Frederick 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 Woolf, 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 by resident teachers in 39 countries, and more countries have visiting teachers. It is particularly well-established in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, USA, Canada, Australia, and Israel. It is part of the curriculum in music conservatories in the UK (and several drama colleges), and there are several hundred books and journals on the Technique.
Two substantial biographies – Evans and Bloch – have been published:
The biography by Jackie Evans (2001) is a family history, providing a detailed family tree, and tells the story of Alexander’s life and immediate family. Evans was a niece to Alexander. It is somewhat scant on Alexander’s character and his work.
The biography by Michael Bloch (2004) is a traditional biography, with its focus on Alexander’s life and the development of his work.
A biography by Rosslyn McLeod (1994) covers Alexander’s years in Australia (1869-1904).
F. P. Jones’ Freedom to Change is an introduction to the Alexander Technique by way of relating Alexander’s story. Jones knew Alexander from 1940 onwards.
A short, unfinished autobiographical sketch by Alexander (written c. 1950) covers his years in Australia (1869-1904) and was published in Articles and Lectures (1995).