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Aunt Em

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Title: Aunt Em  
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Subject: Uncle Henry (Oz), Wizard of Oz (1925 film), The Wiz (film), The Giant Garden of Oz, Dorothy of Oz (book)
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Aunt Em

Aunt Em
Oz character
First appearance The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)
Created by L. Frank Baum
Portrayed by Clara Blandick in The Wizard of Oz (1939) Piper Laurie in Return to Oz (1985)
Species Human
Gender Female
Occupation Farmwife
Title Royal Mender of the Stockings of the Ruler of Oz
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 and apperars in many of the Oz books.[1] She is the aunt of Dorothy Gale and wife of Uncle Henry who is hardworking farmer. She lives together with them on a very small and isolated farm in the midst of the sun baked prairies of early 1900's Kansas. In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), she is described as having been a "young, pretty wife" when she arrived at Uncle Henry's farm, but having been "greyed" by her life there, implying that she appears older than one might expect from her chronological age. Baum tells us that when Dorothy first came to live with her, Em would "scream and press her hand upon her heart" when startled by Dorothy's merry laughter, and she appears rather emotionally distant to the child at the beginning of the story. However, after Dorothy is restored to her at the very end of the book, we see her true nature: she cries out, "My darling child!" and covers her niece with kisses.

  • There is no question about Dorothy's love for her aunt. Indeed, after knocking her heels together three times, Dorothy's request to the charmed Silver Shoes is exactly: "Take me home to Aunt Em! "

The Classic Oz Books

Em spends most of her life working on farms as a submissive housewife. In The Emerald City of Oz (1910), she states that she has raised chickens for "nearly forty years." After confessing to her niece Dorothy that their farm was facing imminent foreclosure, they all move to the Land of Oz to live for good in the Emerald City's royal palace. Eventually, Princess 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

The Wizard of Oz (1939 film)

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)

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)

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 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

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.
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