Aunt Em

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Aunt Em
Oz character
Uncle Henry.jpg
Aunt Em with Dorothy and Uncle Henry on the farm in Kansas--illustration by W. W. Denslow (1900)
First appearance The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)
Created by L. Frank Baum
Portrayed by Clara Blandick in The Wizard of Oz (1939), Theresa Merritt in The Wiz (1978), Piper Laurie in Return to Oz (1985)
Species Human
Gender Female
Occupation Farmwife
Title "Royal Mender of the Stockings of the Ruler of Oz, Princess Ozma"
Family Dorothy Gale (niece)
Unnamed sister
Spouse(s) Uncle Henry
Children None
Relatives Uncle Bill Hugson (brother-in-law)
Unnamed Australians (in-laws)
Nationality United States

Aunt Em (real name Emily) is a fictional character created by American author L. Frank Baum. Em apperars in many of the classic children's series of Oz books, first introduced in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900).[1] She is the aunt of orphan Dorothy Gale and the wife of Uncle Henry who is a hardworking farmer. She lives with her husband and niece on a small and isolated farm in the midst of the sun baked prairies of Kansas during the early 1900s. Em is said to once having been a "young, pretty wife" when she first arrived at Henry's farm, but having been "greyed" by the decades spent living on the prairies. This implies that she appears older than one might expect from her chronological age.

Baum's description of her is exactly — "When Aunt Em came there to live she was a young, pretty wife. The sun and wind had changed her, too. They had taken the sparkle from her eyes and left them a sober gray; they had taken the red from her cheeks and lips, and they were gray also. She was thin and gaunt, and never smiled now. When Dorothy, who was an orphan, first came to her, Aunt Em had been so startled by the child's laughter that she would scream and press her hand upon her heart whenever Dorothy's merry voice reached her ears; and she still looked at the little girl with wonder, that how she could find anything to laugh at."

Em appears rather emotionally distant towards Dorothy at the beginning of the story. However, after the girl is restored to her at the very end of the novel, we see her true nature when she joyfully cries out — "My darling child!" and covers her little niece with kisses.

The Classic Oz Books[edit]

Surprisingly, in the Oz books it is Uncle Henry who Dorothy is more closer to, while she does love her Aunt Em dearly, Henry and Dorothy do appear to spend more quality time together. They even go on trips to Australia in Ozma of Oz (1907), and then to San Francisco in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz (1908), while Aunt Em stays behind to look after the farm.

There is no question about Dorothy's love for her Aunt Em. Indeed, in the end of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy knocks the heels of the charmed Silver Shoes together three times her exact words to the pair are: "Take me home to Aunt Em!"

Emily spent most of her life working on her husband's farm as a seemingly submissive housewife. In the sixth Oz book The Emerald City of Oz (1910), she states that she has raised chickens for "nearly forty years." One day Emily confesses to her niece that their farm is facing imminent foreclosure from not paying the mortgage behind having to rebuild the new farmhouse to replace the old one that had been swept away by the cyclone in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Worried for her family's future, Dorothy immediately visits the Land of Oz to make quick arrangements with Princess Ozma regarding her situation in Kansas. Soon after, Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, Dorothy, and the girl's pet dog called Toto all relocate to live comfortably in the Emerald City's royal palace as Ozma's permanent guests. However, the elegance and magnificence of the city is far too grand for Emily and Henry's liking and they move to a more humble home on the outskirts of the Emerald City instead. Eventually, Ozma appoints Em as the "Royal Mender of the Stockings of the Ruler of Oz" in order to keep her occupied and busy.

Her sister is married to Bill Hugson. It is never clarified in the books whether it is she or Uncle Henry who is Dorothy's blood relative. (It is also possible that "Aunt" and "Uncle" are affectionate terms of a foster family and that Dorothy is not related to either of them.)

Surprisingly, Aunt Em is featured slightly less than Uncle Henry in the Oz books, despite having a bigger role in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Ruth Plumly Thompson gave her only two brief mentions in The Royal Book of Oz (1921), and Grampa in Oz (1924). She had somewhat larger roles in John R. Neill's The Wonder City of Oz (1940) and The Scalawagons of Oz (1941) and Jack Snow's The Magical Mimics in Oz (1946).

In The Emerald City of Oz, she shows herself particularly unamenable to Oz, asking for a back attic room, simpler clothing, and is gauche enough to tell Billina that chickens are for broiling and eating without realizing that such a conversation would be deeply offensive. Uncle Henry has seen more of the world than she has, and is much more prepared to accept Oz as it is. In this book, unlike in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, her speech patterns and accent indicators are very similar to Sairy Ann Bilkins, the title character of Baum's Our Landlady, who, too, was quite set in her ways. Ultimately, though, she comes to the epiphany that she has "been a slave to farm work all her life," and is ready for her life to change.

She appears occasionally in the works of Baum's successors in Oz literature; one notable example is Eric Shanower's comic The Giant Garden of Oz.

Film adaptations[edit]

The Wizard of Oz (1939 film)[edit]

In the film she is referred to as "Auntie Em" (real name Emily), and urges Dorothy not to bother them with her concerns when she and Uncle Henry (Charley Grapewin) are counting chicks. Hickory (Tin Man's alter ego) addresses her as "Mrs. Gale" just before she offers crullers to the three farmhands, and Hunk (Scarecrow's alter ego) does so just afterward. As many women of her time, she is a knitter.

The name "Gale" appears on the mailbox. Miss Almira Gulch (Wicked Witch's alter ego) says to Henry, "Mr. Gale! I'd like to speak with you and your wife right away about Dorothy". Since Dorothy's last name is also Gale, this implies that Henry is her blood-uncle, and Em is his wife.

When Miss Gulch arrives to collect Toto, Aunt Em tells her off, saying to her: "Almira Gulch, just because you own half the county doesn't mean that you have the power to run the rest of us. For twenty-three years I've been dying to tell you what I thought of you! And now...well, being a Christian woman, I can't say it!" (Baum's character never mentions anything about religion beyond the implications of Sunday best clothing.) She is seen during the tornado calling for Dorothy after she ran away, but seeks shelter with Henry who ends up losing his hat when the storm approaches their farm. Unlike Zeke (Lion's alter ego), Hickory and Hunk also lose their hats as they struggle to pry open the cellar door. Both Aunt Em and Uncle Henry are the only characters whose roles are limited to the Kansas sequence and do not make an appearance in the Oz sequence, but Aunt Em is seen again in the crystal ball at the Wicked Witch's castle still looking for Dorothy. She reunites with Uncle Henry, their three farmworkers, and Professor Marvel (Wizard's alter ego) when Dorothy awakens from being unconscious.

Aunt Em was portrayed by Clara Blandick.

Journey Back to Oz (1974 animated film)[edit]

Margaret Hamilton who portrayed Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West voiced Aunt Em. She and Uncle Henry (voiced by Paul Ford) have a farmworker named Amos (voiced by Larry Storch). He does not have an alter ego in Oz.

Return to Oz (1985 film)[edit]

Piper Laurie plays Aunt Em, portrayed as a comely, blonde woman of perhaps fifty years — a physical depiction very different from Baum's worn and greyed original character. She is worried and concerned of Dorothy's talk of Oz and presses that they are going to have two mortgages into her mind[clarification needed] before taking her to shock therapy in administered by Dr. J.B. Worley. She mentions having a sister named Garnet who would lend them money for the therapy. Garnet may or may not have been intended to be Bill Hugson's wife. Dr. Worley calls her "Mrs. Blue," which contradicts the MGM film, in which Henry's last name is Gale, or it may refer to her maiden name.

Other adaptations[edit]

Aunt Em was played by Queen Latifah in the ABC made-for-television movie The Muppets' Wizard of Oz where this character owned a diner. In the VeggieTales episode The Wonderful Wizard of Ha's, Aunt Em and her husband Uncle Henry were substituted by a father (Dad Asparagus) to retell The Prodigal Son, a biblical parable from the Gospel of Luke.

She was voiced by Lurene Tuttle in 1980's Dorothy in the Land of Oz.

Lucie Arnaz performed this character in The Wizard of Oz in Concert: Dreams Come True (based on the 1939 MGM film) to benefit the Children's Defense Fund.

She was voiced by Frances Conroy in the direct-to-video animated film Tom and Jerry and the Wizard of Oz. Conroy also voiced Glinda.


In the comic book The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles #1, Em takes Dorothy to Henry's grave in St. Ann's Cemetery. The gravestone has been snapped in two. Em later returned the slippers to Dorothy, having kept them safe at Glinda's insistence.


  1. ^ Jack Snow, Who's Who in Oz, Chicago, Reilly & Lee, 1954; New York, Peter Bedrick Books, 1988; p. 10.