Sue Mehrtens is the author of this and all the other blog essays on this site. The opinions expressed in these essays are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other Jungian Center faculty or Board members. Honesty, as well as professional courtesy, require that you give proper attribution to the author if you post this essay elsewhere.
Jane Wheelwright: A Jungian Analyst and Analysand of Jung
“I am, after all, part of a pioneering era. My forebears were pioneers. …I am pioneering in the realm of thought.”
“I see what is essential about me. I was raised in wilderness and I am very introverted. I have a sensation function which developed in a highly subjective way due to the unusual degree of isolation and solitude in my background.”
“Then the animus reared its ugly head between my mother and me, and … I was lucky to break down into the unconscious and find Jung.”
“Jung’s interest in me gave me the biggest boost of all.”
“I needed the privacy of journal writing in order to find my point of view and what I wanted to say to those who would listen to me. I was already in my fifties when things began to gel. I suspect that my mother’s huge ambition for me had been more of a dampener than I realized.”
In the winter of 2021 I was informed of the existence of a journal written by Jane Wheelwright, an analysand of Jung himself, a co-founder of the San Francisco Jung Institute, a Jungian analyst, and author of multiple books. Always on the lookout for writings by women, especially those familiar with Jung and/or his thought, I asked the San Francisco Jung Institute to send me a copy of Jane’s journal, and when I read it I knew it had to be published. Jane’s life (1905-2004) was as inspiring as her ideas are relevant and important for us today.
I got permission from the SF Jung Institute to turn the journal into a book. This proved to be a time-consuming eleven-week endeavor, but worth every effort for the richness of the material. In this and several other essays for this blog site I shall draw on Jane’s journal to offer nuggets of Jane’s insights, on her life (in this essay), on her portrait of Jung, her relationship with Jung and his profound impact on her life, on her experience of and advice about old age, and on her advocacy for women and their important role as spokespersons for Nature and the future of the planet.
Jane’s Family Background
As the quote above notes, Jane came from pioneer stock on both her father’s side (the Hollisters) and her mother’s (the Steffens). Jane’s maternal grandfather, Joseph Steffens (1837-1912), made the wagon-train trek to California in 1862. Jane’s paternal grandfather, William Welles (W.W.) Hollister (1818-1886) drove 6,000 head of sheep from Ohio to California in 1852, loosing all but 2,000 of the animals in the long journey. He set up a sheep business on his Rancho San Justo, and, in partnership with the Dibblee brothers, bought 200,000 acres of central California for $1.25 or less an acre. The present town of Hollister, California, was surrounded by his sheep ranch. While Joseph Steffens was subject to depressions and known for long silences, W.W. Hollister was gregarious and outgoing. Unlike the gold-seeking “49ers,” William Hollister sought to improve California agriculture, as a “farseeing, second-generation immigrant” who was important to Jane. She grew up with a strong sense of “roots” in the pioneer history of the West, and her life on the ranchlands her grandfather created had a profound impact on her life and personality.
W.W. had two sons, Will and John, who was Jane’s father. John James Hollister was a handsome “far-seeing person,” who “saw the value of beauty as well as the fact that the cattle could live on the parts of the land that could not be used for agriculture,” so, when the Hollister-Dibblee partnership was dissolved, John did not mind getting the rough parcels of the acreage. He was a “feeling-type man,” “functioning out of his nature,” as Jane describes him. He was also “by nature a silent man,” and subject to bouts of depression, which Jane suggests were exacerbated by the key feature of California weather: drought. “Constantly in the grip of some calamity that nature periodically initiated,” John Hollister had a hard time as a rancher because he was “in the business of taming nature,” an activity and attitude that Jane came to recognize years later as futile.
Despite natural challenges, the Hollister ranch had “a carrying capacity of 3500 head of cattle, and during World War II, John was able to push this to 7,000 head to support the war effort.
Lottie Steffens Hollister (1872-1956), Jane’s mother, was an unusual woman in personality, education and role. Her father, Joseph, must have been an early feminist, or indulgent of her, as he allowed her to go to college and then continue on to a Ph.D. in psychology, which she received as the only woman at that time to get this degree at Göttingen University in Germany. Then, as “a highly educated intellectual,” she returned to California and became the wife of a rancher. Animated, lively and very bright, she had had a “very sociable youth,” but had the “idée fixe… that, no matter where your husband goes, you go with him.” So she left the social life of Sacramento for the wilderness of the coast ranch. Many years later Jane realized that Lottie must have always been lonely, as John “was by nature a silent man,” and he “loved our lands more than he loved his family.” Lottie never rode horseback, “so she was cut off from the main activities of the ranch,” but she “was always available” to John, supportive during drought years, helping with the management and record-keeping, and a big asset when John became a California state senator. She was always busy, and if she had no chores, she would read scholarly books. She created a beautiful garden around the “Big House” they built, and she bore 4 children, 2 boys, and then twins, Clinton and Jane.
Jane’s Early Years
As an adult, Jane came to recognize how her parents influenced her development. Given her father’s preoccupation with the ranch, and his retiring, feeling-type nature, he was not the dominant parental influence. Lottie was–Lottie the high-brow, “highly-educated intellectual” who read Jung in the original German and “indulged in the latest, most difficult scholarly books.” Irrational, emotional and highly intuitive, Lottie “never knew what to do with” Jane, who was a
“a dedicated cowboy/cowgirl who dared to compete with three older brothers and learned skills from the vaqueros. I learned how to be stoical, how not to cry when I was hurt, and how to survive long hours in rough country either on horseback or on foot. Nor was expressing fear condoned for all of those years.”
Jane was also a strong sensation type. Jane’s nature, interests, activities and psychological type were unlike anything Lottie appreciated.
Since Lottie was “quite at ease with her own critical faculty,” often the target of her criticism was Jane. The result was that Jane grew up feeling “it’s as though I had never had a mother.” She would never lower herself to ask Lottie to explain things nor would she confide in Lottie. Given how our real-life mother embodies “the mother” archetype and colors our initial view of women, it is not surprising that Jane developed a “negative view of women.” Many decades later Jane was still wondering if, after years of analysis, she still had “some lingering prejudice against women?” Also later in life Jane would come to recognize how relationships of “closeness and rapport” would constellate feelings of “abandonment, rejection and hurt.”
As I read through Jane’s journal, I got the sense that Lottie never made much effort to “see” the real Jane, the child whose interests ran to nature, horses, wilderness exploration and physical activity. Perhaps blinded by her own intellectual orientation, Lottie had “big hopes” for Jane “in the academic realm.” A “goad” to Jane as she grew up, Lottie “had outsized standards of an academic sort and could not refrain from constantly poking at [Jane] with those standards.” She put “her ambition on to” Jane, but curiously seemed to do precisely the opposite of encouraging Jane’s education, because over and over, as Jane’s childhood went on, Lottie put her down by referring to her as “phlegmatic Jane.”
Such constant maternal criticism had a pernicious effect. Rather than producing Jane-the-scholar, Lottie’s criticism “boomeranged.” At the age of 8 Jane was sent away to the Ethel Walker School in …, where she excelled in Track, Hockey, Basketball and Baseball. She “was the only girl who could pitch overhand like the boys.” Later, at the Santa Barbara Girls School, Jane was President of the Athletic Association, where she was allowed to ride her horse, O.B. on Sundays, while her classmates went to church.
As “a product of [her] wilderness background,” Jane had observed a lot of animals during the mating season, and was able to inform the older girls about sex, an action that got her in trouble with the headmistress. Undeterred by the threat of expulsion, Jane “continued to educate [her] older girlfriends,…” leading her to feel “more grown up than I was.” In a school setting with girls double her age, Jane faced grown-up situations where she had “to make decisions beyond my knowledge and experience.”
She also “lived out [her] depressed side in [her] youth,” experiencing trauma at
being forced off the beloved ranch for city life in boarding schools, both local (i.e. Santa Barbara) and national. She and her twin brother Clinton (“Clinty”) would take a transcontinental train each year to elite schools in the East.
Jane’s aunts, uncles and family friends were wealthy, and her Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Joe, having no children of their own, “adopted” Jane and her three brothers during school holidays. This meant they lived “in the lap of luxury,” on the Upper East Side in Manhattan, where there were fancy dinner parties, “vacation activities that were part of fashionable New York City,” and “coming out parties” to which Jane was invited as the sister of eligible young men. As Jane matured, Aunt Elizabeth arranged a dinner party to celebrate her “coming out,” with her brothers bringing his Harvard friends. For a time, Jane was a debutante. She found all of it “a dizzying time of glitter and wealth that I could hardly take in.”
Why? Because she felt like a “fish out of water,” being used to the sagebrush of the ranch, and the simple mores of the vaqueros that herded the cattle. This was a far cry from the life Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Joe led at 8 Sutton Square and East 58th Street.
When Jane got to college age, “school” meant Bryn Mawr, “one of the toughest women’s college in the country at that time.” This step in Jane’s schooling was to fulfill Lottie’s ambition, but Jane found it very foreign to her “instinctual orientation to life.” In such a rarefied intellectual atmosphere Jane tried to adapt “to living in a hurly-burly of people,” and she came to realize that she “could not follow the trails laid down by academic mentalities.” After months of frustration Jane had to admit that she “was not up to the intellectual level of an Eastern college.”
Decades later this experience would still bring up deep sadness in Jane, from the feeling that her “comprehension was not up to understanding the material being presented to” her. She would have to “follow an opposite course” (“opposite” to what Lottie had done) in “favor of pursuing” her own interests.
Typical of the sensation type, Jane was deliberate and concrete in her engagement with life. She had thought about becoming a sculptor and studied for a time with Ettore Cadorin and Ralph Stackpole, but this was not her destiny. She thought she would go back to the ranch. But then her uncle, Lincoln Steffens (“Steffie”) stepped in and “rescued” her.
Jane’s Adult Years
Lincoln Steffens was Lottie’s brother, and, in his intellectual acumen he was very like Lottie, but in his perspicacity and understanding of Jane’s nature, he was quite different. He was able to recognize and appreciate Jane’s uniqueness and independent spirit. He brought Jane to his home in Alassio on the Italian Riviera, where Jane was exposed to all sorts of free-thinkers, “labor leaders, bankers, aristocrats and working people” who “Steffie” collected around him. Jane “could identify with these people,” and she loved Steffie. A “quiet man who, on the sidelines, always came through with unexpected comments, Steffens had a profound influence on Jane:
“He was my guide and spokesman. He was everything to me. My life changed dramatically. I made a right angle turn after that experience of living with Steffie and became what I am now.
Of course, being so contained by Steffie, I had a hard time reconciling what I had learned from him with all the other people in my life, including my own family.”
Steffens encouraged Jane “to observe and enter into life and forget about the universities,” because he knew that mainstream academia was full of “male values” which Jane would only have to “unlearn” if she went in that direction.
Decades later Jane could look back and appreciate “Stef” for the “creative thinker” he was, and how he “had a lot to do with my own efforts to do my own thinking.” She went so far as to regard herself as “a chip off of Stef.”
Rather than encouraging Jane to wander through the sylvan groves of academe, Stef introduced Jane to Paris, while visiting his artist friend Jo Davidson. In this setting Jane was exposed to French culture, with its different attitude toward marital infidelities. She was bothered by this, but also recognized that she was learning about marriage. Stef also introduced Jane to
“all the greats in the literary world, as well as some who were not writers. They trickled through Stef’s house in a steady stream. Living there was the turning point in my life. Stef was a great interviewer and gave me the chance of my lifetime to expound and ask questions.”
Jane lived with the Steffens in a formative time–her 18th and most of her 19th year–years she looked back on decades later as her “most important years.”
Italy and France were not the only foreign countries Jane experienced. While still a boarding school student, Jane had been taken all over Europe by the Breckinridges, family friends of Jane’s Uncle Stanley. Global travel became a theme in Jane’s life.
In her journal Jane never reveals when or how she met Joseph Wheelwright, but by 1929 (?), they had married and had traveled widely, living for a time in China, where Jane’s first child, Lynda, was born. When Jo decided to become a doctor, they moved in 1932 to London. Jane did not find England very agreeable: It was, she wrote, “a country that was perhaps more foreign to me than all the other countries I lived in during my traveling days.”
It was there, while living in the basement of a row house in Chelsea, that Jane had her second child, John, making her adjustment to the new country even more challenging. Their Irish cook, Mary Doyle, was “a lifesaver for me during a tough adjustment” to the unemotional English. Mary’s “gentle ribaldry, which spiced up her warm-hearted caring, was exactly what I needed in those difficult days.”
Then Jane encountered Elsie Beckingsale, “a reality image of [Jane’s] shadow.” As is often the case when we encounter a person who carries shadow for us, Jane disliked her, i.e. she projected her own shadow on to Elsie. Wrestling with this situation “pitched [Jane] into the unconscious” for forty days. Then she met Carl Jung.
Jane’s Personality and Psychology
Given the above facts of Jane’s life–family history, educational experiences, type conflict with her mother, and family heritage (cultural and genetic), it is not surprising that Jane arrived on Jung’s doorstep full of complexes and neuroses. Features of her personality included her “animus hound” tendencies which made her unpopular; her “very strong ‘male’ attributes; her “spunk” and “vague feelings of guilt” which she felt for much of her life; and her “contrariness” and the “adversary role” that she tended to fall into, even while recognizing how irritating this was to friends and especially to feeling types (like her husband Jo).
“Everything that came” Jane’s way got sifted through her rational thinking. She was a survivor, with an “argumentative and even combative or stubborn streak.” Thanks to her mother’s frequent criticisms, Jane had developed over time a “negative approach” to life, always seeing “what was wrong,” rather than being optimistic and looking for what was right. Comfortable with isolation and solitude from her early years on the ranch, Jane worked to be invisible in public, only “coming out of hiding” in her old age, after she had been “baked.”
As Jane healed and grew psychologically over time she was able to reperceive her episodes of depression as “golden opportunities to get illuminating messages from the unconscious.” When she spotted errors and gaucheries, she knew they brought valuable insights. When in public she slipped “back into my non-feeling world [which] put me in the wrong” she was able to note the old habit of feeling she “was guilty of a crime.”
She became very much her own authority, relying on the unconscious as her authority. She was self-absorbed and very much a “self-starter. Even in her old-old age, she never learned to take advice (e.g. not following her doctors’ orders). She had a strong “taste for variety in life,” which she saw as “a female characteristic.”
Jane had a “lifelong problem reading intuitive material,” which meant that most of Jung’s Collected Works were difficult for her. When Audrey Blodgett (one of her editors) pressed her to include more about people in her writing, she told Audrey that she did not like people, that she lived “on a much more impersonal level than most women do,” and she liked it that way. Being very introverted, her sensation function developed in a highly subjective mode.
Writing was Jane’s “secret objective,” and from the time she was a child, diaries and journals had been the natural form for her, as a way to express herself without her mother’s intrusion. She was secretive for decades, determined that her mother would not curtail her. Jane needed the “privacy of journal writing in order to find” her point of view. And by her old age, she had come to suspect that her mother’s “huge ambition for me had been more of a dampener than I realized.”
Many of these insights Jane came to only after her years of analysis with Jung. That relationship, and the impact it had on Jane, is the subject of the next essay.
 Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are from Jane’s journal, now available for sale, in hard copy and pdf form, on the Jungian Center web site.