Muriel James, a psychotherapist, educator, and bestselling author who wrote 19 books about subjects from personal growth to spirituality, has died. She was 100.
Muriel helped popularize the ideas and methods of transactional analysis, which were pioneered by her mentor, Dr. Eric Berne. She gained acclaim in the 1970s and 1980s through popular self-help books, including the bestseller Born to Win: Transactional Analysis with Gestalt Experiments, which she coauthored. She lectured to groups and conferences around the world about the concepts of “self-reparenting” and other approaches to psychotherapy and encouraged participants to come to grips with painful past experiences and become more aware of their behavioral “scripts.”
Muriel advocated using simple methods to brighten the mood of others, such as giving an unexpected compliment or encouraging people to laugh “as an aid to breaking free.” With her smile, energy, and infectious sense of purpose, she helped those she counseled to discover their positive qualities and find meaning to their lives. As she put it, “That’s why I became a psychotherapist, to help people.” She believed everyone has some positive qualities they may not have developed or negative qualities that may have overwhelmed them. She encouraged purposeful positive thinking, believing people can live happier lives by being aware of their internal conversations and turning those thoughts toward the positive.
Muriel died peacefully in her sleep on 10 January 2018, in Pleasant Hill, California, where she had lived for the past 3 years. On this Valentine’s Day, she would have been 101 years of age.
She was born Muriel Marshall in Berkeley, California, on 14 February 1917. Her father, John Albert Marshall, was a medical doctor and a captain in the U.S. Army. He was a professor of music, biochemistry, and dental pathology at the University of California. Muriel’s mother, Hazel Knowles Marshall, was an internationally recognized concert pianist. Like her parents, Muriel had a love of music. As a teenager, she briefly performed as a singer with a band at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco until her father discovered her wayward ways.
Muriel grew up in San Francisco and lived in St. Francis Wood. She attended Lowell High School, from which she graduated in 1934. On 29 May 1934, she married Ralph Bertram McMurtry, with whom she had two children, Gail Ann and Duncan.
During World War II, she worked for the Red Cross teaching swimming safety for naval recruits on San Francisco’s Treasure Island and first aid for the prison guards on Alcatraz Island. During the war she also worked in the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond, California, as a safety inspector, joining other “Rosie the Riveter” women in performing tasks previously reserved for men.
After divorcing her first husband, Muriel in 1943 married Paul Wellesley James, a foreman at the Richmond Shipyards, with whom she had her third child, John.
After WWII, she worked as a secretary for the Montclair Presbyterian Church from 1951-1954.
Interested in history, religion, and education, Muriel enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1954, at the age of 37, graduating in just 3 years in 1957. She simultaneously attended the Church Divinity School of the Pacific (an Episcopal seminary) in Berkeley, where she earned a Bachelor of Divinity (B.Div.) degree, and thereafter attended the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, where she earned a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree. Later she earned a doctoral degree from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Education.
Muriel was ordained as a minister and began serving at a church in Orinda, California. In 1959, she founded the Laymen’s School of Religion, which was an interdenominational school meant to bring together all religions to address their commonality rather than their differences. It was located in Berkeley, California.
In 1965, she married again, to Ernest Calvin Brawley, a California State Prison administrator.
Muriel was a strong advocate for women’s rights and civil rights. In March of 1965 she joined demonstrators who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Selma, Alabama.
In the late 1960s, she co-led teacher-student trainings in multicultural awareness at California high schools, seeking to help improve relations between black, white, and Latino students.
The idea for the book Born to Win grew out of Muriel’s conversations with coauthor Dorothy Jongeward, who was also interested in transactional analysis, after they participated in a panel discussion at a YMCA meeting. When it was published in 1971, Born to Win became a bestseller and was praised for clear writing that brought helpful psychological tools to a broad popular audience. The book eventually sold more than 4 million copies and was used as a college textbook.
Muriel traveled widely to lead counseling sessions, train therapists, and deliver lectures to groups in countries such as Mexico, Japan, and India. She became president of the International Transactional Analysis Association.
In addition to Born to Win, James authored other popular psychology books including Born to Love (1973), Breaking Free: Self-Reparenting for a New Self (1981), It’s Never Too Late to be Happy! Reparenting Yourself for Happiness (1985), and The Better Boss in Multicultural Organizations (1991).
For many years, she led summer workshops and trainings at Lake Tahoe. She often worked together with her son John James, who was also a psychotherapist. They coauthored the book Passion for Life: Psychology and the Human Spirit (1991).
Strongly independent-minded, Muriel branched out to explore historical subjects in books such as Hearts on Fire: Romance and Achievement in the Lives of Great Women (1991) and Religious Liberty on Trial: Hanserd Knollys, Early Baptist Hero (1997).
She later moved to Walnut Creek, California, where she participated in a writers group and continued working on book projects. Into her 90s, she remained fascinated by spirituality, psychology, history, and genealogy. One of her last projects was to arrange for the publication of her grandmother Josephine Knowles’ autobiographical manuscript about her experiences during the Klondike Gold Rush. The book, Gold Rush in the Klondike: A Woman’s Journey in 1898-1899, was published in 2016.
Muriel was preceded in death by her husband Ernest, her older brother John “Jack” Albert Marshall, her younger sister Shirley Marshall, her daughter Gail Ann, and her son John. She is survived by her son Duncan M. James, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren. At Muriel’s request, her family does not plan to hold a formal memorial service and will instead honor her memory in other ways.
Condolences may be sent to Muriel’s grandsons Ian James (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Raymond Riddle (Riddleyou@verizon.net) and granddaughter Gabriella Schlesinger James (email@example.com).
Those who wish to honor Muriel’s memory with a charitable donation are encouraged to give to the ITAA Scholarship Grant Fund or the Authors Guild Foundation.