Marjorie Spock: Eurythmy, Biodynamics, Waldorf Education, Anthroposophy
Below are three pieces about the life and work of Marjorie Spock.
(September 8, 1904, New Haven, Connecticut – January 23, 2008, Sullivan, Maine) was an environmentalist, author and poet, best known for her influence on Rachel Carson when the latter was writing Silent Spring. Spock was also a noted Waldorf teacher, eurythmist, biodynamic gardener and anthroposophist.
Marjorie Spock was born the second child and the first daughter of six children. Her older brother was Benjamin Spock, the world-renowned pediatrician and author of The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care.
At 18, Spock studied at the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland where she met and worked with Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy. She was present at the "Christmas Conference" of December 25, 1923 – January 1, 1924 when the Anthroposophical Society was refounded.
When she returned to the U.S., Spock received her BA and MA degrees from Columbia University at the age of 38. She was a teacher and served as the head of a progressive school in New York City. She also taught at the Rudolf Steiner School in New York City and the Waldorf School of Garden City, New York. Spock worked closely with Ehrenfried Pfeiffer for the biodynamic agriculture movement in the U.S.
In the late 1950's, Marjorie Spock was a biodynamic gardener on Long Island, New York. Spock complained when the government began indiscriminate aerial spraying of DDT over wide areas of the countryside against the perceived gypsy moth epidemic. When the spraying was not stopped, Spock brought a case with 11 other people against the United States government for the continued DDT spraying. For Spock, the concern was for people’s health and the constitutional right for a property owner to manage her land free of government infringement.
The Federal judge dismissed 72 uncontested admissions for the plaintiffs and denied their petition. When the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1960, Spock wrote daily reports to interested and influential friends of the case's progress. Rachel Carson heard of Spock's case and soon got the daily reports. Carson used the testimony from the experts that Spock had found in her own research. Spock's case, along with a massive bird kill on Cape Cod, provided the impetus for Carson's book, Silent Spring.
The plaintiffs lost the case but won the right to enjoin the government, prior to a potentially destructive environmental activity, to provide a full scientific review of the proposed action. With this right to environmental review, Spock helped give rise to the environmental movement.
- Teaching as a Lively Art
- In Celebration of the Human Heart
- To Look on Earth With More Than Mortal Eyes
- Fairy Worlds and Workers: A Natural History of Fairyland
Pamphlets and Articles
- Group Moral Artistry I: Reflections on Community Building
- Group Moral Artistry II: The Art of Goethean Conversation
- A B C D E F G: The Secret Life of Letters
A Quote by Marjorie Spock
“In a universe where all life is in movement, where every fact seen in perspective is totally engaging, we impose stillness on lively young bodies, distort reality to dullness, make action drudgery. Those who submit - as the majority does - are conditioned to a life lived without their human birthright: work done with the joy and creativity of love.
But what are schools for if not to make children fall so deeply in love with the world that they really want to learn about it? That is the true business of schools. And if they succeed in it, all other desirable developments follow of themselves.
In a proper school, no fact would ever be presented as a soulless one, for the simple reason that there is no such thing. Every facet of reality, discovered where it lives, startles with its wonder, beauty, meaning.”
― Marjorie Spock
In Memorium, Marjorie Spock, Eurythmist, Sept 8 1904 to Jan 23 2008
Marjorie Spock died peacefully Jan. 23, 2008, at the age of 103, at her home in Sullivan. Marjorie Spock was born Sept. 8, 1904, in New Haven, Conn., the second child, and first daughter, of six children.
The Spock family was prominent in New Haven, as her father was a corporate lawyer there and her older brother, Dr. Benjamin Spock, was later a world-renowned pediatrician, known through “The Baby Book,” which changed the way children were brought up and viewed, and known for his work against the Vietnam War. At 18, Marjorie went to Dornach, Switzerland, to meet and work with Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Anthroposophy. This had deep significance for her life, especially her study of the dynamics of human movement, through Eurythmy. After her final return to the U.S., she received her BA and MA degrees from Columbia University at the age of 38. During her studies, she began a prominent career as a teacher and the head of the Dalton Middle School and teacher at the Fieldston Lower School, both progressive schools in New York City. She also taught at The Rudolf Steiner School in New York City and The Waldorf School in Garden City, Long Island.
With her deep understanding of nature and as an avid Bio-Dynamic gardener, Marjorie’s work took on an added dimension when, in the area where she and her friend Polly Richards lived, on Long Island, N.Y., the government began aerial spraying of DDT against the perceived gypsy moth epidemic. She and Polly, who helped finance the legal action, brought a case with 10 other people against the United States government for the continued DDT spraying. Marjorie and Polly were formidable leaders for this commitment to the health of the earth. Organic, Biodynamic food was a life-saving matter for Polly, who was in ill health. For Marjorie, the concern was for her friend’s health, and the constitutional right as a property owner to keep her land, as she wanted it, free of government infringement.
This team was brilliant, committed and erudite. According to Marjorie, the “government ran roughshod over anyone who got in the way of the new technology. They brushed us off like so many flies.” The federal judge, appointed by President Eisenhower, threw out 72 uncontested admissions for the plaintiffs and denied their petitions. From the summer of 1957 to 1960, when the case reached the Supreme Court, Marjorie wrote a report to interested and influential friends of each day’s progress in and out of court, each evening after work.
Rachel Carson heard of this and soon got these daily briefings because she realized that the testimony from the experts that Marjorie had found, would be valuable for her own research. This case, along with a massive bird kill on Cape Cod, was the springboard for the writing of “Silent Spring.” The trial took only 22 days, and toward the end, Rachel Carson asked for the transcript. They became close collaborators and friends. Though the plaintiffs lost the case, they won the right to bring an injunction in court, so that prior to a destructive environmental event, a full and proper scientific a review had to be made. Marjorie always described it, saying, “We lost the battle but won the war.” This became the germinal legal action for the environmental movement in the United States. There has been continuous interest in this case since that time. Recently, Marjorie was interviewed for a documentary on Rachel Carson.
After the case, Marjorie moved to Chester, N.Y., where she farmed, bringing Biodynamic produce to a larger public. She worked closely with Dr. Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, the renowned soil scientist, and compost and farm adviser for Biodynamic movement. As a beloved destination since childhood, in 1965, Marjorie moved to Maine, where she lived and worked for the next 43 years as an inspiring teacher, eurythmist, author, Bio-Dynamic farmer, translator and mentor to the many people, young and old, who came to see her. Until last Thursday, she held a study group, which has been ongoing since 1965, and to which people came from all over the state. Visitors, from all over the world, and wonderful neighbors, were always heartily welcomed and experienced wide-ranging and deep conversations, wise counsel and humor.
Amongst Marjorie Spock’s writings are “Teaching as a Lively Art,” her master’s thesis; “In Celebration of the Human Heart;” “Eurythmy;” “To Look on Earth With More Than Mortal Eyes;” and “Fairy Worlds and Workers: A Natural History of Fairyland.” The two pamphlets, “Group Moral Artistry I: Reflections on Community Building” and “Group Moral Artistry II: The Art of Goethean Conversation,” have had a readership around the world. Her love and understanding of the mystery of language can be seen in her article, “A B C D E F G: The Secret Life of Letters."
Surviving Marjorie Spock are several nephews, grand nieces and Mary Morgan, the wife of Dr. Benjamin Spock.
In the 100th year of her life Marjorie produced, directed and choreographed a video about Eurythmy that was filmed at Hammond Hall in Winter Harbor, followed by two short training films at 101 and 102 years of age.
From Waldorf in the Home
By William Jens Jensen
For the better part of a century, Marjorie Spock has had a beneficial influence on the development of anthroposophy in North America. She has been a eurythmist, a Waldorf teacher, and an active practitioner and advocate of biodynamics and community renewal. She has written several books and articles, including In Celebration of the Human Heart; Fairy Worlds and Workers; Teaching As a Lively Art; and Eurythmy. She has also translated several books, including Nutrition and The Nature of Substance by Rudolf Hauschka.
Marjorie Spock was born in New Haven, Connecticut, early in the twentieth century. At the age of eighteen, filled with excitement and plans to study dance and with no notion of anthroposophy or the arts associated with it, she traveled to Dornach, Switzerland. Only a year earlier, in 1921, while a counselor at a girls’ camp, the painting instructor there had spoken of a wonderful dance program in “Door Knock” (as she heard the name). She understood these words to mean “Knock and it shall be opened unto you,” and knew instantly that she needed to go there.
Except for brief interruptions, she spent much of her youth in Dornach. No doubt, she experienced many deep and lasting impressions during that time, and even first impressions can stir a desire for self-development. Marjorie Spock says that when she first saw the first Goetheanum she “thought it was the ugliest thing” she’d ever seen. Later, she heard that Rudolf Steiner had said that, for those who are still unable to perceive their own inner nature, “one’s whole stature as a human soul became clear to oneself when seeing the Goetheanum for the first time.”
Later, she became seriously ill and was confined to Dr. Ita Wegman’s clinic. Around Christmastime, she was released for a brief time, and on that New Year’s Eve, she witnessed the complete destruction of the Goetheanum by fire. She said,
“I think that something in me burned up that needed to be burned up as I watched it. And, for the first time, I became truly interested in anthroposophy. Up until that time, I had loved Eurythmy; now the whole seriousness of what was at stake there impressed itself on me, which I had not felt before. So I began to study anthroposophy in great earnest.”
The following year, at nineteen, she was able to attend the Christmas Conference, the series of meetings called to reorganize and renew the General Anthroposophical Society. Although young and inexperienced in such matters, she nevertheless sensed the significance of that event.
Around Christmas 1924, she returned to the U.S. and decided to support herself by working in an anthroposophical bookstore in New Haven. That work proved to be a tremendously valuable experience— “After all,” she said, “I had a whole library of anthroposophy at my fingertips, and I read and studied with great seriousness during those years.”
After working in the bookshop for three years, she returned to Europe and studied for three years at the Eurythmy school in Stuttgart. Later, she went to Dornach, where she performed Eurythmy on the Goetheanum stage. During that time, she became familiar with Marie Steiner, who was actively involved in most of the Eurythmy rehearsals. “Frau Dr. Steiner was simply magnificent,” she recalls, “but rather unapproachable.”
When asked about her experience of Rudolf Steiner during that time, what she expressed was singular:
I looked at his head, and I looked at his hands as I sat in his lectures, and I had the feeling that his head was sort of a condensation of all he was speaking. And the words that he was saying were tremendously significant, although I can’t say that I remember more than a sentence of all the things that he said in those years. But there was one point where I remember his gesture and his words exactly, and that was when he expressed “the wake-up call to become a person of initiative.”
Looking back, I had the sense that he meant something completely different from what happened. People in the society tried to become little Rudolf Steiners, and I felt that we needed to pull together and get an entirely new kind of feeling about community—in a truly Christian sense, really helpful to one another, spiritually and in every possible way—rather than indulging in all the criticism.
It’s incredible that people should not appreciate each other, because we are, each one, developing as individuals, each one developing a completely unique ability of some kind. But instead of looking upon this as an absolute treasure, we cut the ground out from under the feet of people. Largely this is what has happened.
Rudolf Steiner said that, if any group of people gets together with an ideal purpose, an archangel is assigned to that group to guide it. But I don’t think that can happen unless we have the right attitude toward one another.
When asked for her impression of Rudolf Steiner’s appearance, Marjorie Spock said, “he appeared very much like Abraham Lincoln.”
He looked as though he bore up most manly under the most terrible burden … but, of course, he had many warm personal relationships. My father came over to see him when I was in Dornach, and I was able to introduce him to Rudolf Steiner. When we departed this wonderful meeting, my father said first of all, “I think he liked me. I was surprised at the way he looked—he looked just like anybody else!” I took that to be a complement to Rudolf Steiner to say that he looked like anybody else.
When she again moved back to the U.S., Marjorie Spock taught for five years at the Rudolf Steiner School in New York City. Later, she spent a year teaching in a school at the Hales community near the border of Maine and Canada. The community was involved in operating a dairy and vegetable farm on 12,000 acres of forest and lakes. They also had a “sensitive crystallization” laboratory, which was able to test the nutritional vitality of food.
She returned to New York, this time to Columbia University for a major in education. Having no college degree, the school administration gave her “nine hours of examinations in all subjects” to help determine where to place her.
Due to my studies of Anthroposophy and all the interesting things that Rudolf Steiner was always reporting, I was able to pass them all. The dean of admissions said to me that he didn’t “know of a single school in America that can match that”— especially considering that I had an IQ that was only just respectable.
As a result of those tests, the college awarded her credit for three years of college and allowed her into the post-graduate program. After two years, she received a master’s degree.
For the next five years, she taught at “two of the big progressive schools” in New York—the Ethical Culture School and the Dalton school (or “children’s university”). From there, she went on to teach Eurythmy for eight years at the Garden City Waldorf School. It was while living in Garden City that she began her lifelong passion for biodynamic agriculture, which led her and a friend to buy 140 acres of land in Upstate New York.
Living on their new farm, Marjorie Spock and her friend became interested in producing and selling organic vegetables, but their land was always being sprayed with pesticides—something that had also happened in Garden City. They decided that it “was absolutely essential to challenge this practice” by getting an injunction against spraying private lands. Although the suit, which reached the U.S. Supreme Court, was unsuccessful, it raised awareness of the issue and influenced the views expressed by Rachel Carson in Silent Spring. Eventually, the courts decided that private lands could not be sprayed without the owners’ consent.
After Rudolf Steiner’s death in 1925, various difficulties and divisions arose in the Anthroposophical Society, which led Marjorie Spock to write two articles on community building, later published under the general title of “Group Moral Artistry.” They have been widely circulated ever since— especially among young people according to the author. One of the articles, “The Art of Goethean Conversation,” was included in the recent edition of Goethe’s Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily (see page 74).
Marjorie Spock’s most popular book these days is Fairy Worlds and Workers. It is a sensitive, imaginative exploration of nature’s inner beings—its Little People, the elementals, the Middle Kingdom. She says that her feeling for the natural world of fairies arose not clairvoyantly but from her connection with the earth as a farmer and gardener. That feeling is an ability to read certain signs of nature and to hear what it is asking for.
Today, Marjorie Spock remains active—indeed, an activist. She participates in an anthroposophical study group, she writes, and she enjoys nature, people, and the world around her. Her spirit shines brightly through her words, her sense of humor, and in her concern for our future as human beings and anthroposophists.
Trackbacks & Pingbacks
[…] Click here for three short biographies of her remarkable life. […]
Comments are closed.