Published in 1900, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum was a modern fairytale that took the world by storm. Its spunky female protagonist, Dorothy, and cast of whimsical and quirky fantasy characters captured people's imaginations and made it into an almost instant classic.
There's no denying the enduring charm of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It's often considered one the earliest example of an American feminist children's book. So, let's dive into why The Wonderful Wizard of Oz can be considered an iconic feminist story.
Dorothy isn't a damsel in distress
High-spirited Dorothy Gale lives in Kansas with her dog, Toto, and her aunt and uncle. One day, a tornado picks her and Toto up and drops them smack in the middle of a strange new world. But does Dorothy panic? Not our corageous heroine! Instead of waiting to be rescued from Oz, Dorothy instead takes matters into her own hands and decides to find her way back to Kansas. So begins her journey across Oz—where she picks up a few ragtag characters along the way—in search of the mystical Wizard of Oz who may possess the power to send her home.
If this doesn't make The Wonderful Wizard of Oz sound like a rather uncustomary and rebelliously feminist work of fiction, let me put it into perspective. L. Frank Baum wrote a story with a strong, smart, determined female lead character TWENTY YEARS before women were even given the rights to vote in the USA.
The Wizard of Oz is weak
L. Frank Baum flipped the gender norms in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and to great effect. While Dorothy is the exact opposite of a delicate damsel in distress, the Wizard of Oz—one of the primary male characters—is a coward. In fact, he is so afraid of witches that he uses Dorothy, a young girl, to kill both the evil Witch of the West and her sister the Witch of the East.
In his novel, Baum gives Dorothy a lot of agency which makes for an interesting feminist work. She's not the only one. The book is full of examples of strong female figures, from the Good Witch of the North whose kiss protects Dorothy from harm, to a mouse queen who saves Dorothy and her friends multiple times.
Did Baum intend The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a feminist story?
While we'll probably never know for sure Baum's true intentions behind writing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, it's pretty safe to say he probably intended it to be a feminist book. In real life, L. Frank Baum was an open feminist and the son-in-law of a co-founder of the National Woman Suffrage Association.
Baum also considered his wife his equal and partner in everything. And times were often hard for the couple—especially in their early years. It wasn't until L. Frank Baum was in his 40s that he wrote the hit The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and started making good money for the first time in his life. But his experiences with his suffragette mother-in-law and his strong wife are considered some of the greatest influences that brought about his iconic fairytale.
What do you think? Is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz a feminist story? Tell us why or why not in the comments👇!
And take a look at our stunning The Wonderful Wizard of Oz art print, created using the entire text of L. Frank Baum's book.