This year Americans celebrate 100 years of the 19th Amendment to our Constitution. In case you didn’t know, Oz fans have a particular reason to celebrate this centennial. Oz author L. Frank Baum’s wife Maud was the daughter of Matilda Joslyn Gage, a prominent leader in the Suffrage movement. Toward the end of her life, Matilda spent many months living in the Baums’ home. She overheard Frank telling is wonderful stories to children and insisted that he should write them down. Although her 1898 death meant she did not live to see her son-in-law succeed as an author, she had a profound influence on his philosophy, theology, and his fiction.
Often credited as the voice that persuaded Baum to seek publication of his stories, Matilda’s influence went much further. Her writing about matriarchal Native American government likely inspired the way Oz is governed. The strong female leaders of Oz distinguish American’s fairyland even as they have attracted criticism of it by those who object to the story’s feminist message. Matilda is who introduced the Baums to Theosophy and spiritualism. Her outspoken insistence that church and state should remain separate may have contributed to the absence of religion in Oz. Her granddaughter Dorothy Gage, who was born three months after Matilda died and lived only five months, is widely believed to the namesake of our Kansas heroine; Gage believed in reincarnation and her family had particular hopes that the infant would somehow continue to grandmother’s legacy.
I am not remotely an authority on Gage. Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner, on the other hand, is. The Oz Club’s first National Convention was held in partnership with the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation in Fayetteville, NY. Sally was our co-host, rallying Gage Foundation volunteers and resources to help Club members enjoy a Wonderful Weekend of Oz in and around the Gage home that is there. Her recent book, The Women’s Suffrage Movement, has her speaking around the country this year about Gage. Next week, she’s in NYC on a panel with Gloria Steinem for the Gage Foundation and the American Indian Law Institute.
Angelica Shirley Carpenter, a past president of the Oz Club, recently wrote Born Criminal: Matilda Joslyn Gage, Radical Suffragist and is touring the country speaking about Gage and her book. Look for her forthcoming picture book about Matilda, too, The Voice of Liberty. In one recent talk, she was interviewed by Gage descendent Greg Morena (above, grandson of Ozma Baum Mantele). You can see that on YouTube here: Carpenter/Morena in Santa Monica. Oz fans even outside the Club know Angelica for her young readers’ biography, L. Frank Baum: Royal Historian of Oz. She served as one of our Oz Centennial chairmen back in 2000, and chaired Oz, the National Convention 2010 in Fresno, California.
Thanks to these two friends I anticipate a Gage-filled March! Last weekend, the Oz Museum hosted an event in Wamego Kansas titled “Suffrage and Oz.” The six-person Baker University Speech Choir performed a fascinating work using Gage’s biography and writings, followed by a more traditional presentation by Oz Museum curator Chris Glasgow. I was delighted to cheer them along from the audience. Chris blogged about Matilda here: Curator’s Corner.
Looking forward, Angelica will be speaking in the Kansas City area March 12-14, and Sally will be here speaking at Kansas University March 31. I have a reception for Angelica planned at my home, and am scheduling time with Sally while she’s in the area. I encourage Oz fans to attend any Gage presentations in your area. Sally’s Website lists her bookings, and Angelica’s is equally filled with presentation dates.
A fun footnote, Oz Club member Karyl Carlson, primarily known as the “Doll Maker of Oz” for her handmade Oz character creations, has been appearing in character as Matilda in the Portland area. Those attending Oz, the National Convention 2019 can picture what a great job she’s doing because she was a charming addition to Angelica’s Gage talk in Thibodaux last June (below).
This has been a long blog, but it’s about an unusual and significant topic I don’t want to shortchange. If you have an opportunity to learn about Gage, jump at it! Learning about the “Wonderful Mother of Oz,” as Sally Wagner has dubbed her, provides a fascinating insight into this beloved and influential woman whose significant, far-reaching impact on Oz is beyond measure.