Waldo Frank

Waldo David Frank (1889–1967), American novelist, travel writer and essayist, a pupil of F. M. Alexander, and who was first married to Margaret Naumburg and later Alma Frank.


Waldo Frank grew up in New York City, attended a college preparatory boarding school in Switzerland, earned a bachelor’s degree at Yale University, and then a Masters degree in 1911. He worked briefly for the New York Times, and spent a year in Paris 1913–14. In 1916 he became associate editor of The Seven Arts, an influential journal although it only ran for twelve issues. His first novel was in 1917 (The Unwelcome Man), followed by several other novels in the period 1920–24, all influenced by Freud, Marx, Eastern mysticism and transcendentalism; fundamentally he believed in salvation through a wholeness with the universe. However, he was disappointed with the lack of critical attention, and turned to writing cultural studies and to left-wing politics. His books Virgin Spain (1926) and The Rediscovery of America (1929) were successful, especially in South America. His lecture tour in South America in 1942 was followed by South American Journey (1943) and a book on Simon Bolivar (Birth of a World, 1951). He published more than 25 books. However, by his death in 1967 he was largely a forgotten writer, except for South America where his books were still read.[1] [2]

Connection with Alexander

He was married (1916–1924) to Margaret Naumburg and Alma Magoon (1927–?). Margaret Naumburg was a pupil of F. M. Alexander who introduced Alexander to John Dewey and who ran a progressive child-centred school (the ‘Children's School’ later renamed the Walden School) where Irene Tasker worked for one year. Alma Frank trained as a teacher with F. M. Alexander 1937–40. One of Alma’s daughters, Deborah Caplan, became a teacher of the Technique.

Waldo Frank appears to have contemplated a book on the Technique, because in a letter by Alexander to Waldo Frank in 1936, Alexander writes:

You will realized that much, very much water has run under the bridge upon which we stood as pupil and teacher years ago. But, if I may venture to say so, you don’t want to waste your time on this aspect of a book. You should, if you even do one, deal with the work as it affects the daily reactions of the creature dealing with the problems of life as they affect the individual personally and in his contact with others in the solution of our social, national and international difficulties. I have some reasons for believing that such a book written by a person with the necessary background of knowledge and a ready pen would be a best-seller at the moment or in the near future. Moreover, that such a book will be written seems to me to be certain, because of the enquiries I now get.[3]

However, such a book never materialised.


Waldo Frank wrote a review of MSI in 1919, ‘The logic of the human body’.[4] The long review also outlines Alexander’s thesis.

Our bodies are abandoned, therefore, at this climax of civilization, by the one guidance – the instinctive, unconscious one – which nature gave us. In place of it we must achieve another guidance, achieve conscious control to synchronize with the deliberate, organized life of cilivization. And until we have this new control there must continue to exist a dangerous gulf between the demands made by society and by our minds upon our organism and its capacities: there must ensure just such physical and nervous breakdown, just such social malady and such soul sickness as brand the lst centruy as the most agonized in the human story.[5]

He goes on to compare Alexander’s method with Freud’s, and writes that ‘the Alexander technique is more than the mere converse of the Freudian’. The review was republished in Waldo Frank’s Salvos (1924).[6]

Frank mentions Alexander in some of his books.

The Rediscovery of America (1929) – subtitled ‘An introduction to a philosophy of American life’– contains a chapter on the importance of wholeness. In another chapter he criticises John Dewey for failing ‘as a leader’ because Dewey does ‘not experience the organic unity of life as emergent from chaos.’ And he writes that Dewey ‘quotes the experiments of F. M. Alexander who has admirably proved that the average modern man cannot so much as stand straight without a total re-education of bodily kinesthesia.’[7]

In The Rediscovery of Man (1958):

F. Matthias Alexander has shown that there is a norm of correct posture, of correct use of the body, and that the man who has formed habits of poor posture cannot stand straight simply by giving himself orders to stand straight. His body has long associated ‘straightness’ with a concatenation of muscle and nerve tensions which makes it stand crooked; the more desperately it strives for straightness, the worse becomes its posture, which only when wrong feels itself right. This fact may be analogically transposed to the ‘posture’ of the self and of groups of selves.[8]

There is an additional page on Alexander in the appendix[9] and a further reference.[10]

Waldo Frank’s Memoirs (1973) does not mention F. M. Alexander, and there are only very scant references to his wives, Margaret Naumburg and Alma Frank. He did, however, financially support Alma Frank in going to London to train with Alexander, and existing private letters discuss some of the financial difficulties in paying the teachers training course fees.[11]

The introduction by Lewis Mumford (also a pupil of F. M. Alexander) to Memoirs of Waldo Frank observes of Waldo Frank:

But despite Frank’s critique of empirical rationalism, he pinned too much of his hopes for personal improvement on new techniques for achieving ‘wholeness,’ especially that based more or less on the therapeutic exercises of Matthias Alexander which had attracted John Dewey. Though the book in which he elaborates this prescription, The Rediscovery of Man, has like the earlier Rediscovery of America many pregnant passages in it, this mode of ‘salvation by posture’ proved on his own pathetic confession an imposture, for it had not operated successfully in his own life.[12]

Waldo Frank by Paul J. Carter is a study of Waldo Frank’s major works.[13]

Waldo David Frank *25 August 1889 - †9 January 1967.

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons.

See also Margaret Naumburg, Alma Frank, Deborah Caplan.


[1] ‘Waldo Frank’ by Casey Blake in Dictionary of Literary Biography: Modern American Critics, 1920-1955 edited by Gregory S. Jay (Gale Research Co., 1988).
[2] Retrieved 17 November 2016.
[3] F. M. Alexander to Waldo Frank, letter 14 September 1936.
[4] ‘The logic of the human body’ by Waldo Frank in The Chicago Tribune, 9 February 1919.
[5] ‘The logic of the human body’ by Waldo Frank in A Means To An End – Articles and Letters on the Alexander Technique 1909–1955 edited by Jean M. O. Fischer (Mouritz, 2015), p. 154.
[6] Salvos by Waldo Frank (Boni and Liveright, 1924), pp. 177–83.
[7] The Rediscovery of America by Waldo Frank (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1929), Chapter II, pp. 170, 174.
[8] The Rediscovery of Man by Waldo Frank (George Braziller, 1958), p. 159.
[9] The Rediscovery of Man by Waldo Frank (George Braziller, 1958), pp. 451-53.
[10] The Rediscovery of Man by Waldo Frank (George Braziller, 1958), p. 468.
[11] Waldo Frank Papers in the University of Delaware, Special Collections Department, Newark, Delaware.
[12] ‘Introduction’ by Lewis Mumford, in Memoirs of Waldo Frank (The University of Massachusetts Press, 1973), p. xxv.
[13] Waldo Frank by Paul J. Carter (Twayne Publishers, 1967).