Marjorie Barstow, who everybody called Marj, was the first person to graduate from F. Matthias Alexander’s first training course. She worked for a while with FM’s brother Albert Redden Alexander in Boston and New York and then on the eve of World War II she returned to her home in Lincoln, Nebraska where she lived and taught – in the same house – for the next 55 years.
Marj once told me that from the day she read Alexander’s book Constructive Conscious Control in the early 1920’s, not a day passed that she didn’t think about, and experiment with, his ideas. She read. and re-read, his books over and over again, particularly Use of the Self.
Starting in her 70s, when she was “discovered” by the Alexander world, she maintained a teaching schedule that kept her away from her home for over half of each year – flying to Australia, Europe, Canada and all over the States until she was in her early 90s. She never tired of teaching and was was still giving lessons until a year or so of her death at 96.
I first met her when she was 80 and I was half-way through a teacher training course in London. I immediately knew she was going to be my primary teacher and made sure to work with her as much as I could. When she tired of traveling I moved to Lincoln to run workshops for her there.
I came to think of her as someone FM dispatched – no doubt unconsciously – far, far away from England. And far from the petty infighting that he may have suspected would develop among his followers as his work became better known – the kind I saw on display when I was in London in the late 70s and early 80s.
Lincoln, Nebraska was about as far from the London Alexander scene as it is possible to imagine. I believe that isolation from other teachers provided her the stimulus and the opportunity to develop her unique approach to teaching in ways that might not have been possible in England – for example, working primarily with groups and engaging students’ thinking in ways I had never seen before
Luckily for today’s teachers and students of the Technique, her work lives on – with the many students and teachers who were lucky enough to study with her and with the extensive collection of videos of her teaching now available on YouTube.
Here, for example, is an in the moment, very short and to the point, definition of the Alexander Technique she gave in 1982 – one of the best in my view:
And here’s the longer video from which it was taken – perfect in my experience for introducing new students to the Technique:
And here’s an audio conversation Michael Frederick and I had a couple of years ago about Marj:
Finally, her website, MarjorieBarstow.com has links to a great many other videos, personal accounts of her teaching and photos.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with this remarkable woman – truly an American Master.