F. Matthias Alexander (1869 - 1955) ~ A brief biography

F. Matthias Alexander was born in Tasmania in 1869. He started to evolve his now world-famous technique in the early 1890s. It was initially developed to solve the frequent loss of voice he suffered working as a reciter. A successful reciter and teacher of elocution he toured Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand. He first taught the Technique as applied to elocution, but he gradually discovered how applicable it is to all activities of living and how fundamental a contribution to health and well-being it makes. He settled first in Melbourne, and later in Sydney where he advertised his Operatic and Dramatic Conservatory in 1902.

Encouraged by doctors, Alexander moved to London in 1904. He had great success in introducing his technique to the acting community and in medical circles and wrote several pamphlets on the health benefits of the Technique as well as its application to breathing and voice production (reproduced in his Articles and Lectures). It was, however, with Man's Supreme Inheritance (1910), that he first presented his evolutionary hypothesis developed from his practical experience: that we are evolving from the instinctive to the conscious in the use of ourselves. Our innate ability consciously to adapt by the means of the primary control is our "supreme inheritance."

During the period 1914–24 he also taught regularly in New York and Boston where John Dewey became his pupil and supporter and wrote forewords not only to the next edition of Man's Supreme Inheritance (1918), but also to Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual (1923) and The Use of the Self (1932). In these books he developed and expanded his theme, including examples and case stories as illustrations.

During the 1920s and 1930s Alexander's pupils included Bernard Shaw, Aldous Huxley, Leonard Wolf, Sir Stafford Cripps, The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Earl of Lytton and doctors, scientists and performers.

In 1931 Alexander started a 3-year course, training teachers in his technique, which ensured its survival and continual expansion. He also encouraged and oversaw the establishment of a small school where children were taught with attention to the "means-whereby" in contrast to the "end-gaining" mentality which neglects the "how" in every activity.

At the outbreak of war in 1939 Alexander moved the school to the USA. Here he finished his last book, The Universal Constant in Living (1942), reminding us all that we are constantly using ourselves, that our use continuously affects our functioning, and that we can co-ordinate and control that use to great advantage.

After the war, back in London, in 1947, Alexander suffered a stroke which paralysed his left side. He used his technique to fully recover from his stroke and continued to teach to within a few days of his death.

The Alexander Technique is now taught world-wide. It is particularly well-established in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, France, USA, Canada, Australia, and Israel. It is part of the curriculum in music conservatories in England (and several drama colleges), and there are several hundred books and journals on the Technique.

For more information please contact STAT – the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique which was established in 1958 in London.

Jean M. O. Fischer, © 2001-2012.

Chronology
1869 Born 20 January at Wynyard, Tasmania.
1885-88 Working at Mt. Bischoff Tin Mining Co. in Waratah, Tasmania.
1888-94 Clerical work and amateur recitals in Melbourne.
1892-93 Problems with voice and discoveries providing the origin of the Technique.
1894-95 Recital tours in Tasmania and New Zealand.
1895-1900 Teaching elocution and breathing based on his discoveries and giving recitals in Melbourne.
1900-1904 Teaching and giving recitals in Sydney.
1904 Sails to London in April. Lives in Army and Navy Mansions, Victoria St.
1907? Albert Redden (A.R.), Alexander's brother, joins F. M. in London.
1910 Man's Supreme Inheritance, London and New York.
1910-11 Moves to 16 Ashley Place which remains his home for the rest of his life.
1911-12 Ethel Webb meets Alexander and becomes later a teacher of the Technique.
1913 Irene Tasker meets Alexander and becomes later a teacher of the Technique.
1914 Marries Edith Mary Parsons Young, 10 August.
1914-24 Teaches in New York and Boston for 6 months each year.
1916-17 Meets John Dewey and forms a life-long friendship.
1918 Man's Supreme Inheritance, revised and enlarged edition, London and New York.
1920-21 Edith and Alexander adopts Peggy.
1923 Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, New York, October. Published in England in 1924.
1924 Alexander buys the country estate Penhill House, Bexley, Kent.
1924 Irene Tasker starts the little school for children at Ashley Place.
1931 The first training course for teachers starts in February or March.
1932 The Use of the Self, London and New York.
1934-35 Margaret Goldie takes over the little school for children and it is moved to Penhill.
1934 A. R. Alexander moves to Boston.
1935 Irene Tasker moves to South Africa and returns in January 1944
1938 Mrs Edith Alexander dies.
1940 The little school is evacuated to the US, accompanied by Alexander and other teachers. The school stays at the Whitney Homestead, Mass., 1941–42.
1941 The Universal Constant in Living, New York, September. Published in England in 1942.
1943 Alexander returns to London.
1947 A. R. Alexander dies. He had suffered from a stroke in 1944.
1947 Alexander suffers a stroke, but by March 1948 he is teaching again.
1947-48 The South African Libel Case. Alexander wins damages for libel in S.A.
1955 Dies 10 October after a chill and a brief illness.