- A dictionary of medical eponyms

Frederick Matthias Alexander

Born 1869-01-20
Died 1955-10-10

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Australian autodidact elocutionist, born january 20, 1869, Wynyard, Tasmania; died October 10, 1955, London, Middlesex, England.

Biography of Frederick Matthias Alexander

Frederick Matthias Alexander was born in Wynyard, a small town on the north west coast of Tasmania, the eldest of eight children. In his youth he developed a passionate interest about horses. He became a skilled observer of their movement and how to handle them. During his late teens, Alexander departed for Melbourne where he took acting lessons. He had some success as a recitationist and later he formed his own theatre company.

Unfortunately his career was marred because he often lost his voice during performance. Continual medical treatment only gave Alexander temporary respite and his performance continued to be affected adversely. As his vocal problem was confined to his voice on stage Alexander speculated that he must have been doing something on stage in the act of reciting, which caused his vocal problems. Using mirrors, he began a 7 year long, detailed study of the way he was using his muscles when he spoke, and observed that undue muscular tension accounted for his vocal problem. He found that he habitually pulled his head back and down and shortened his neck before speaking. He also observed that such habits are common to all of us. When he corrected this habit, not only did his vocal problems disappear, his overall health improved as well. And so he discovered and developed the technique, which bears his name.

In 1904 Alexander moved to London, carrying letters of introduction from some of the top medical men in Australia. He never returned to Australia. Alexander drew many famous individuals into his sphere, among them John Dewey (1859-1952), Aldous Huxley (1894-1963, George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), Sir Henry Irving, Viola Tree, the neurologist Sir Charles Scott Sherrington 1857-1952) and zoologist George Coghill.

During his lifetime, Alexander wrote four books about his technique, and he taught his technique for over sixty years and to thousands of people.

In 1976, Nikolaas Tinbergen (1907-1988) made his now famous Nobel Prize speech where he talked about the work of FM Alexander. "This story of perceptiveness, of intelligence, and of persistence, shown by a man without medical training, is one of the true epics of medical research and practice."

In 1988, as part of Australia's bi centennial celebrations, Alexander was recognised as one of the two hundred great Australians.

    "After working for a lifetime in this new field I am conscious that the knowledge gained is but a beginning, but I think that I may confidently predict that those who are sufficiently interested in the findings that I have recorded, and who will be guided by them in any further research, will find their outlook and understanding towards the question of the control of human reaction (behaviour) so completely changed that they will see that knowledge of the self is fundamental to all other knowledge, particularly to that which can make for the raising of the standard of human understanding and reaction essential to a sane plan of civilization."
We thank Grace E. Jacobs for information submitted.

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