Denslow, W.W. (William Wallace), 1856-1915

Alternative names
Birth 1856-05-25
Death 1915-05-27

Biographical notes:

W.W. Denslow was born May 5, 1856, In Philadelphia, PA, and died March 29, 1915. He married Annie McCartney in 1882, divorced her, and married Ann Waters Holden in 1896. After divorcing her he married Frances Golsen Doolittle in 1903. He studied at the Cooper Union Institute and the National Academy of Design, both in New York City. Denslow was an illustrator of books and magazines and a designer of costumes and scenery. He illustrated a series of 18 Picture Books which he himself had written, and he illustrated L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and several other of Baum's books, no others in the Oz series. His drawings often showed 'an exuberant sense of Humor.' After several years of wandering and miscellaneous jobs, he married his first wife, Annie McCartney, but separated after a year. He moved to New York in 1885. In 1888 he became a newspaper artist for the Chicago Herald. He also became an alcoholic, and took the cure. 1890 found him in Denver, and for a while actually became a cowboy. In 1893 he returned to Chicago, and drew illustrations of the Columbian Exposition. In 1899 he did his first work with L. Frank Baum, but suffered a mental breakdown in 1901 and was sent to a Michigan sanitarium. He developed a rift with Baum, which led to a final split in 1902. He married his third wife in 1903, honeymooned in Bermuda, and later bought an island there. The next few years brought a series of theatrical failures, bringing on financial hardship which brought on a return to alcoholism, and forced him to mortgage his island. In 1915 he contracted pneumonia and died at the age of 58. Biographical sources: Something About the Author, v. 16

From the guide to the W.W. Denslow papers, 1902-1904, (University of Minnesota Libraries Children's Literature Research Collections [clrc])

American children's author/illustrator, born in Philadelphia in 1856. Credited as the first American to create picture books in the aesthetic tradition of English illustrators Walter Crane, Kate Greenaway, and Randolph Caldecott.

From the description of Papers, 1900-1904. (University of Southern Mississippi, Regional Campus). WorldCat record id: 26499246

William Wallace Denslow was best known as the illustrator of L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz . While much of his additional work as an artist and illustrator wasn't recognized until the late twentieth century, he eventually garnered praise for his clever and often cynical designs, his striking, multicolored posters, his ability to target his illustrations by audience, and for amending popular children's verse to avoid what he considered unnecessary violence and questionable content.

Denslow began training in design and illustration at age 14 at the Cooper Union Institute and the National Academy of Art and Design, both in New York City. He began selling his work at age twenty, worked for newspapers and periodicals, designed theatrical costumes and posters in Chicago, and created advertising and literature for Roycroft, a handicraft studio.

In 1896, Denslow met Baum, and the two collaborated on Father Goose, His Book . A year later, they published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which soon became an American icon and children's literary breakthrough. They only collaborated on one more book, Dot and Tot of Merryland, considered Denslow's most purely decorative creation. Some people attribute the bitter separation of the men to Denslow's greed, especially when financial disputes arose after The Wonderful World of Oz was transformed into a popular film.

Denslow spent the latter part of his career illustrating, rewriting, and reinterpreting classic children's stories and fairy tales, often removing what he considered to be violent and immoral behavior from the works. During this time, he suffered from a drinking problem and never reclaimed the intensity of his early success. He died in 1915.

(Adapted from "W(illiam) W(allace) Denslow" in Contemporary Authors .)

From the guide to the William Wallace Denslow Collection, 1900-1901, (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries)


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  • Children's literature, American--20th century
  • Caricatures and cartoons United States
  • Art--Illustrators
  • Illustrators United States Juvenile literature
  • Illustrators United States Correspondence
  • Illustrators United States
  • Children's literature--Illustrations
  • Literature--Children's


  • Illustrator
  • Artists


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