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Art and Images in Psychiatry
July 2003

The Suicide of Dorothy Hale

Author Affiliations

James C.HarrisMD

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2003;60(7):661-662. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.60.7.661

I recommend her to you, not as a husband but as an enthusiastic admirer of her work, acid and tender, hard as steel and delicate and fine as a butterfly's wing, loveable as a beautiful smile, and profound and cruel as the bitterness of life.1(p229)

Diego Rivera to Samuel Lewisohn, 1938

FRIDA KAHLO CALDERÓN (1907-1954) was born in Coyoacán, a suburb of Mexico City, Mexico, to a Hungarian-German father and Spanish–Mexican Indian mother. As a child, she had polio involving her right leg but recovered sufficiently to engage actively in sports. Her imagination was vivid; when alone in her room, she would cloud a glass windowpane with her breath and then trace a doorway with her finger. In her imagination she would pass through it and travel to the middle of the earth to join an imaginary, joyful companion, share secrets with her, and watch her dance, then happily return through the same door, watching her companion disappear as she erased it. Frida attended the prestigious National Preparation School in Mexico City, hoping to become a physician. All her potential seemed lost when on September 17, 1925, at age 18 years, a streetcar hit the bus she was riding. She was impaled by an iron handrail that entered her left hip, creating a penetrating abdominal wound, and exited through her vagina with fractures of her third and fourth lumbar vertebrae, 3 fractures of the pelvis, fractures of the right foot, and dislocation of the left elbow.2(p13) The spinal fractures initially were not recognized but eventually led to immobilization with a plaster body cast for 9 months. For the rest of her life she endured the consequences of the accident, having more than 30 surgical procedures culminating in spinal fusion in 1946 and the amputation of her right lower leg in 1953, the year before she died.

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