L. Frank Baum: Creator of Oz: A Biography

L. Frank Baum: Creator of Oz: A Biography

by Katharine M. Rogers
L. Frank Baum: Creator of Oz: A Biography

L. Frank Baum: Creator of Oz: A Biography

by Katharine M. Rogers

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Overview

Since it was first introduced over a hundred years ago in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum's world of Oz has become one of the most enduring and beloved creations in children's literature. It has influenced numerous prominent writers and intellectuals, and become a lasting part of the culture itself.

L. Frank Baum was born in 1856 in upstate New York, the seventh child of a very successful barrel-maker and later oil producer. However, Baum's own career path was a rocky one. Beginning as an actor, Baum tried working as a traveling salesman, the editor of a small town newspaper and the publisher of a trade journal on retailing, failing to distinguish himself in any occupation. His careers either failed to provide a sufficient living for his beloved wife Maud and their children or were so exhausting as to be debilitating. In the 1890's, L. Frank Baum took the advice of his mother-in-law, suffragist leader Matilda Gage, and turned his attention to trying to sell the stories he'd been telling to his sons and their friends. After a few children's books published with varying success, he published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900 and it quickly became a bestseller and has remained so ever since.

In this first full-length adult biography of Baum, Rogers discusses some of the aspects that made his work unique and has likely contributed to Oz's long-lasting appeal, including Baum's early support of feminism and how it was reflected in his characters, his interest in Theosophy and how it took form in his books, and the celebration in his stories of traditional American values. Grounding his imaginative creations, particularly in his fourteen Oz books, in the reality of his day, Katharine M. Rogers explores the fascinating life and influences of America's greatest writer for children.



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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429979849
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/01/2007
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: eBook
Pages: 368
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Katharine M. Rogers helped establish women's studies programs at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center. She has published five books and edited four anthologies of 18th- and 19th-century literature. She is married with three grown children, and lives in Maryland.

Read an Excerpt


oneEARLY LIFE: ACTOR, PLAYWRIGHT, OIL SALESMAN, 1856-1888Lyman Frank Baum was born on May 15, 1856, in a frame house in Chittenango, fifteen miles east of Syracuse, New York. He was the seventh child of Cynthia Stanton and Benjamin Ward Baum. The others were Harriet Alvena (born in 1846), Mary Louise (1848), Benjamin William (1850), and three who had died young. Three years after Lyman Frank, Henry Clay Baum was born. A ninth child lived only until the age of two.Benjamin was descended from Philipp Baum of Hesse, who settled in central New York in 1748. Benjamin’s father had been a prosperous storekeeper, but he lost his money and became a Methodist lay preacher. Benjamin, his oldest son, started life as a barrel maker. He moved to New Woodstock, where he met Cynthia Stanton, the daughter of a prosperous farmer. Oliver Stanton did not consider Benjamin a suitable son-in-law, so the two young people eloped and married in 1842, when both were twenty-one.The young barrel maker turned out to be an enterprising and astute businessman. Although he suffered periodic reverses and was forced to mortgage or sell property, he always recovered up to the time that he became chronically ill. He embarked on one business after another until he became a wealthy man. By 1850, he was a partner in a pump-vending business in Cazenovia with his wife’s brother, as well as being listed in the city directory as a manufacturer of butter and cheese. In 1854, the Baums moved to Chittenango, where Benjamin’s sister lived with her husband and their parents. He bought considerable land there, on which he built the family home and a barrel factory. A business directory of 1859 lists Baum Brothers (Benjamin and Lyman), Manufacturers of Tight Barrels (for liquids) and Butter Firkins. In the 1860 census, Benjamin’s real estate holdings were valued at six thousand dollars, and “Frankie” was listed among his family members. Lyman Frank had already succeeded in shedding the first name he disliked.In 1859, oil was discovered in Titusville, Pennsylvania, about two hundred miles from Syracuse. Benjamin recognized a splendid opportunity and joined the crowds who moved in to exploit the oil fields and develop the area. A hundred new wells were drilled every month, ingenious mechanical contrivances were invented, towns and cities were built, “with schools, churches, lyceums, theatres, libraries, boards of trade. There were nine daily and eighteen weekly newspapers published in the region and supported by it.”1Benjamin began acquiring oil fields, including a particularly profitable one at Cherry Tree Run, a few miles south of Titusville. He later bought property between Bradford, Pennsylvania, and Olean, New York, where he helped to develop the hamlet of Gilmour and built a hotel and an opera house. In 1860, he moved his family to a handsome house in Syracuse. He was listed in the city directory of 1864 as a “Dealer in Petroleum Oil.” But he had other interests as well. He dealt extensively in real estate—city houses and lots, farms, a sawmill with adjacent timberland. He traded stocks and had an office in New York City. He established the Second National Bank in Syracuse in 1863 and was its director or president until 1872. In 1866, he organized Neal, Baum & Company, Wholesale Dry Goods, probably to provide a business for his daughter Harriet’s new husband, William Henry Harrison Neal. Benjamin also took responsibility for finding work for his younger brothers, as well as, when the time came, his son Frank.In 1866, when Frank was ten, his father bought a delightful country estate just north of Syracuse, although they retained their house in the city for two years. Cynthia named the new property Rose Lawn because of the hundreds of rose bushes that grew there. There were also a wide variety of fruit trees and grapevines. The house was large and comfortable, furnished in the dark, ornate style that was fashionable in the 1860s; but it did not have running water.2 Frank fondly remembered this childhood home and later described it in Dot and Tot of Merryland:
The cool but sun-kissed mansion … was built in a quaint yet pretty fashion, with many wings and gables and broad verandas on every side. Before it were acres and acres of velvety green lawn, sprinkled with shrubbery and dotted with beds of bright flowers. In every direction were winding paths, covered with white gravel, which led to all parts of the grounds, looking for all the world like a map.3
At the same time, Benjamin bought Spring Farm, eighty acres of dairy land adjoining Rose Lawn, where he raised Jersey cattle and fast harness horses and housed them in a magnificent barn, as well as a 160-acre commercial grain and livestock farm. Frank got his first view of scarecrows, which even then he invested with life. He told a reporter in 1904: “They always seemed to my childish imagination as just about to wave their arms, straighten up and stalk across the field on their long legs.”4 In those days the image was upsetting; Frank had a recurrent nightmare in which a scarecrow chased him but collapsed into a pile of straw just before catching him.5In the late 1870s, Benjamin ran into business difficulties. There was no longer unlimited free enterprise in the oil fields, for John D. Rockefeller had moved in and was increasingly controlling distribution. In 1878, Benjamin organized a group of independent producers to break Rockefeller’s grip by building a pipeline from Bradford to Rochester, where the oil could be transferred to tank cars and shipped to refineries in New York and Buffalo; but the Standard Oil Company used its influence with the New York Central Railroad and the state legislature to block the plan. At about this time, Baum also suffered severe losses on the stock market. He had to sell Rose Lawn and his stock farm in 1880, although the family was soon able to buy it back. In 1882, he completed his recovery by discovering some productive oil wells near Olean, New York, and building the Cynthia Oil Works nearby. 6Although he had brothers and sisters to play with, Frank spent much of his time daydreaming by himself. He had a defective heart, either congenital or the result of rheumatic fever. This disease, which was then quite common, produces acute illness, which abates but may leave the patient with damaged heart valves; over decades the valves function less and less effectively, although there may be no perceptible effects until the patient develops incapacitating heart symptoms some time between the ages of forty and sixty. This is consistent with Baum’s experience: he was sickly as a child, recovered, and led a normal, active life until his late fifties (although extraordinary physical stress did give him chest pain).7Until the age of twelve, Frank, like the other Baum children, was taught at home. At that time the doctors declared him strong enough to attend school, and his parents sent him to Peekskill Military Academy. It seems an odd choice for a dreamy boy with a weak heart; presumably they felt a need to make him more manly. In any case, he loathed the rigid discipline and constantly “complained to my father about the brutal treatment I felt I was receiving at the school.” The teachers, he claimed, “were heartless, callous and continually engaging in petty nagging … about as human as a school of fish.” They “were quick to slap a boy in the face” and beat him with a cane if he “violated in the slightest way any of the strict and often unreasonable rules.” Frank spent two miserable years there, but one day, when he was severely disciplined for looking out of the window at the birds while he should have been preparing his lesson, he had a heart attack (probably psychogenic). Thus he proved that he did not belong in military school, and Benjamin took him away. After that Frank was tutored at home. He read voraciously, especially the novels of Dickens, Thackeray, and Charles Reade, whose Cloister and the Hearth was one of his favorite books. Perhaps he was already attracted to the theater, for he liked to memorize passages from Shakespeare’s plays.8One day when Frank was fourteen, his father took him along to his office in Syracuse, and Frank wandered off and saw a small printing shop. He was so fascinated by watching the old owner work that he lost track of time, and he resolved to become a printer or a newspaper man. Benjamin bought him a small press.9 There was a fad for amateur journalism at the time, and it was possible to buy a child a press with all the other necessary equipment for something between fifteen and fifty dollars. Once Frank had mastered the techniques and taught them to his younger brother, Harry, they decided to issue a monthly paper.The first issue of the Rose Lawn Home Journal, which is not extant, probably came out on October 20, 1870; more followed on November 20 and on July 1, August 1, and September 1, 1871. The Journal was filled with works by Frank and other members of his family, together with pieces drawn from national magazines and books. His father contributed the first installments of a “History of the Oil Company,” describing the beginning of the petroleum industry in Pennsylvania. His sister Mary Louise contributed at least two poems, one of which, “To a Spray of Mignonette,” he was to reprint and mock in Aunt Jane’s Nieces on Vacation.The July 1 issue contains a mock pompous introduction by Frank and Harry, a story by Washington Irving taken from Salmagundi, a complimentary letter from “A Neighbor” (perhaps by Frank), riddles and jokes, “To a Spray of Mignonette,” a story called “Three Curious Needles” that looks borrowed, verses “By the Editor” on the “Cardiff Giant,” and seven advertisements, including one for the dry goods business run by his sister Harriet’s husband. “The True Origin of The Cardiff Giant” makes fun of a current hoax that occurred on a farm only eight miles from Rose Lawn, where workmen unearthed a ten-and-a-half-foot stone figure; although it was actually a gypsum statue that a local con artist had buried almost a year before, many people took it for a petrified man from the race of giants described in the Bible, perhaps left behind by the Great Flood, and it had become a major tourist attraction. Already at fifteen, Frank displayed humorous invention in accounting for the giant’s location and irony at the expense of credulous, moralizing believers. He and Harry advertised in the Journal that they could print “cards, programmes, handbills, letterheads, billheads, etc.; at the lowest prices!” And so they did, especially after Frank got a much better press in 1873. They did job printing, mainly for their uncle’s firm.10 At some point Frank must have begun a novel, for he thanked his sister Harriet for approving it in his inscription to her copy of Mother Goose in Prose.Then Frank was drawn to another contemporary fad, stamp collecting. With his usual enthusiasm, he promptly established a journal, The Stamp Collector, a review of the latest stamps with criticism of other amateur papers that dealt with the subject; published an eleven-page Baum’s Complete Stamp Dealers’ Directory; and joined with William Norris, a traveling salesman based in Albany, to form a mail-order business in foreign postage stamps. The Directory included advertisements, not only for Baum, Norris & Company, Importing Dealers in Foreign Postage Stamps, and The Young American Job Printing Press, but for The Empire, “a First Class Monthly Amateur Paper” published by Baum and Alvord and the Empire Job Printing Office.11 The young entrepreneur was seventeen. Baum retained a lifelong interest in stamp collecting and had a good collection when he died.Frank and Harry Baum had pooled resources with Thomas G. Alvord Jr.—a son of the lieutenant governor, who grew up to be a distinguished newspaperman—and announced a monthly journal, The Empire, to contain “poetry, literature, new stamp issues, amateur items, etc.” Since no issues seem to have survived, this enterprise may never have materialized. The three boys were enrolled in the Syracuse Classical School and are listed in the school catalogue for 1873. Frank left after a year, and this was the end of his formal education.He had found yet another interest to keep him busy. Benjamin Baum had used some of his oil profits to acquire a string of small theaters in New York and Pennsylvania. Frank could see traveling companies performing there when he accompanied his father on business trips. His Uncle Adam Baum was active in amateur theatricals in Syracuse, and his Aunt Katherine taught elocution professionally. At eighteen, Frank took to haunting the theaters in Syracuse, avidly studying the actors’ stage business, speech, and gestures. He approached several managers of traveling companies without success, but finally the manager of a Shakespearean troupe claimed to see promise in this well-dressed and very young man, and accepted him into the company provided he “would equip himself with a complete set of costumes for all the starring roles he might be called upon to take.” Frank agreed and the manager drew up a long list. Although Benjamin Baum was suspicious, Frank and his mother managed to persuade him to pay for the lot, on the condition that Frank use a pseudonym, since the name Baum was respected in the community. Frank ordered several thousand dollars’ worth of the finest velvet and silk garments, trimmed with lace and gold fringe, from a noted New York theatrical costumer. While he waited for delivery, he practiced declaiming Shakespeare.When the five trunks of costumes arrived, Frank assumed the stage name George Brooks and rushed to join the troupe at Oneida. The manager welcomed him warmly and told him to report to the theater an hour before curtain time. An actor appeared in Frank’s dressing room, casually announced that he was to play Romeo and his doublet was torn, and asked whether he could borrow one from Frank. By curtain time almost every man in the cast had had a similar emergency and borrowed an item from Frank. Within a few days, all of his costumes and wigs had been borrowed, and none returned. He was given only a few walk-on roles, and after a few weeks he returned home with empty trunks. Presumably chastened, Frank, in 1875, went to work as a clerk with Neal, Baum & Company, his brother-in-law’s wholesale dry-goods store in Syracuse, as his brother had before him.12


After acquiring a year or two of practical experience working for Neal, Frank returned to Spring Farm to learn the agricultural business. (The oldest son, Benjamin William Baum, a graduate chemist with a laboratory in Syracuse, was to take over his father’s oil investments.) This led to a new enthusiasm—breeding of fancy poultry, which was then a national craze. He formed B. W. Baum & Sons with his father and brother Harry and devoted himself to raising Hamburgs, black chickens with subtly varied secondary coloring. Then he helped found the Empire State Poultry Association in late 1878 and became its first elected secretary, organizing its first two annual fairs in Syracuse—from February 11–18, 1879, and from January 31-February 3, 1880. By this time, chickens from the Baum farm had won many first prizes in shows. At twenty-three Frank must already have impressed people as personable and competent, for when he attended the Seventh Annual Meeting of the American Poultry Association in Indianapolis in January 1880, he was elected to its executive committee.In March, he founded The Poultry Record, a trade journal issued monthly. He took most of his copy and pictures from rival journals, but he did write editorials in which he expressed bold opinions on the fancy chicken trade, occasionally enlivened by clever derision of rival breeders. After nine or ten issues, Baum sold his journal to the New York Farmer and Dairyman, which retained him to carry on a column, “The Poultry Yard,” beginning in January 1881 and running into April. In May, The Poultry World, the leading journal in the field, profiled Baum as “one of our most active and enthusiastic fanciers.” H. H. Stoddard, its publisher, commissioned him to write a lengthy article on Hamburgs, which was serialized in the magazine from July to November 1882. Then he reissued it in 1886 (apparently without Baum’s knowledge) as The Book of the Hamburgs, A Brief Treatise upon the Mating, Rearing, and Management of the Different Varieties of Hamburgs. 13Generally speaking, this is a dry, technical manual for fancy chicken breeders, including detailed descriptions of the show points of each variety of Hamburg, advice on breeding to achieve the ideal physical type, and practical instruction on the care of chicks. Baum could never remain impersonal, however, and occasionally his enthusiasm broke through. “Every season and nearly every day unfolds new beauties” in these birds, he declared, “and renders them more fascinating and delightful to his eye. The exquisite symmetry, the novel and shapely rose combs, the snowy and delicate ear-lobes, the tapering blue legs and graceful carriage give them an aristocratic and ‘dressed up’ appearance.” He gave feeling and personality to the Hamburg mother hen, the original ancestor of self-centered Billina in Ozma of Oz:
For the first week, perhaps, nearly every old hen is faithful to her little brood, and guards them with that maternal tenderness for which she has been made the symbol of motherly love. But this care soon wearies her, and in a few days she begins to neglect them, marching around in the chill and drenching rains of spring, and dragging her little brood after her through the damp grass, entirely oblivious of their sufferings; and one by one they drop off.
Baum retained his interest in chickens all his life; he kept a flock of Rhode Island Reds in his last home, Ozcot.14


While still involved in poultry breeding, Baum found an opportunity to get a genuine start in professional acting. Albert M. Palmer of the Union Square Theatre in New York welcomed and trained new actors. Using the name Louis F. Baum, Frank appeared in a successful play, Bronson Howard’s The Banker’s Daughter, which was first presented on November 30, 1878, and ran for one hundred nights. He probably wrote some pieces for the New York Tribune and then, through his father’s influence, got a job on a weekly newspaper, the Bradford Era. After a year there, Frank returned to the stage. In 1880, his father made him manager of the string of theaters he owned in Bradford, Olean, Richburg, and other towns in the area; he later deeded them to Frank outright.Frank later recalled that he had trouble getting companies to perform in tiny towns in the oil fields, “So I decided to organize my own company and produce some of Shakespeare’s better known plays.” Once they “were asked to give a special performance of Hamlet in the town hall of a small oil settlement. When we got there we found the hall had no stage—not even a raised platform.” They asked the oil workers to cover some sawhorses with planks stacked outside for a building under construction. They did, but since they refused to risk damaging the planks by nailing them, the “stage” was wobbly and the actors had to step carefully. In scene iv, when Hamlet (Baum) started backward on seeing his father’s ghost, he dislodged a plank. The poor ghost, blinded by the white sheet draped over him, stepped into the resulting hole and disappeared through the stage. The oil workers thought this was an intentional piece of slapstick and roared with laughter, so “we had to repeat the scene five times before we could get on with the show.”15Baum then set about writing original plays more suited to the taste of his audiences. He copyrighted three of them early in 1882: “The Mackrummins” and “Matches,” comedy dramas in three acts, and “The Maid of Arran,” a melodrama. “The Mackrummins” was never produced and possibly never completed. “Matches” was performed in Brown’s Opera House in Richburg, New York, and the Richburg Oil Echo of June 3, 1882, praised its humor and Baum’s comic acting and lovemaking. It was revived only once, in Syracuse, on May 19, 1883. “The Maid of Arran,” however, proved to be a big success. Frank organized a new company to give it a good start. Among its members was Frank’s Aunt Katherine, whom Benjamin had persuaded to join the company in order to keep an eye on the young manager and the company’s financial affairs.16Baum not only wrote the words and music for “The Maid of Arran” and managed the company, he played the leading role—all under the name Louis F. Baum. He was a tall, very handsome man with dark hair, gray eyes, and a fine baritone voice. He carried himself well and kept himself trim all his life. As “the Fair-haired Stranger,” he wore a yellow wig, which his boys found years later in a trunk of costumes and used in acting out spontaneous plays of their own.17The play was based on William Black’s popular novel A Princess of Thule (1874), in which a dilettante painter from London falls in love with the unsophisticated daughter of the chief of Borva, a remote island in the Hebrides. Frank Lavender romanticizes Sheila as a sea princess and brings her to London as his wife, expecting her to dazzle fashionable society, although his steady older friend Ingram has warned him of the difficulties of transplanting a natural woman into high society. Before long Lavender does become dissatisfied with Sheila’s failure to fit in and consequently belittles and neglects her until she is forced to return to her father. Frank is shocked into repentance, renounces living in luxury off his rich aunt, retires to a remote spot in the Hebrides, and works seriously to make his living as a painter. In the end Sheila and Frank are reconciled and settle in Borva.Baum started with Black’s basic situation, but he transplanted Shiela’s home to Ireland; and he added some melodramatic turns. He transformed Ingram from an upright civil servant devoted to Shiela (Baum’s spelling) and Lavender (Hugh Holcomb in Baum), into a treacherous naval captain who foments discord between them to get Shiela for himself. After Hugh drives her away and then is overcome with remorse, as in the novel, he does not merely renounce luxury and work at his profession; he enlists as a common sailor on a warship in order to make a man of himself. Too late, he finds that Ingram, who betrayed him, is the captain of his ship. Ingram provokes Hugh to strike him and then condemns him to hang. But Hugh is saved by an Irish retainer of Shiela’s, and after three hard years of wandering returns to live a happy pastoral life with her in Arran.The play has only the feeblest hints of humor, proceeding from the Irish retainers and from Hugh’s aunt, a self-indulgent lady who claims to be a disciple of Marcus Aurelius. (She was played by Baum’s Aunt Katherine.) Rather, Baum’s aim, according to the playbill, was “to Ensnare all hearts and leave an impress of beauty and nobility within the sordid mind of man.” The play suited contemporary taste, with its Irish setting, melodramatic sentimental plot, and florid language (“That girl has touched a chord in my heart, whose strain I have never heard before. She has the depth of the sea in her eyes, the music of the far off hills, in her voice, and all the brightness and purity of these summer skies lie mirrored in her soul.”) Baum also provided impressive scenic effects, especially “the Great Ship Scene,” which was “A Triumph of Mechanical Art.”18“The Maid of Arran” opened at Baum’s Opera House in Gilmour, Pennsylvania. “It was an immediate success,” Frank recalled.
This encouraged me to engage the Grand Opera House in Syracuse for two performances. The first was on May 15, 1882, my twenty-sixth birthday. A correspondent for a New York newspaper sent a favorable account … to his editor, and through this notice the Windsor Theater in New York booked us for the week of June 19 through 24 … . We had a well-filled theater all week. But I soon found that playing the principal part and managing the company, too, had become too much for me. When I asked father what to do, he assigned his brother, John Wesley Baum, to us as business manager for the road tour. It started in Ithaca.
From there they went to Toronto, Rochester, Columbus, and Milwaukee, “arriving in Chicago for ten performances at the Academy of Music beginning October 9. It was my first sight of Chicago, which was very busy and energetic after rebuilding from the great fire.” When they returned to Syracuse for the nights of February 14 and 15, 1883, the Syracuse Journal reported that both play and performances had been thoroughly polished and improved.19 The play was never published, however.


During the Christmas holidays of 1881, Baum took time off from his touring company to visit his family, and his sister Harriet invited him to a little party to meet a girl she had met through their Aunt Josephine, the wife of Benjamin’s brother Adam. Frank was not enthusiastic, being busy with his stage career and so far unimpressed with girls he knew; but he agreed just to oblige his sister. Harriet told him he might change his mind when he met Maud Gage, the roommate of his cousin Josephine at Cornell University. Maud was “different from the girls you’ve known around here. Pretty, but independent, with a mind and will of her own. She’s twenty years old and lots of fun.” As later described by her son Frank Junior, she “had long dark hair, merry mischievous eyes, a slightly retroussé nose and skin remarkably clear and soft.” She was taller than average, “had a singularly well-formed figure, and was accounted a beauty.” Aunt Josephine introduced them at the party with “Frank, I want you to know Maud Gage. I’m sure you will love her.” “Consider yourself loved, Miss Gage,” he said. “Thank you, Mr. Baum,” she replied; “That’s a promise. Please see that you live up to it.”20The playful assertiveness was typical of Maud, who had been raised by Matilda Joslyn Gage, a prominent feminist and leader in the campaign for women’s suffrage. Mother and daughter were much alike: their strong, square faces expressed determined, forceful personalities. Maud was (according to her hostile son Frank Junior) the “greatly indulged” youngest of the four Gage children.21 All her life she remained closely attached to her mother, who often lived with the Baums. Frank, too, admired his mother-in-law, whose views were to have significant influence on both his life and work.Matilda had been raised by her father, a doctor active in abolition and other reform causes, to think for herself and “to accept no opinion because of its authority, but to question the truth of all things.” She married Henry Gage, a prosperous local dry-goods merchant, and entered public life at the age of twenty-six, when she attended her first National Woman’s Rights Convention at Syracuse in 1852 and delivered a speech arguing that girls must be educated equally with boys and encouraged to be self-reliant and ultimately self-supporting in a business or profession “best fitted to exercise their talents.”22 Her ability was immediately recognized, and from then on, Matilda Gage worked constantly for the women’s rights movement—lecturing, writing, researching, organizing, circulating petitions, testifying before Congress. She helped Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony found the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) in 1869, and for many years held one or another high office in the association. She was praised for her absolute honesty, “deep sense of justice,” and sometimes “appalling frankness of speech.”23 Maud, too, had firm opinions and spoke her mind forthrightly.Gage’s most distinctive contribution to feminist theory was her recognition that organized religion played a key role in oppressing women, at a time when it was generally assumed, even within the women’s movement, that Christianity had uplifted their status. In her chapter on “Woman, Church, and State” in the History of Woman Suffrage (a book she co-wrote with Stanton and Anthony), she argued that the church oppressed women by teaching that they were created for man, blaming them for Original Sin, preaching self-sacrifice to them, and denying them the right to think for themselves about religion.Although she rejected traditional religion, Gage believed in the reality of spirit, and she found a basis for her faith in theosophy. What attracted her, as well as contemporaries like Stanton and Thomas Alva Edison, was its claim to provide a rational basis for faith in a spiritual world. Theosophy was a religious faith that was free of superstition and bigotry and compatible with scientific truth: it claimed to incorporate the essential truth that is found in all religions and in science as well. Theosophists believed that they investigated the spiritual world exactly as scientists investigate the physical world; in both cases, the aim was control of natural forces, whether physical or mental and moral, and the methods were the same—“observation of objective phenomena … framing of hypotheses … repeated experiments to verify deductions, and formulation of results.”24 Theosophy had another powerful appeal for feminists: it denied the reality of any distinctions made on the basis of religion, race, class, or sex. Since the traditional churches actively opposed or at least failed to encourage women’s struggles for equality, feminists were drawn to a religion in which they had equal rights. Gage was to be admitted to the Rochester Theosophical Society on March 26, 1885.Frank’s first date with Maud was on Christmas Eve 1881.25 Within a week after meeting her, he knew that he was seriously interested. But she had other suitors, and they were still just friends when he returned to his theater company and she to her sophomore year at Cornell. On May 15, she saw Frank act in “The Maid of Arran” in Syracuse.26 Whenever he was free between bookings during the following summer, he returned to Syracuse, borrowed a horse and buggy from his father, and drove the eight miles to her home in Fayetteville. “We were in the front parlor when Maud finally consented to become my wife. Then she asked me to wait there while she told her mother.” He could not help hearing what was said in the back parlor. “The old lady told Maud in no uncertain terms that she objected to her marrying an actor who was on the road most of the time, jumping from town to town on one night stands, and with an uncertain future.” She would not “have my daughter be a darned fool and marry an actor.”But Maud snapped back, “All right, mother, if you feel that way about it, good bye.” When Mrs. Gage demanded what she meant, she replied, “I’m going to marry Frank, so, naturally you don’t want a darned fool around the house.” “Then Mrs. Gage laughed and said: All right, Maud. If you are in love with him and really determined to marry him, you can have your wedding right here at home.’”27Matilda was understandably displeased by the idea of her cherished daughter marrying a traveling actor whose only achievement to date was a trifling melodrama. In addition, she must have been bitterly disappointed that Maud was dropping out of college. Matilda, who had hoped to be a doctor and been denied admission to any medical school, hated to see her daughter throw away her opportunity for higher education. Frank, of course, was not a college graduate, although this was not remarkable in a time when less that 7 percent of children even enrolled in high school.Before long, however, Frank and his mother-in-law had become good friends. He was extremely likable, and she came to appreciate his gifts. He must have liked and admired her, for within a few years he was committed to feminism and sympathetic to theosophy. When Gage spoke at the national NWSA convention in 1887 and wrote to Maud, “Tell Frank have been very greatly complimented, both as to subject-matter & voice,” she clearly assumed that he would share Maud’s pleasure in her success.28Maud and Frank were married on November 9, 1882, in the handsome Victorian front parlor of the Gage home by the minister of the Fayetteville Baptist Church. They spent their honeymoon in Saratoga Springs. Immediately afterwards, Frank and Maud headed west with “The Maid of Arran” company for a tour through small cities in the Midwest. The itinerant life must have been hard on Maud. She wrote to her brother Thomas Clarkson Gage from Omaha on November 26 that she liked the life and was “very, very happy,” but she went on to speak of “dreadful” hotels, and she looked forward to getting to Saint Louis, where they would settle down for a full week. Nevertheless, she closed by advising her brother “to marry at once, and then you will know what it is to enjoy life.” “The Maid of Arran” played for three weeks in Chicago in April.29When she became pregnant, Maud insisted on establishing a permanent home where their first child would be born. Frank engaged a new leading man, and they moved into a rented house on Shonnard Street in Syracuse, where Frank Junior was born on December 4, 1883.30The Baum marriage proved to be exceedingly happy, although Frank and Maud did not conform to conventional gender roles for husband and wife. Frank was the sweeter and more compliant partner. Maud’s determination and insistence on her prerogative appeared early in their family life. According to an often-told family story, Frank brought home a dozen Bismarks (jelly doughnuts) one day. “Maud bristled and tartly demanded to know whether he was dissatisfied with the food she bought and prepared. He assured her he liked her meals, but with a smile, he also liked Bismarks for breakfast.” So she served them up to him every morning, although on the third day he suggested they were getting stale. “Maud replied coldly that he had bought them and would have to eat them.” They reappeared on the fourth, fifth, and sixth mornings. When he finally protested, “Let’s stop this nonsense,” she retorted: “You bought them without consulting me, so you will have to eat them. I am not going to have food wasted. But I’ll let you off this time if you will promise never again to buy any food unless I ask you to get it.” He agreed, and “the affair of the Bismarks” was over. “But it had taught him a lesson he never forgot: that … around the house she was the boss.”31When the children were born, Frank was a tenderly devoted parent, who would play with his babies for hours and spend “whole evenings rocking” them and crooning lullabies, and was incapable of punishing them. Maud was firm and less demonstrative. The younger Frank’s first recollection of his father was of his rushing to comfort him after a nightmare when he was about three. As an old man, Harry, the third son, remembered his childhood love for the smell of tobacco “because it always meant Father was home.”32 Once Frank and Maud found three-year-old Frank Junior sitting with a sharp razor in each hand; and it was his father who quietly distracted the child with a story until he could get the razors away from him. A few years later, Maud severely punished young Frank for falling into a large pan of paste once and then a second time. Over her protests, her husband took a plate of supper to the child’s bedroom, told him a story, and watched by him until he fell asleep.33When Robert, the Baums’ second son, was very small, he threw the family cat out of the second-story window. Although the cat was not hurt, Mother, “to teach me a lesson, caught me up and held me out the window pretending that she was going to drop me. But it was quite real to me and I screamed so loudly that the neighbors all rushed out and were quite horrified at the spectacle of my mother dangling me out of the window, not sure but that she would let me drop.” On a later occasion, he threw a cat into a barrel “and was promptly chucked in myself to see how I liked it.” One day years later when Kenneth, the youngest son, misbehaved, Maud told him that his father would punish him when he got home. In order to support Maud’s authority, Frank, with great reluctance, gave Kenneth a few half-hearted spanks; but he was too upset to eat his dinner and finally apologized to Kenneth. He refused to spank any of the boys again, so from then on, Maud had to inflict any punishment herself.34Those who knew Frank agreed that he was an exceptionally sweet-natured, easy-going man, whose positive attitude caused others to see the best in themselves and their circumstances. Maud remembered him as “a very kindly man—never angry—pleasant to everyone.” Harry characterized his father as “a cheerful, kindly, fun-loving man who loved people, children, and flowers … . everyone who knew him loved him for his gentleness, his whimsical humor, and his spontaneous puns which were quite often ludicrous and far-fetched … . I recall his saying … ‘If I had my way, I would always have a young child in the house.’ To which my mother … replied, ‘If I had my way, I wouldn’t!’” Frank Junior’s tribute was essentially just, despite a bit of worshipful exaggeration: His father
… never looked on the dark side of life; never said an unkind word about any person; never swore or told a dirty story. His sunny disposition, quizzical smile and kindly twinkle in his gray eyes, coupled with irrepressible optimism helped all who knew him to see their troubles in a different and less important light. I am happy in the knowledge that he made this world a better place because he lived in it.35
Frank Junior’s account of his parents’ marriage seems accurate, despite his tendency to exalt his father at his mother’s expense. During her long widowhood, Maud would fondly recall that:
… peace and harmony had always graced her home, but those who knew the family best felt this was true only because Frank, from the time of their marriage until his death thirty-seven years later, allowed her to have her own way with the household, the children, and the family purse. Only because of his easy nature and because he remained all those years very much in love with her, was he able philosophically to accept her often unpredictable temper.36
Of course, this happy accommodation could not have been reached unless Frank had found much to love in Maud and did not perceive her as repressive or dominating. He was a secure man who did not worry about asserting his masculine authority.Moreover, Maud was more capable than he of managing the family purse. She had great practical competence, while he could not keep track of his money and was always pursuing specious business opportunities. As Harry said, “Mother was Father’s exact opposite. She was serious, unimaginative and realistic—and it was a good thing, too. Father went bankrupt more than once [sic—actually only once] investing in some wild scheme. She finally took control and kept the family solvent.”37 Even Frank Junior had to concede that she managed the household capably through their constantly recurring economic vicissitudes. 38 Her firmness and hardheaded practicality compensated for Frank’s tendency to be overoptimistic and careless with money. His softness of heart and consistent agreeableness made him lovable, but they also revealed a bit of self-indulgence. He evaded what he found unpleasant, whether it was disciplining his children or balancing his budget. Although he worked extremely hard at what interested him—whether it was writing, raising flowers, or organizing the annual celebration at his holiday resort—he did not apply his mind to realistic calculation of profit and loss.


For a while the Baums lived comfortably off the continuing profits from “The Maid of Arran,” which ran at least through the 1883 season, and from Baum’s chain of small theaters. Frank wrote “Kilmourne, or O’Connor’s Dream,” which was never copyrighted or professionally produced, although it was performed by an amateur group in Syracuse on April 4, 1883. He was to try one more Irish play, “The Queen of Killarney,” in 1885; but that never got produced at all. The Baums took an active part in Syracuse social life. Frank acted in at least one amateur performance, the comedy “Dora” at the Syracuse Opera House. Eleven years after they left the city, the Syracuse Post-Standard commented that Baum was “remembered by hundreds of friends as a witty and droll but a most enjoyable companion.”39As Baum’s theatrical career diminished, the family oil business presented a more stable means of support. An advertisement in the Courier of July 9, 1883, announced the opening of a store dealing in all types of lubricating oil. (At this period petroleum was used mainly for lubrication and kerosene lamps.) The proprietor was L. B. Baum, evidently a misprint for L. F. It was fortunate that the Baums had this resource, for Frank’s theatrical business was about to collapse altogether. Sometime in 1884, his business manager, Uncle John, became ill; and they had to hire a bookkeeper. Maud noticed that the weekly checks were becoming smaller and urged Frank and John to investigate. But Frank was busy writing “The Queen of Killarney,” and by the time John was well enough to return to the office, they found the bookkeeper had grossly mismanaged the business; soon thereafter, he disappeared. On top of this, a fire in Gilmour destroyed Baum’s theater there, with all the costumes, scenery, and props for “The Maid of Arran” and other plays. The result was that he lost all his realty holdings, including the theaters, production rights to “The Maid of Arran,” and more.40Fortunately, a new development increased Frank’s oil business. His chemist brother, Benjamin William, invented an improved lubricating oil for wheels and organized Baum’s Castorine Company to manufacture and distribute it; he moved the company from Buffalo to Syracuse and appointed his uncle Adam Baum manager and Frank superintendent, a position he held from 1884 to 1888. Evidently this meant head salesman, for Frank’s main job was to go on the road to market the new product to owners of drugstores and hardware stores. Castorine was advertised as the best existing axle oil because, unlike tallow or whale oil, it had a consistency like castor oil and would “not gum or chill and is ever ready for use.”For a while the company was successful.41 But then a series of misfortunes struck. In 1885, the family patriarch, Benjamin Baum (now diminished to “a well-to-do farmer”), was seriously injured in a buggy accident;42 ultimately he went away to Germany for treatment. Then brother Benjamin also became very sick and died the following February. The father returned from Germany to find that his affairs had been badly administered and his wealth had further dwindled. He moved with Cynthia and Harry, Frank’s younger brother, to a smaller house in town, where he died on February 14, 1887. After that, Cynthia and Harry moved out to Spring Farm, where they lived until Harry opened his medical office in Syracuse.On February 1, 1886, Maud gave birth to her second son, Robert Stanton, in their new house on Holland Street, where they had moved the year before. The childbirth was difficult and caused abdominal infection; Maud contracted peritonitis and almost died. In the days before antibiotics, it was remarkable that she pulled through at all. As it was, she was bedridden for months with a drainage tube in her side. Frank was distraught, for his business required him to be away selling Castorine, sometimes for weeks at a time. He spent every hour he could at home with Maud (and away from business) and moved the family to a rented house so they could be near his sisters.43When Frank’s brother-in-law, Clarkson Gage, proudly announced the birth of his daughter, Matilda, on April 22, Frank apologized for not answering him until May 4: “I have so much on hand—with Maud’s sickness, business & moving combined.” He went on to tease Clarkson about the cares of a father:
You will now begin to enjoy the felicity of living in earnest. You can awaken a dozen or two times each night and sooth your daughter … . You can walk the floor with her over your shoulder, and have a friend point out to you when you reach the store a streak of milky substance down the back of your best coat. You can—but why harrow up our mutual feelings in this way? We are both in boats of similar build, and we should bear our troubles like men. Let us shake hands gently, remove the tear that starts to our eyeballs with a resigned sigh, and forgetting the ills of life, cling only to thoughts of the sweet, innocent child faces that will brighten our lives for years to come, and make us thank God heartily that they arrived at all.44
Maud did not recover her health for two years. She solaced herself with frequent visits to her family in Fayetteville. Her sister Julia Carpenter, who was languishing in Dakota Territory, poured intense worries into her diary: “Dear dear Maud has been sick in bed over six months. Poor, poor child. I am almost wild over her—our baby our darling sister. Poor little Robin took all her strength” (August 9, 1886). After a stay in a sanitarium her health improved, but by early November “she was again in bed utterly discouraged with an abscess in her side.”45All this while, the Castorine office and factory were neglected. Benjamin William was dead, Frank was on the road selling, and Uncle Adam, who was an invalid, left the business in the hands of a clerk. In the spring of 1888, Frank returned from a sales trip and unlocked the office door to find the clerk dead: he had shot himself after gambling away much of the firm’s capital. The business was barely solvent, and ultimately Frank felt there was nothing to do but sell it.46He had to figure out another way to support his family. Perhaps he could find an opportunity in the West. The railroads had opened up Dakota Territory; and cheap land, rich soil, years of good weather, and the prospect of excellent wheat crops had brought many settlers in the late 1870s and 1880s. Henry Gage, Maud’s father, owned a sizable farm there and had always been interested in the area.47 Maud’s three siblings had settled in Dakota. Clarkson Gage was one of the founding settlers of Aberdeen in Brown County, laid out in building lots in 1881. Along with two other men from Fayetteville, he operated a successful general store, selling dry goods, notions, groceries, and an unusually good selection of carpets. He was a community leader, who helped to organize an artesian well and irrigation plant and the Aberdeen Building & Loan Association. Maud’s sister Helen Leslie Gage and Helen’s husband, Charles, also named Gage, moved to Aberdeen in 1887 and invested in property throughout the area, including store buildings on Aberdeen’s Main Street. Helen was active in community affairs; she was to become vice president of the Women’s Benevolent Society of Aberdeen and to be one of the representatives of the Aberdeen Equal Suffrage Association at the Democratic State Convention in June 1890.Maud’s other sister, Julia Gage Carpenter, and her husband, James D., called “Frank,” were less successful. In 1882, they had taken a homestead near Edgeley, about seventy miles north of Aberdeen, in what would become North Dakota. Julia was miserable there: “This is an awful country, and I want to live East,” she wrote in her diary for January 4, 1884, when the temperature had been 48° below zero in the afternoon. She also suffered from loneliness: “I am franticly lonely. Can hardly endure it.”48 Although she acknowledged that her husband was kind and attentive, she could keep herself going only by frequent long visits to her relatives in Fayetteville and Aberdeen. Life for the Carpenters must have been very hard, even though they were not poor. They lived in a twelve-foot-square shanty, where they were confined for most of the winter. Outside was nothing but the vast expanse of prairie, without a hill, tree, or stone to diversify the view. The nearest neighbors were twenty miles away, the nearest town even farther.Life in Aberdeen, however, was more like that in any American small city that depended for its prosperity on the surrounding farms. Aberdeen had brick stores and hotels and two handsome stone-fronted banks along its Main Street. Although its streets were not paved and became quagmires when it rained or snowed, it had raised sidewalks of wooden planks. It had had telegraphic and electric service since 1886, although the electric supply was so limited that the company was unable to furnish a needed traffic light in 1888. Houses were lit by gas, and there were a few telephones and a good water supply from an artesian well. Aberdeen had a well-established school system, a small public library, and four churches. A large proportion of the inhabitants were business and professional people, forty or more of whom had migrated from Syracuse and Fayetteville; and they re-created in Aberdeen the amenities they were accustomed to. There were many lectures, amateur theatrical and musical programs, and professional performances in the “Opera House.”49 Aberdeen was situated in the fertile James River valley, a rapidly growing area in the northeastern corner of what would become South Dakota. Since three railroad lines crossed there, it had good potential as a distribution center and was, in fact, nicknamed “the Hub City.”In June 1888, Baum visited Clarkson Gage to prospect the situation. The Aberdeen Daily News mentioned his visit and reported that he “finds recreation from the cares of an extensive business [sic] in the fascinating pursuit, amateur photography. Mr. Baum was proficient in the art and during his stay in the city secured a number of fine negatives of Dakota land and cloud scapes.”50 Photography was to be a lifelong interest. In later life he had a darkroom in his basement where he developed and printed his pictures, and he got his boys interested in photography as well.51On his return home, Frank wrote to sound out Clarkson about prospects in Aberdeen. He saw an opening for a high-class variety store, “a Bazaar, selling fancy goods, sporting goods, outdoor games … amateur photograph goods, fancy willowware, cheap books and good literature, stationery, toys and crockery specialties, velocipedes … etc. Not a 5 ¢ store, but a Bazaar on the same style as the ‘Fair’ in Chicago (on a much smaller scale).” He expected that, using one thousand dollars of his own money and one thousand dollars in borrowed capital, he could sell ten thousand dollars’ worth of goods in the first year, which would produce an income of fifteen hundred to two thousand dollars. With his usual enthusiasm, he sketched out ambitious plans for promoting his wares by starting a camera club and interesting people in lawn tennis. He would also be on the lookout for investment opportunities. He went on to reveal his discouragement with his present situation in the East, where intense competition “keeps a man down … . In this struggling mass of humanity a man like myself is lost.” In Dakota, on the other hand, “there is an opportunity for a man to be somebody … and opportunities are constantly arising where an intelligent man may profit.” “Aberdeen is destined one day to be a good city, and it may be a metropolis,” so that it seemed like a good idea “to throw my fortunes in with the town.”52Despite his record of disappointments, Baum was still determined to pursue success as a businessman, as his father had, and was still confident of finding lucrative opportunities. Although Maud had not liked the western cities she had seen when accompanying Frank with “The Maid of Arran” company in 1882,53 she would have enjoyed being near her brother and sisters and doubtless welcomed a project that might give the family financial security.L. FRANK BAUM: CREATOR OF OZ. Copyright © 2002 by Katharine M. Rogers. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.


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