Friday, September 17, 2010


Matilda Joslyn Gage was the mother-in-law of L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It was she who suggested he write his delightful children’s stories for publication. Gage also was his intellectual mentor, providing Baum with the social-reform vision that became the blueprint for his utopian world of Oz. “Dorothy Gage and Dorothy Gale,” originally published in Baum Bugle 28 (Autumn 1984), describes L. Frank Baum’s association with the Gage family.


L. Frank Baum loved his wife, Maud Gage Baum. It was as simple as that. The family delighted in recounting the story of their first meeting. Maud’s roommate at Cornell, Josie Baum, was anxious that Maud meet her handsome cousin Frank. Maud was finally introduced to him by Josie’s mother, Josephine, at a Christmas party given by Frank’s sister, Harriet A. B. Neal, in 1881. As Frank Joslyn, Frank and Maud’s firstborn son, later reported:

The following evening Frank found quite a few of his old friends gathered at Harriet’s house. He crossed the room to greet his sister, sitting in a large armchair. Around her were gathered a group of young people in animated conversation. As he came up and greeted them, Aunt Josie took the arm of a young lady standing near by. Drawing her close, she said: “This is my nephew, Frank. Frank, I want you to know Maud Gage. I’m sure you will love her.” He smiled down at the animated features of a girl with long dark brown hair, mischievous eyes, and slightly retrousse nose. “Consider yourself loved, Miss Gage,” he said, smiling.

The courtship progressed rapidly and, in spite of objections from both families, the two were married the following November in a small, simple ceremony, held in Maud’s mother’s parlor.

Frank was a devoted family man. He was always “decidedly a homebody,” his oldest son said, “and seldom went out alone — almost never at night.” Frank was respectful of Maud, and took seriously his responsibilities as a husband. Writing about “A Happy Home,” in his newspaper, the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer (February 15, 1890), Frank shared with his readers his own contribution to the household:

Few men realize sufficiently that it lies entirely in their hands to make their home life enjoyable or otherwise. In nine cases out of ten a happy home depends on the temperament of the “man of the house.” A woman is usually so occupied with her household duties and the care of her children that she naturally becomes more or less nervous and irritable, and looks forward to the homecoming of her mate as the one excitement that shall relieve the monotony of her daily routine.

That sensitivity to the plight of the homemaker certainly endeared Frank to Maud. It was difficult raising four active and mischievous boys by herself. And yet, when they jointly decided that Frank must take a job as a traveling salesman for a time, it was Frank, not Maud, who suffered more from the absence. He eagerly awaited her letters from home. Once when he did not receive one for a day or two, he telegraphed that he was coming right home. “Seems he wouldn’t travel if he didn’t hear,” his mother-in-law commented, “a perfect baby.” But Frank was not ashamed of his strong need for Maud. He depended on her support, her advice, and her constancy, as demonstrated in a letter written in 1914, after thirty-two years of marriage:

My darling old Sweetheart, I got your sweet letter today . . . and it was just the letter I would have expected you to write. Aside from the fact that I reproached myself for making my dear wife share my bothers, I got such a heart-warming through that letter that the sweet cheering words will keep me happy for many days to come. Yes, sweetheart, nothing can dismay us while we have each other and while the old love, which has lasted and grown stronger during all these years, remains to comfort and encourage us … Always your lover, Frank.

In his “Happy Home” article, he encouraged every husband to discuss business matters with his wife, promising “ten chances to one, she will give you more wholesome advice than any of your business friends.” Business decisions were made jointly in the Baum household, and Frank’s publishers, Reilly & Britton, came to expect letters from Frank to begin, “After a conference with Mrs. Baum…I have decided to….” Maud was one of Frank’s best critics, Reilly believed. Frank was sure of it. When his first children’s book, Mother Goose in Prose, was published in 1897, Frank inscribed Maud’s copy:

One critic I always fear and long to please. It is my Sweetheart. Shall I win her approval how vain would be the plaudits of the small remnant of humanity! I hope this book will succeed, for her sake, for we need the money success would bring. But aside from that sordid fact I care little what the world thinks of it. The vital question is: What does my sweetheart, my wife of fifteen years, think of it?

Not all men take women this seriously, Frank realized, and in another editorial in the Saturday Pioneer (February 1, 1890), he encouraged all of them to do so, not only privately but publicly as well. “We have one more lesson in tolerance to learn,” he wrote. “We must do away with sex prejudice and render equal distinction and reward to brains and ability, no matter whether found in man or woman.”

Frank covered a wall of Ozcot, their final home in Hollywood, California, with his favorite pictures of Maud taken throughout her life, and christened them his “yard of Maud.” On the back of a picture of himself he had taken for her, he wrote, “To my own Sweet Love. The image of your baby. Tooken December 1899.” And on the occasion of their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary in 1907, Frank sent out (without his wife’s knowledge) an invitation with a remarkable, tongue-in-cheek record of their married life:

Quarrels: Just a few.

Wife in tears: Three times (cat died; bonnet spoiled; sore toe).

Husband swore: One thousand one hundred and eighty-seven times; at wife, 0.

Causes of jealousy: 0. (Remarkable in an age of manicured men and beauty doctor women.)

Broke, occasionally; bent, often.

Unhappy: 0.

Maud was a bit more restrained in her sentiments, yet similarly devoted. She reassured Frank after one of his frequent financial failures, “We will come [out] all right. Trouble comes to us all but when met bravely and together surely we can stand it. You have always been able to earn a living. For all time and through all things, Your sweetheart and wife.”

Frank’s health, which had never been strong, took a serious turn for the worse in 1918 and, after a prolonged illness, he died on May 6, 1919. Maud was with him constantly to the end. She wrote one of her sisters about their final conversation:

He told me many times I was the only one he had ever loved. He hated to die, did not want to leave me, said he was never happy without me, but it was better he should go first, if it had to be, for I doubt if he could have got along without me. It is all so sad, and I am so forlorn and alone. For nearly thirty-seven years we had been everything to each other, we were happy, and now I am alone, to face the world alone.

It had been a deep and nourishing love for both, marred by only one major disappointment: the lack of a daughter. Frank, who had an affinity with all children, was a doting father to his sons. Yet he also wished for a daughter. However, it was Maud who, often feeling outnumbered by five males in the household and wanting to carry on the closeness she shared with her mother, sisters, and nieces, longed for a daughter even more than Frank did. Only her mother, Matilda Joslyn Gage, the nationally known suffragist, provided Maud with regular female companionship.

Maud was Matilda’s youngest, spunkiest, and favorite child. Mother and daughter were inseparable. They spent months in each other’s homes when the Baums lived in Syracuse, only a dozen miles from Matilda’s house in Fayetteville; and, when the Baums moved to Aberdeen, Dakota Territory, in 1888 and then on to Chicago three years later, Matilda passed each winter with Frank, Maud, and the boys. Her company was especially important for Maud when Frank was on the road selling china for Pitkin & Brooks. Matilda’s death in March 1898 left Maud desperately lonely. “It is just two months ago tonight that Mother left us,” Maud lamented to her oldest sister. “We have had a terrible electrical storm tonight, and I am very lonely. If I could only see Mother once, if she were only up in her room. Oh, Mother, I am so lonely without you. It does not seem as if I could have it so. She was so thoughtful of me, so worried when I fell ill. I feel as if I had lost all that especially care about me. Frank is good and kind, but he is different from Mother, and I want her so much.”

Perhaps there was one link, one connection, one hope. Matilda had been a serious student of the occult during the last decade of her life. As a Theosophist, she had come to believe (as did Maud, also a Theosophist) in reincarnation. Matilda explained to one of her grandchildren the year before her own death:

There is one thing I want you to remember first of all: This is that what is called “death” by people is not death. You are more alive than ever you were after what is called death. Death is only a journey, like going to another country. You are alive when you travel to Aberdeen just as much as when you stay in Edgeley [North Dakota], and it is the same with what is called death. After people have been gone for awhile, they come back and live in another body, in another family and have another name.

And perhaps sometimes they come back to the same family. When Matilda died, her daughter-in-law, Sophie Jewell Gage, was expecting a child. It would be the last of the Gage line, born to Matilda’s only son T. Clarkson Gage. More importantly, this child might be the spiritual connection with the late Matilda Joslyn Gage.

The baby was born in June and given a popular name of the time, one that even her Uncle Frank Baum had previously used in Mother Goose in Prose. Sophie had lost one baby seven years before and everyone was worried. The child held on for five months but, in November 1898, she died. Maud attended the funeral and was so distraught she had to have medical treatment. “Dorothy was a perfectly beautiful baby,” Maud wrote her sister Helen. “I could have taken her for my very own and loved her devotedly.” Frank was then working on a children’s story; and, when it came out in 1900, he dedicated it to “my good friend and comrade, My Wife.” And in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Frank gave Maud her Dorothy.



This connection was suggested to me by Matilda Jewell Gage, L. Frank and Maud Baum’s niece, during a 1975 taping session, when she wondered if her Uncle Frank might have named his heroine Dorothy after her sister. Matilda Jewell Gage was twelve when her baby sister Dorothy died. As Baum expert Michael Patrick Hearn has pointed out, there is a clear pattern in Baum’s work of using names of his wife’s family. Dorothy’s aunt and uncle may have been named for Maud’s parents: Matilda, who occasionally signed her work “M” (Em), and Henry. Matilda Joslyn Gage’s maiden name appears as the family name of The Master Key (1901); likewise “Joslyn” is the name of the little boy in “The Yellow Ryl” (1906), a short story published in A Child’s Garden (August and September 1925), and it appears again as a family name — spelled “Jocelyn” — in Mary Louise in the Country (1916). Also, according to his 1905 contract with Reilly & Britton, Baum intended to publish a novel for young people ascribed either to “Maud Gage Baum” or to “Helen Leslie,” the name of Maud’s elder sister. “The Wonderful Mother of Oz” is available through our Gift Shop for further reading.

by Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner

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