William Ronald Dodds Fairbairn, known as Ronald, was born in Edinburgh in 1889. He was educated at Merchiston Castle School and the University of Edinburgh, where he read philosophy. After graduating, Fairbairn pursued further studies at the Universities of London, Manchester, Kiel and Strasbourg, where he read divinity and Hellenic studies. Fairbairn`s academic studies were interrupted by the First World War, during which he served as a territorial in the Royal Garrison Artillery with postings to Egypt and Palestine. He saw action at the Battle of Jerusalem as part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force`s campaign, led by General Allenby.
After the war Fairbairn began his medical training undertaking an accelerated medical qualification at the University of Edinburgh, which he completed in 1923. He was assistant physician at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital for Mental Diseases from 1923-1924 and subsequently forged a career specialising in medial psychology. In 1924 Fairbairn began treating patients at his private practice, which he continued to do until his death in the 1960s. Throughout this period Fairbairn also treated hospitalised patients and lectured in psychology and psychiatry at the University of Edinburgh.
Fairbairn wrote numerous articles, many of which were compiled and published in "Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality" (London, 1952), the only book he published during his lifetime.
He married, firstly, Mary Ann Gordon (1901-1952) in 1926 and, secondly, Marion Francis Mackintosh (1907-1995) in 1959. He had three surviving children, including the lawyer and politician Sir Nicholas Hardwick Fairbairn (1933-1995). Fairbairn died in Edinburgh on 31 December 1964.
Fairbairn`s papers relate mainly to his professional life, with a smaller number of records that relate to personal and family life. The records are in a variety of formats, including manuscript, typescript, notes, offprints, drawings and photographs. The records include letters of, to or concerning Fairbairn; manuscript and typescript drafts, printed proofs and offprints of articles and lectures written by Fairbairn; reviews by Fairbairn of the works of other authors; and, photographic prints and negatives primarily of Fairbairn and his family. The papers also include items that relate to Fairbairn`s own self-analysis, including dream diaries and drawings, and notes of his earliest memories.