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Paul Rosenfels (March 21, 1909 in Chicago – 1985 in New York City) was an American psychiatrist and psychoanalyst known as one of the first American social scientists to publish about homosexuality as part of the human condition, rather than defining it as an illness or deviation. After leaving the academic field of psychiatry in the 1940s, he developed some of his own thinking and a larger philosophy. He published Homosexuality: The Psychology of the Creative Process in 1971, and other books about his arguments with psychiatry and psychoanalysis.
In the 1940s Rosenfels left Chicago and his family, moving to California. He moved to New York City in 1962, where he established a private practice. He devoted himself to developing the foundations of a "science of human nature." In 1973 with Dean Hannotte, he founded the Ninth Street Center in New York City, which provided peer counseling and discussion groups.
Paul Rosenfels was born in 1909 into a Jewish family in Oak Park, Illinois. He had an older brother Richard, an identical twin brother Walter, and younger sister Edith Nash. Their mother was politically liberal; for years she was on the Abraham Lincoln Center Board on the South Side of Chicago. Their father, a businessman who supported capitalism, died in 1935. In terms of family dynamics, Edith believed she was the favorite of their father; she said he found the boys difficult to deal with, and Richard was preferred by their mother. Richard earned a PhD in botany; Paul became a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, and Walter worked in ad copywriting, where he had more flexibility.
As they grew up, the three brothers realized they were homosexual, but never discussed it openly with their parents. Only Paul among the brothers married and had a child. Edith married, became an educator and poet, and had two children.
Rosenfels' first passion was history, and in high school he drafted a book on the causes of war. In college he met Harold D. Lasswell, who told him that new insights into the psychology of war and the politicians who cause them would in the future be provided by the new science of psychoanalysis. Convinced that this tool could help him make an important contribution to the welfare of humanity, Rosenfels spent the next decade doing undergraduate work at University of Chicago and earning an M.D. at Rush Medical College; he became board-certified as a psychiatrist.
During this period Rosenfels married Joan Maris, a friend of his sister Edith. They had a son Danny together.
Beginning to practice psychiatry, Rosenfels also studied with Franz Alexander, a former student of Sigmund Freud, at the Institute for Psychoanalysis in Chicago. He became licensed as a psychoanalyst.
He served as a Lt. Colonel in the Medical Corps during World War II. After his return, he taught as an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Chicago, particularly in psychiatry and law. Chief of the Outpatient Clinic, Forest Hospital, Des Plaines, Illinois;
Rosenfels rapidly developed a successful private practice and was especially effective in helping women. He lectured at the University of Chicago on psychiatry and the law. After achieving these successes, he became more interested in working to develop larger ideas about human nature, rather than be constrained by details of diagnosis of psychiatric illnesses.
In 1962 Rosenfels moved to New York City, where he established a private practice that attracted numerous gay men. In 1971 he published Homosexuality: The Psychology of the Creative Process, the first book that suggested it was a valid way to live. Gay Magazine described Rosenfels as "the Giant of the New Free Gay Culture." Some of his clients in therapy became students of his thinking.
In 1973 he, Dean Hannotte, and their students opened The Ninth Street Center on the Lower East Side, an all-volunteer organization devoted to helping unconventional people live creatively in the world. It initially attracted many young gay men. As the Center slowly matured, its members served a growing community of lesbians as well as gay men, and straight people. Their clients included people who believed that human potential, in the words of one of their pamphlets, was "too important to leave to professionals."
Rosenfels felt the tragic nature of the world. He continued to study people and always said he was "only one page ahead of the class." He readily acknowledged the expanse of what we do not know, and said that science can teach us only what we are willing to learn.
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