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What was the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF)?

The False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) was established by Pamela Freyd, after her husband Peter Freyd, was accused of sexual abuse by their oldest daughter. Pamela Freyd disbelieved her daughter. [1] She stated that she got through the accusation by “thinking of my children as (temporarily?) mentally ill.” [2] With “a group of about ten families” disputing similar accusations from their children, referred to her by Ralph Underwager, Pamela Freyd established a 1-800 number answered by Underwager’s office in March 1992. These families, Underwager, his wife Hollida Wakefield, and Dr. Harold Lief – Pamela Freyd’s therapist – joined Pamela Freyd in the founding of the FMSF. A few months later, in May 1992, the FMSF opened an office in Philadelphia. [3] The foundation ran for 27 years until it dissolved on December 31st, 2019. [1]


There have been many conflicting stated reasons for why the FMSF was founded; the reason most consistently given to the press was that the FMSF was formed by “a group of professionals and families to try to document and study an emotionally sensitive and politically charged topic.” [4] However, board members have admitted multiples times that instead “this Foundation came into being because many of us believe that we have been judged guilty [of childhood sexual abuse]” [5]  and “The Foundation came into existence because of the many lawsuits that were being brought against families based on no other evidence than a claim of recovered repressed memories.” [6] This is especially relevant, given that in 1989 Washington State passed the first law that enabled people to press charges based on sexual abuse within three years of remembering the incidents of abuse – by 1993, 18 other states passed similar laws. These laws allowed adults who recovered memories of childhood abuse to sue within three years of recovering their memories – spurring accused parents to band together and form the FMSF. [6]


The organization asserted that there was a national epidemic of ‘False Memory Syndrome,’ an unfounded ‘phenomenon’ that has never been recognized by the scientific community. Adults who accuse parents or community members of previous childhood sexual abuse – often those whose accusations are based on recovered memories – are described as mentally ill, suffering from ‘False Memories’ of abuse that supposedly ‘never occurred.’ The FMSF sought to inform the population about this ‘syndrome,’ encourage distrust in recovered memories of childhood abuse, and reconcile parents with children who accused them of abuse. [3]


The False Memory Syndrome Foundation’s 1992 mission and purpose statement reads: “To aid the victims, both primary and secondary, of False Memory Syndrome; to seek reasons for the spread of the False Memory Syndrome; and to work for the prevention of new cases of False Memory Syndrome.” [3] This is accomplished:

  • “By publicizing the nature of False Memory Syndrome, the conditions and practices causing and sustaining it, and the steps that affected individuals can take to bring truth and well-being back into their lives;

  • By providing access to counseling and guidance to those who are injured and hurt;

  • By promoting and sponsoring scientific and medical research into the existence and cases of False Memory Syndrome, and disseminating the resulting information and knowledge to psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, counselors, lawyers, and the general public; and

  • By helping the secondary victims (those falsely accused) to establish through polygraph and other methods of ascertaining the truth of such issues, the falsity of such incest and abuse charges, and the psychological and other reasons they are made, including the intentional or unwitting suggestion of therapists or therapeutic programs.” [3]

Pamela Freyd – the executive director – has stated that “The Foundation is trying to help… families reconcile.” However, in an interview with David Calof, she admits that she doesn’t know whether or not FMSF members have perpetrated the abuse they were accused of. [3]


Despite its public mission statement, much of the FMSF’s actions and agenda, especially its lobbying efforts against laws protecting children from abuse, were kept out of the public spotlight.


‘False Memory Syndrome’ serves to silence the voices of women and children attempting to speak out about abuse, “rendering the testimony of women and children incredible.” In this context, Schuman and Galvez write that “given [the FMSF’s] professed goals and means, it is evident who has the most to gain by the actions of the FMSF… [are] individuals accused of abuse (92 percent of which are fathers of the accusers) and their complicit families.” [7]


The False Memory Syndrome Foundation published a monthly newsletter consisting of columns, book reviews, legal and political updates, letters from FMSF members, FMSF conference advertisements, and more. This is where the majority of their fundraising occurred: the FMSF was funded by “dues and contributions” from their member base of accused parents. [8] According to their tax returns, the FMSF received a total of nearly $8 million in donations. [6]


[1] Heaney, Katie. (2021, January 6). The Memory War. The Cut. 

[2] Freyd, Pamela. (1991, November 15). I am “Jane Doe.” Personal correspondence to Carole Roscielny.

[3] Calof, David. (1993, April). An Interview with Pamela Freyd, PhD, Co-founder and Executive Director, FMS Foundation, Inc, Part I. Treating Abuse Today. 3(3).

[4] Freyd, Pamela. (1993, March 5). Our Critics. FMS Foundation Newsletter. 2(3), 3.

[5] Freyd, Pamela. (1992, May 1). Dear Friends. FMS Foundation Newsletter. 1(4), 1.

[6] Kendall, Joshua. (2021, February 7). The False Memory Syndrome at 30: How Flawed Science Turned into Conventional Wisdom. Mad in America. 

[7] Schuman, J., & Galvez, M. (1996). A meta/multi-discursive reading of "false memory syndrome." Feminism & Psychology, 6(1), 7–29.

[8] FMSF Staff. (1995, June 1). Rumors and Our Critics. FMS Foundation Newsletter. 4(6), 4.

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