladies College in Gloucestershire, England along with her older sister, Helena Rosa Wright who went on to be an influential figure in Birth Control and Family Planning.[1]


Medical training and mission workEdit

File:Great Ormond Street Hospital.jpg

Margaret followed her sister by going to the London Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine for Women in Bloomsbury, London and having passed the intermediate MB exam was able to achieve the minimum requirement to practice medicine by the time of the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Later that year she got a job at the Royal Free Hospital followed by a short period at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street. In 1917 at the second attempt she passed the MRCS (Eng.) and LRCP (Lond.) examinations and her MB, BS (Lond.) in 1918 and took up an house surgeon posting at the South London Hospital for Women.[2]

Her further training was interrupted when she was asked in late 1918 to join a mission to her ancestral home in Chrzanów where there had been outbreaks of typhus, dysentary, cholera and influenza. The varying health condition of the children was a major influence on the direction of her later career as she began speculating about what enabled some children to survive and even flourish in spite of traumatic experiences. Margaret came back to England for a short period during which war broke out between Poland and Russia. She returned to Warsaw to set up a medical department for prisoners of war. Margaret also took charge of improving sanitation and later undertook refugee work.[2]

In 1921 Margaret came back to London and as a result of illness came into contact with Wilfred Trotter, a pioneer of both neurosurgery and social psychology. Through this association Margaret was later to develop an interest in Psychodynamic psychotherapy related to the treatment of shell-shock and to learn of the work of Hugh Crichton-Miller who founded the Tavistock Institute. Margaret's limited medical experience precluded her obtaining a medical posting so instead she chose to follow a research career. She became a postgraduate researcher at the Mothercraft Training Centre studying infant health and was influenced by the work by Truby King the New Zealand pioneer of infant feeding and childcare. In 1923 she obtained a Medical Research Council fellowship to study at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Glasgow where she specialised in paediatrics and she researched and published in the field of childhood rheumatism. In 1926 she returned to research infant feeding at the Royal Free Hospital and also established a private practice in Queen Anne Street, London, which she maintained for the rest of her working life.[3] Alongside this research, between 1926-7 she undertook voluntary work as a medical officer at the newly opened Pioneer Health Centre in South London, also known as the Peckham Experiment, aimed at integrating a range of health and social services in areas of inner city deprivation.[2]

Child psychotherapyEdit


From 1928 Dr Lowenfeld began her work on child psychotherapy. That year she established the Children’s Clinic for the Treatment Study of Nervous and Difficult Children one of the first child guidance clinics in Britain in Notting Hill, London, which, by 1931, she had developed into the Institute for Child Psychology (ICP). The ICP trained child psychotherapists in the use of Lowenfeld's theories and techniques as well as operating as the local child guidance centre. These arrangements provided ICP students with unique experiences of child guidance practice during their training. It was during 1929 that from the use of a sand tray, toys and models the Lowenfeld World Technique was first established.[4] It was first exposed to the psychotherapy community in 1931 and later in 1937 at the British Psychological Society conference it was analysed by Carl Gustav Jung who attended. Subsequently, the theories and methods originated by Lowenfeld also became the basis of a range of related therapeutic techniques. In particular the development of sandplay therapy by Dora M. Kalff the Swiss therapist who studied with Dr Lowenfeld.[2][5][6]

Lowenfeld's first book on her theories and techniques of child psychotherapy, Play in Childhood was published in 1935 in the USA where here techniques had become popular and remains a seminal work to this day.[4] Margaret's research theses during the late 1930s were influenced by the work of the English philosopher R. G. Collingwood. Between 1937 and 1938 Margaret presented her theories on child behaviour to the [[British Psychological Society, for which she received mixed reviews.[3] During the Second World War the ICP clinic was evacuated to Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire. The ICP was re-established in London after the War, continued to thrive and was eventually became funded by the National Health Service. On the Psychotherapy of Children was an important monograph presented as a conference organised by her at the ICP in 1948. In this the Lowenfeld Mozaic Test was first described.[4] Although Lowenfeld's second important book The World Technique was started in 1956, and the first part completed within three years. However, it was not published until after her death in 1979 through the work of Ville Andersen who organsised Margaret's papers.


Educational research and techniquesEdit

Margaret was greatly impressed by the work of anthropologist, Margaret Mead who she finally met in 1948 and later influenced Lowenfeld's research on child education and also her view of psychoanalysis.[2] The first technique invented and developed by Dr. Lowenfeld, The Lowenfeld World Technique (1929) was influenced by the book Floor Games, created by H.G. Wells in 1911, which she recalled enjoying as a child.[5] The other techniques she created were Lowenfeld Mosaics (1948), Lowenfeld Poleidoblocs (1950s), and Lowenfeld Kaleidoblocs (1960s).[4]

Recognition and LegacyEdit

Margaret Lowenfeld's techniques are featured in a special cabinet in the History of Medicine section at the Science Museum, London. Her work is also well-represented in a major semi-permanent exhibition at the Science Museum, 'Mind Your Head', that celebrates the Centenary of the British Psychological Society.[7]

In summarising the achievements of Dr. Margaret Lowenfeld's the Trust set up in her name records:-

Her outstanding contributions sprang from her recognition that play is an important activity in children's development and that language is often an unsatisfactory medium for children to express their experiences. She consequently invented non-verbal techniques that enabled them to convey their thoughts and feelings without resort to words.

Her obituary, published February 1973 in The Times, summarised her achievements as:-

...bringing a brilliant mind to the study of the psychology of children and to devising methods to identify and eliminate anti-social tendencies at a formative stage and release and develop their highest potentials.
It was recorded that the practical application of her theories were applied with remarkable success with disturbed children by doctors, teachers, magistrates and local authorities and had had a continuing contribution to the health of the community. It was also noted that her work had received greater recognition in the United States and the Continent than in the UK.[8]

Later lifeEdit

After retiring from full-time medical practice Margaret Lowenfield moved out of London to a house in Cholesbury, Buckinghamshire which she had purchased back in the 1930s to use as a weekend retreat, following the death of her mother. She was joined by her longtime colleague at the ICP Ville Anderson who became her companion and carer until Margaret's death on 2 February 1973 at St Johns and St Elizabeth’s Hospital, St John's Wood London. She is buried along with her sister, Helena and alongside her cousin Gunther and his wife Claire Löewenfeld, at the Church of St Lawrence Cholesbury.[2]

Selected publications originally by Margaret LowenfeldEdit

  • ((1991)) Play in childhood ; with a foreword by John Davis, London; New York: Mac Keith Press Distributed by Cambridge University Press.(Originally published in 1935) [9]
  • ((1979)) The World Technique, London; Boston : Allen & Unwin: Institute of Child Psychology. (Published posthumousely)
  • ((1977)) The Work and Aims of the Institute of Child Psychology, London: Institute of Child Psychology.
  • ((1993)) Understanding Children's Sandplay: Lowenfeld's World Technique, Dr Margaret Lowenfeld Trust.
  • ((1994)) The Lowenfeld Mosaic Test, Dr Margaret Lowenfeld Trust.


  • Evens, Barbara (1984) Freedom To Choose - The Life and Work of Dr Helena Wright, Pioneer in Contraception, London : The Bodley Head, ISBN 0-370-30504-3
  • Unwin, C and Hood-Williams, J (Eds)(1988) Child psychotherapy, war, and the normal child : selected papers of Margaret Lowenfeld, London : Free Association Books, (ISBN 1853430358)(online edition [1])

External linksEdit

References Edit

  1. Evens, Barbara (1984) Freedom To Choose - The Life and Work of Dr Helena Wright, Pioneer in Contraception, London : The Bodley Head
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Selected Papers of Margaret Lowenfeld, Edited by Cathy Urwin and John Hood-Williams Sussex Academic Press, Brighton 2004
  3. 3.0 3.1 Oxford Dictionary of National Biography - Margaret Lowenfeld Retrieved, 20 June 2009
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Sandplay past present and future by Rie Rogers Mitchell, Harriet S. Friedman, Retrieved 2009-08-11
  5. 5.0 5.1 Sandplay Influences - Lowenfeld World Technique Retrieved, 24 June 2009
  6. Sandplay History - Techniques developed from Lowenfeld's World Technique Retrieved, 28 June 2009
  7. Dr Margaret Lowenfield Trust - Techniques and Exhibitions Retrieved, 23 June 2009
  8. includeonly>"Obituary Dr Margaret Lowenfeld", February 12, 1973.
  9. Online edition published by Google Books

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