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Hilde Bruch was born in Dulken, Germany on March 11, 1904; her family was Jewish. An uncle encouraged her to study medicine and she graduated from Albert Ludwig University with a doctorate in 1929. She took academic and research positions with the University of Kiel and then the University of Leipzig, but left academia for private pediatric practice in 1932 because of rising anti-Semitism. She had already begun a career in pediatric physiology before she left Germany in 1933 after Hitler came into power. She then spent a year in England, where she worked at the East End Maternity Hospital, which served a Jewish community in an impoverished part of London. She moved to the United States in 1934 and worked at the Babies’ Hospital at the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City. She obtained her American medical license in 1935 and, in 1937, began research on childhood obesity, the beginning of her career studying eating disorders. She became an American citizen in 1940.
From 1941 to 1943 Bruch studied psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore before returning to New York to open her own psychiatric practice and teach at Columbia University. She took a position in psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston in 1964 and remained in Houston for the rest of her life. She died on December 15, 1984.