Jennette Barbour Perry Lee (1861? 67?–1951), teacher, author and a pupil of F. M. Alexander.
Jennette Barbour Perry Lee studied at Smith College 1883–86 after which she taught Philosophy, Rhetoric and Composition at the Grant Collegiate Institute in Chicago. Later she taught at the Wheaton Academy, Vassar, and Western Reserve. In 1886, she married Gerald Stanley Lee. In 1901, she returned to Smith as an instructor, and in 1904 was officially appointed as an Associate Professor in English. She taught popular courses in Appreciation and Criticism until 1913. Together with her husband she went to London around 1918 and had lessons with F. M. Alexander during a period of 18 months after WWI. She gave up her academic career and started writing and teaching a body system inspired by Alexander’s technique. She was assisted by her daughter, Geraldine. They practised their method in New York 1922–30.
Jennette Lee’s body system
Starting in the 1920s her husband, Gerald Stanley, wrote books on a body system, which had many resemblances with the Alexander Technique. Later, Jennette Lee would write her own book, This Magic Body (1946). Neither Gerald or Jennette credit Alexander. She writes that her idea of ‘balance as a central principle in the universe and in the human body’ did not ‘come to me as a full blown theory. It came through watching pupils experimenting in controlling positions and movements of the body’. The blurb to her book states that ‘It [this book] is the result of years of study of the working of the human body and of years of experience in the technique of training hundreds of cases, an infinite variety of maladjustments and disabilities due to lack of balance, which have yielded to the technique of effortless balance.’
Quotes from This Magic Body:
I conceived such an axis running through the middle point of the top of the skull upward toward the zenith, and downward, through the spine, toward the center of the earth.
Head up to the sky. All the rest down to the earth. And don’t try!
I give a direction to my hand to pick up a book. I say, ‘Wait’. I check the automatic start of the muscle-combination that is wasting energy and will make me tired . . .
‘One of these conceptions is related to the word ‘direction’, which, as has been noted, is used with two different meanings. Sometimes, in the exercises, it means, apparently, that the body, or a part of the body, is being given a direction to do something, or refrain from doing something. And at other times, that a point is to move in a certain direction in space . . . The exercise may involve giving a direction to the body or a part of the body, to move in a certain direction.
As pupils work to change the body and its habits, it becomes evident that the less they coerce the body into change and the more they permit it to change itself by its own laws – by giving it right conditions, that is, giving it right directions and relaxing tension that might hamper it in carrying out these directions – the more likely it is to succeed in acquiring a desired technique.
With the body free and relaxed, direct it [the head] to up-and-forward (while remaining seated) to an angle of forty-five degrees (or about halfway).
The sequence given below is a pattern for sequence of directions in any exercise. . . .
1. Up-and-forward from the ankles, and back to poise.
3. Neck loose. Head up-and-back. Lower spine down-and-back.
. . .
The main purpose of the exercise is to furnish opportunity to the mind-body to give and carry out directions in which habitual false combinations of muscles are prevented from taking part.
Jennette Barbour Perry Lee *10 November 1861 – †16 October 1951.
See also Gerald Stanley Lee.