Anna Berliner was a professor who specialized in the intersections between psychology and optometry. With interests in these fields as well as Japanese language and culture, Berliner had a varied career spanning three continents.
Born with the name Anni Meyer to a German Jewish family in 1888, she studied medicine at the universities of Freiburg and Berlin. At the age of 22, she married Sigfrid Berliner, the brother of one of her school friends. Sigfried was about five years older and had a Ph.D. in Physics. She joined him in Leipzig, where she became the first and only female Ph.D. student to work under Wilhelm Wundt, a reknowned scholar in the field of experimental psychology. After finishing her degree at the University of Leipzig, the couple moved toTokyo, where Sigfried had accepted an appointment as a business professor.
Disasters and political upheavals would disrupt Anna Berliner's life multiple times in the next three decades. Soon after moving to Tokyo, the First World War broke out, and the Berliners were interned as enemy aliens on the island of Shikoku. The Japanese soon required Anna to leave without her husband. She travelled to the United States and eventually found work as a psychologist for the Hebrew Orphan Asylum in New York City. At the close of the war, she moved back to Japan, where Sigfried again took up a post at the university. Anna worked, learned Japanese, and developed an appreciation for Japanese culture. She would later draw on her experiences to write a book on tea ceremony, Der Teekult in Japan. In 1923, the Berliners survived an earthquake that devastated the city of Tokyo. They moved back to Germany, and Anna became the secretary of the European branch of the German East Asiatic Society. After the Nazis came to power, the Berliners had to leave once again. They eventually settled in the United States, where Anna taught Japanese to American students and soldiers during the Second World War. When writing her curriculum vita in the late 1940s, she noted, "Interruptions in the chronological list of professional work are due to two wars, a revolution, the Japanese earthquake and research work."
Berliner transitioned into teaching psychology full-time after the end of the Second World War. As a woman and a German-Jewish refugee who was approaching 60 years of age, the career move presented some difficulties. Nevertheless, for more than 20 years, she would work as a professor of psychology with an emphasis on connections to the field of optometry. She taught at the Northern Illinois College of Optometry from 1946-1947 and then at Pacific University in Oregon from 1949-1969, and was granted emeritus status on her retirement. She published over 20 articles on visual psychology. In 1971, she won the Apollo Award, the highest honor bestowed by the American Optometric Association.
On May 16, 1977, Anna was found stabbed and beaten to death at her home in Forest Grove. She was 88 years old and had been a widow for 15 years. The confessed killer, William James Watkins Jr., was a 14 or 15-year-old Forest Grove high school student. His attorney argued in court that he suffered from a psychiatric condition. According to testimony for the prosecution, Watkins had been trying to take money from Anna, and when she threatened to call the police, he killed her. Watkins was sentenced to life in prison.