The Author, L. Frank Baum







This brief article provides some background to the life of L. Frank Baum.  It is taken from a recent work, which argues that the Wizard of Oz contains political and social commentary about life in the United States around 1900.  This was published in 1997 and a full citation follows at the end of this selection.





“The publication of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900 marked a turning point in the life of L. Frank Baum.  Baum was born to a prosperous German American family living in upstate New York in 1856.  As a young adult, Baum dabbled in acting, playwriting, and business.  With his wife Maud Gage (daughter of suffragist Matilda Gage) and young children he moved to Aberdeen, South Dakota, in 1887.  The Dakotas were still part of the frontier in the 1880s and 1890s.  This was the site of the gold rush in the Black Hills, the Indian massacre at Wounded Knee, and the rapid rise of the Farmer’s Alliance in the late 1880s, events which signified the larger struggles over race, class, money, and section in the national political arena.  The Baum family failed to prosper in the Dakotas.  Those were difficult years in the local economy, and neither Baum’s dry goods store or newspaper post provided much financial stability.  In the early 1890s, the Baum family moved on to Chicago.


          Finally at the end of the decade, Baum did well as an author of children’s literature.  The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was the best-selling children’s book of 1900.  It became one of the best-selling books of the twentieth century.  At the age of forty-three, Baum had found success.  He went on to write many more books, both adult novels and children’s tales.  The first Oz book became a popular Broadway play.  There were other plays, and, later, screenplays, from the books.  Nothing compared to the success of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  Try as he might (Baum tried to end the series twice) to branch out into other creative areas, readers continually demanded more Oz books.  The year after The Wizard came out, Baum furthered his effort to offer new, authentically American children’s stories that ‘bear the stamp of our own times: and published American Fairy Tales.’  This collection of stories was considered too realistic (some of the stories were set in Chicago) by readers, and Baum was compelled to return to Oz.  He completed the fourteenth book in the series in the year of his death, 1919.” 1




1 Gretchen Ritter, “Silver Slippers and a Golden Cap:  L. Frank Baum’s

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Historical Memory in American Politics,” Journal of American Studies, 31 (1997), 2, 175-176.




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