Code Name Mary: The extraordinary life of Muriel Gardiner

18 Sep 2021–6 Feb 2022


This exhibition brings together a collection of objects, documents and photographs drawn from the Museum’s own collections and those of Muriel Gardiner’s family. Many of the items have never previously been displayed in public or published. Together, the collection builds a powerful image of a woman who was driven to help others from an early age, a conviction which she held until her death in the 1980s.   

Muriel Gardiner (1901-1985) was an unsung heroine, who put herself in danger to save countless lives from murderous regimes in the years leading up to World War II. Born into a wealthy family in Chicago, she studied at Oxford in the 1920s, married, had a daughter, and divorced quickly before moving to Vienna, hoping to be analysed by Sigmund Freud (he referred her to his colleague Ruth Mack for treatment, though they did meet, and she later became close to Anna Freud).

In Vienna, Muriel studied medicine and became drawn into political activism against the fascist Austrian government, which had come to power in 1934. Under the code name ‘Mary’, Muriel smuggled money and fake passports and papers for her comrades, made her apartment a safe haven for dissidents and hid fugitives in her cottage deep in the Vienna woods. During this time, she fell in love with and married Joseph Buttinger, leader of the Austrian Revolutionary Socialists, and, as war broke out, the couple moved to the US, working to bring as many German and Austrian fugitives as possible to safety there.

After the war, Muriel Gardiner built a busy psychoanalytic practice, taught at universities and published several books, one of which was The Wolf Man and Sigmund Freud, about Sigmund Freud’s most famous patient, Sergei Pankeieff. In the 1980s, Muriel unwittingly found herself caught in a literary and cinematic storm with the release of the Oscar-winning film, Julia, starring Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave and adapted from writer Lillian Hellman’s book Pentimento. In the film, ‘Julia’s’ story is uncannily similar to Muriel’s, though there is no acknowledgement and Hellman denied any connection, claiming that ‘Julia’ had been a friend of hers. Muriel wrote to Hellman to raise the matter but received no reply. The incident prompted Muriel to publish her own life story, the long-out-of-print book Code Name Mary, which will be republished by the Museum to complement the exhibition.

In her later years, Muriel Gardiner worked with Anna Freud to create the Freud Museum, which her family foundation proceeded to fund for many years.

Among the highlights of the exhibition are an unpublished collection of family photographs of Muriel Gardiner, spanning her life; personal identity cards, letters, papers and travel documents used during her travels across Europe; and items from the Library of Congress in Washington and the Freud Museum’s own archive.

The exhibition will be backed by explorations into the life of the Wolf Man, Muriel’s great friend and Freud’s most famous patient. Among the exhibits related to the Wolf Man are a collection of his paintings, owned by both Muriel Gardiner and the Freud Museum, and his death mask.

An exciting online public programme will support the exhibition for those unable to visit the Museum at this time.

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Selected works

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