Friends of Dorothy
Friends of Dorothy
The Year of Matilda Joslyn Gage
2019, the hundredth anniversary of the death of L. Frank Baum, seems to be the moment for Matilda Joslyn Gage, Baum’s mother-in-law. Her biggest Oz claims to fame are 1) Baum and her daughter Maud were married in her house; 2) she encouraged Frank Baum to publish the stories he told to his sons in Chicago which became the publishing hit of 1900: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; and 3) Baum’s Oz books are full of strong female characters, and his feminism was at least partly influenced by that of his mother-in-law.
Matilda Joslyn Gage was one of the leaders of the suffrage movement in the nineteenth century, along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Why have we heard of them but not her? It seems Stanton and Anthony “wrote her out of history.” Gage was maneuvered out of power in the National Woman Suffrage Association when it merged with the American Woman Suffrage Association in 1890 because of her more radical views, such as being against conservative religious organizations like the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, which wanted to put God into the Constitution.
Last year Born Criminal: Matilda Joslyn Gage, Radical Suffragist by Angelica Carpenter was published. It has been getting great press, with The Midwest Book Review calling it “A deftly written and seminal work of simply outstanding scholarship.” Angelica had previously written biographies of L. Frank Baum, Lewis Carroll, Frances Hodgson Burnett and Robert Louis Stevenson for young people.
This year saw the publication of Finding Dorothy, a novel by Elizabeth about Matilda’s daughter Maud Gage. Letts, a popular author, weaves together Maud’s upbringing and marriage to Baum with a later story of Maud meeting Judy Garland when The Wizard of Oz film is being made by MGM.
I suspect almost all the readers of this novel will not have heard of Matilda Joslyn Gage and many will be delighted to discover her in this fictionalized portrait. At a convention of the International Wizard of Oz Club this past June, Angelica and I were on a panel discussing the book. Angelica also talked about Gage and another Club member enacted her in costume.
Let’s hope these events will let more people know about this important figure in our history.
Matilda Joslyn Gage
Dee Michel is the author of the book "Friends of Dorothy - Why Gay Boys and Gay Men Love The Wizard of Oz."