His mother-in-law convinced him to join the Theosophical Society in 1892

Thursday, December 8th, 2022

I recently watched American Oz, which “explores the life and times of author L. Frank Baum, the creator of one of the most beloved, enduring and classic American narratives”:

By 1900, when The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published, Baum was 44 years old and had spent much of his life in restless pursuit of success. With mixed results he dove into a string of jobs — chicken breeder, actor, marketer of petroleum products, shopkeeper, newspaperman and traveling salesman — Baum continued to reinvent himself, reflecting a uniquely American brand of confidence, imagination and innovation. During his travels to the Great Plains and on to Chicago during the American frontier’s final days, he witnessed a nation coming to terms with the economic uncertainty of the Gilded Age. But he never lost his childlike sense of wonder and eventually crafted his observations into a magical tale of survival, adventure and self-discovery, reinterpreted through the generations in films, books and musicals.

One minor point jumped out at me: his mother-in-law, Matilda Joslyn Gage, convinced him to join the Theosophical Society in 1892:

Matilda Joslyn Gage (March 24, 1826 – March 18, 1898) was an American writer and activist. She is mainly known for her contributions to women’s suffrage in the United States (i.e. the right to vote) but she also campaigned for Native American rights, abolitionism (the end of slavery), and freethought (the free exercise of reason in matters of religious belief). She is the eponym for the Matilda effect, which describes the tendency to deny women credit for scientific invention. She influenced her son-in-law L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wizard of Oz.

She was the youngest speaker at the 1852 National Women’s Rights Convention held in Syracuse, New York. She was a tireless worker and public speaker, and contributed numerous articles to the press, being regarded as “one of the most logical, fearless and scientific writers of her day”. Along with Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Staton, Gage helped found the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869. During 1878–1881, she published and edited the National Citizen, a paper devoted to the cause of women. With Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, she was for years in the forefront of the suffrage movement, and collaborated with them in writing the History of Woman Suffrage (1881–1887). She was the author of the Woman’s Rights Catechism (1868); Woman as Inventor (1870); Who Planned the Tennessee Campaign (1880); and Woman, Church and State (1893).

Theosophy caught my attention years ago. American Oz described it as a way to make Buddhist and Hindu ideas palatable to a western audience. Fans of old-school swords & sorcery fiction can’t help but notice Theosophy’s many mentions of Hyperborea, Lemuria, Atlantis, and reincarnated men evolving through various races from age to age.


  1. bob sykes says:

    I believe the 1852 convention was held in West Chester, Pennsylania. Another was held in Seneca Falls, NY, but I don’t know when. (My wife is a feminist.)

    There is a considerable literature on the meaning of the Wizard of Oz, and it is generally interpreted as a Populist diatribe:


    The Cowardly Lion is William Jennings Bryan. (His Cross of Gold speech was filmed and is on YouTube.) The movie differs from the book in that Dorothy’s slippers are supposed to be silver, not ruby, and the silver slippers on the gold road represented a bimetallic currency.

    Loved the movie. The books are somewhat tedious.

  2. McChuck says:

    So, LF Baum’s MIL was a pagan harridan whom he used as the basis for the Wicked Witch of the West? That’s what I’m getting from this article.

  3. Jim says:

    Everyone knows that what America always needed, and what the Founding Fathers self-admittedly set out to achieve by throwing down the gauntlet before the British Parliament, was woman voters.

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