Cover image for L. Frank Baum, creator of Oz : [a biography]
L. Frank Baum, creator of Oz : [a biography]
Rogers, Katharine M.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, 2002.
Physical Description:
xvi, 318 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
General Note:
Subtitle from jacket.
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Material Type
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PS3503.A923 Z86 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PS3503.A923 Z86 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PS3503.A923 Z86 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
PS3503.A923 Z86 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Biography

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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.

Author Notes

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.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Rogers' meticulously researched and documented biography draws generously on original and secondary sources, affording a detailed account that is more scholarly than popular. Baum comes across as easygoing, positive in attitude, and extremely creative, as well as an amiable raconteur, a doting parent, an unsuccessful (for the most part) playwright and producer, and a dismal businessman (he eventually turned financial matters over to his more practical wife, Maud). Rogers shows how the theosophy system of belief as well as Baum's commitment to feminism influenced the development of his fantasies. His early infatuation with the theater remained with him throughout his life; in fact, the success of the Wizard of Oz extravaganza in the opening years of the twentieth century led to his spending the rest of his life unsuccessfully trying to replicate the show's amazing success. Rogers also devotes much space to summarizing and critiquing Baum's works, both the successes and the failures, rooting them in Baum's experiences and beliefs. All in all, a full-bodied treatment for the devoted Oz fan. --Sally Estes

Publisher's Weekly Review

Frank Baum is recognized chiefly as the author whose characters inspired the hit movie, The Wizard of Oz, but as Rogers aptly shows in this insightful biography/analysis, Baum (the L stood for Lyman) was far more than a one-hit wonder. Industrious, determined and prolific, he turned out more than 70 books, an especially impressive achievement given the relative brevity of his career: he was 41 when his first book, Mother Goose in Prose, was published, and he died at 63 in 1919. Rogers provides a condensed but comprehensive explanation for his slow start: energetic and entrepreneurial, Baum spent the first two-thirds of his life trying to find the right outlet for his talents. He threw himself into a variety of seemingly unconnected pursuits, from theater, which remained a lifelong love, to breeding fancy poultry (he helped found the Empire State Poultry Association in 1878); he was a shopkeeper and then newspaper editor in South Dakota, where he moved his young family from 1888 to 1891. Rogers, who has edited anthologies of 18th- and 19th-century literature, devotes more than a third of her book to summarizing Baum's stories, critiquing his shortcomings as an author and praising his many successes, particularly his commitment to creating strong, independent female characters. Her analyses are enlightening and engaging-she quite possibly could spark renewed interest in his work. B&w photos. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

It is not unknown for young readers enchanted by the tales of L. Frank Baum's Oz to carry with them throughout their lives the desire to move to that magical country. Baum authored not only The Wizard of Oz (published in 1900) but 13 more Oz books and numerous other children's tales while also launching several theatrical productions and a string of other business ventures. Rogers (The Cat and the Human Imagination) effectively correlates the events of Baum's life to his literary output, showing readers how his belief in feminism, concern for animal rights, and interest in technology produced a fairyland where all the heroes are women and girls, animals talk, and machinelike creations such as Tik-Tok and the Tin Woodman hold their own with the brightest and best humans. Although Rogers argues that Baum's main concern was his readers, for years most schools, critics, and libraries disdained his work. Yet Baum's Oz books were so popular that his publisher engaged a devoted young Oz enthusiast, Ruth Plumly Thompson, to continue the series after Baum's death in 1919. Thompson wrote 19 more Oz titles, after which the books' illustrator, John R. Neill, and several more Royal Historians of Oz composed a total of some 40 Oz books. Rogers's straightforward narrative, well documented with notes and a lengthy bibliography, lacks only one ingredient a touch of the enchantment that pervades the Oz books themselves. Readers interested in Baum will also enjoy The Annotated Wizard of Oz. Recommended for literature collections and all who love the marvelous land of Oz. Edward Cone, New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Although her book is heavily indebted to the pioneering official biography by Frank Joslyn Baum and Russell MacFall (To Please a Child, 1961), Rogers scoured scholarly sources to provide a fuller and more accurate account of Baum's life and achievement. The author details Baum's careers in both business and literature, pointing out errors in previous accounts and suggesting motives for his actions. She is particularly strong in showing how both theosophy and the example set by strong-willed women--e.g., his wife and mother-in-law--influenced his writing. Unlike Michael Riley's Oz and Beyond (CH, Feb'98), this study does not confine itself to the Oz series. By describing and evaluating Baum's commercial series books for girls, Rogers shows how his intense respect for females and female power is evident even in books designed to meet market expectations. Rogers provides clear, sensible, and jargon-free analyses of all of Baum's books (although she overuses the adjective "delightful"). Her thorough scholarship and readable descriptive analyses of Baum's work make this biography the very best place to begin for anyone who wants an overview of Baum's career. ^BSumming Up: Essential. All collections; all levels. R. E. Jones University of Alberta



EARLY LIFE: ACTOR, PLAYWRIGHT, OIL SALESMAN, 1856-1888 Lyman 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." Benjamin 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. Frank fondly remembered this childhood home and later described it in Dot and Tot of Merryland: The cool but sun-kissed mansion ... was bulk 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. 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." 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. In 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. Although 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). Until 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. One 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. 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 I, August I, and September I, 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. 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. 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. After acquiring a year or two of practical experience working for Neal, Frank returned to Spring Farm to learn the agricultural business. Continue... Excerpted from L. FRANK BAUM: Creator of Oz by Katharine M. Rogers Copyright (c) 2002 by Katharine M. Rogers Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.