Theosophical Encyclopedia

H. N. Stokes and the O. E. Library Critic

James A. Santucci* - USA

[author’s note: This article was first published in Theosophical History I, no. 6 (April 1986):129-39. The preponderance of information appearing herein originated from the archives of The Theosophical Society (Pasadena), which at the time of the writing of the article was accessible to Theosophists and non-Theosophists alike because of the policy advocated by its Leader, Ms. Grace Knoche. I was also very fortunate to have known the archivist, Mr. Kirby van Mater, who, together with his brother, John van Mater—the librarian of the Society—was personally acquainted with Dr. Stokes. Because of my numerous discussions with the van Maters, researching Stokes’ life became much more than a simple exercise of researching a distant figure. Little did I know that I would assume a role very similar to that of Dr. Stokes, an editor of an independent journal.]

TE JS 2 Stokes

Henry Newlin Stokes

Henry Newlin Stokes is a name familiar to none except perhaps those who are well-versed in the history of the Theosophical Society. Unfamiliarity, however, does not detract or diminish from the unique contribution that he made to the Society. He belongs to that vast, nameless group of individuals who in their own quiet and committed way contribute whatever talent and resources they possess to making their society more enlightened, humane, ethical, or materially better off than it was before their entry onto the human stage. He led a most unusual life that encompassed chemistry and occultism, agnosticism and theosophical ideals. He was a friend of the friendless and a contentious and outspoken antagonist of the powerful.

H.N. Stokes was born to a prominent Moorestown (New Jersey) family in the year 1859. Like several other family members, he pursued a career in science and, as expected, led a prominent albeit conventional lifestyle during the first half of his long life. His educational background included a B.S. degree at Haverford College (Pennsylvania) in 1878, a PhD degree at Johns Hopkins University in 1884, post-graduate work at the University of Munich in 1885–1886 and at the Federal Polytechnic in Zurich during the years 1886–1889. Upon his return to the United States in the latter year, Stokes secured a position as chemist at the U.S. Geological Survey, where he remained until 1903. He took a hiatus, however, from that position in 1892 and 1893, when he was invited to join the faculty of the newly established University of Chicago as an assistant professor of inorganic chemistry. in 1903, he undertook a new assignment as associate chemist for the Bureau of Standards. Surprisingly, however, Dr. Stokes retired from chemistry only six years later at the relatively early age of forty-nine.[1]  

This action must have been surprising to those who knew little or nothing of his private life. Public documents reveal that he was a family man, having married a Dutch woman named Wilhelmina van den Berg in 1884. From the sketchy evidence that is presently available, it appears that they had four children, the most notable of which was John Hinchman Stokes, a well-known dermatologist and “syphilologist” associated with the Mayo Clinic and the University of Pennsylvania, among other institutions.[2]

Similarly, a cursory examination of his career in chemistry reveals a talented individual showing considerable [130] ability in his chosen profession. A specialist in inorganic chemistry concentrating his research on silicon and phosphorus-nitrogen compounds as well as the chemistry of ore deposition, Dr. Stokes wrote a number of articles for the American Chemical Journal, the U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin, Science, and the Bulletin of the Bureau of Standards.[3] In 1899 and 1900, he also served as President of the Chemical Society of Washington, D.C.

Stokes continued to serve the chemical profession with distinction after his appointment at the Bureau of Standards in 1903, but a new and probably unexpected turn came about in his life.Sometime around 1903 and early 1904, “personal troubles,” most probably marital in nature, prompted him to search for some philosophy other than his own agnosticism to see him through the ordeal. Following a brief foray into spiritualism, he settled upon membership in the Theosophical Society (Adyar). The teachings of the Society, especially through the writings of its future President, Annie Besant, helped him to stay afloat, to paraphrase his metaphor, and to offer him hope in a future that was better than his present state of affairs. Thus by the end of 1903 he decided to join the Society.[4] In 1904, he also learned of a small group that, though not associated with the Theosophical Society, was closely allied to its tenets. Founded in 1902 by the mysterious Albert Sarak (Alberto de Sarak) in his capacity as General Inspector of the Supreme Council of the Order of the Initiates of Thibet, the Oriental Esoteric Head Center of Washington (D.C.) became, so to speak, a second family to him. This was especially true after he made his acquaintance with the new leader of the Center and personal representative of Dr. Sarak, Miss Agnes E. Marsland, she having assumed her role after Sarak returned to his headquarters in Paris. [5]  

It appears that Miss Marsland must have possessed a magnetic personality, for from the beginning of their working relationship Dr. Stokes devoted his time and resources to serving her cause, that of disseminating the teachings of esoterism. The separation from his wife in 1905 only served to strengthen their companionship.[6]   One cannot but speculate that his domestic difficulties and the sympathy that he displayed toward the work of Miss Marsland and the Center illustrate a mental attitude often associated with the more committed members of new religious groups. None can deny that Dr. Stokes’ commitment was not anything but total. By his own admission. he claimed to have contributed about $50,000, at first to the unincorporated O.E. Head Center, and later, to the incorporated O.E. Society, an organization that was established in 1910 after Marsland. Stokes, and others were expelled by Dr. Sarak from [131] the Order of the Initiates of Thibet.[7] Most of his money and energy went into the establishment of what was to become the Oriental Esoteric Library, a library begun in 1905 for the primary purpose of disseminating occult literature. Thus, from 1904 to 1909 Dr. Stokes led what could be described as an incongruous life of chemist, occultist, librarian, and what might loosely be termed cultist.

This state of affairs lasted until 1909 when he retired from the Bureau of Standards, ostensibly because his work as librarian of the O.E. Library become too demanding. The true reason for his leaving the Bureau, however, was the Bureau Director’s denying Stokes a promotion to the office of chief chemist due to “social grounds.” Stokes was shortly to discover that these social grounds referred to rumors started by his estranged wife, rumors which charged that he left her in order to keep a mistress, Miss Marsland, in a house he provided for that purpose. The evidence suggests that the rumor was not true except for the admission by Stokes that a house was rented with Miss Marsland after she arrived from Europe in 1904. No wrongdoing was ever admitted by Dr. Stokes or Miss Marsland; indeed, he went to great lengths in refuting the accusation. But the damage was done and so had no recourse but to leave the Bureau.[8] 

Following his retirement, he devoted all his energies to the O.E. Head Center and the Libraryuntil the early part of 1912, when a doctrinal disagreement occurred between Dr. Stokes on the one hand and Miss Marsland and the O.E. Society on the other. The disagreement led to his “retirement” from the membership of the Society with the accompanying claim that the O.E. Library was the rightful property of the O.E. Society and not of Dr. Stokes. Since Stokes maintained that he spent some $35,000 of his own money in building up the Library, now his main means of livelihood, the Society’s assertion was heatedly contested. A court case ensued with the verdict decided in Stokes’ favor in early 1913. [9]

During the time of his difficulties with Miss Marsland and the O.E. Society, he once again turned his attentions toward the Theosophical Society (Adyar). He did so mainly because the Society allowed “a freedom and tolerance” that was lacking in the prior organization. Surprisingly, he even offered to donate his library to the American Section of the Theosophical Society if it in turn would guarantee him running expenses and a salary to allow him to continue operating it. Such a guarantee, however, was not forthcoming because of the American Section’s inability to [132] meet the costs. Nonetheless, a working arrangement was established that recognized the O.E. Library as an “associated organization” of the American Section. [10]

The O.E. Library was to remain Dr. Stokes’ chief livelihood to the end of his life in 1942. In order to promote the work of the Library, he saw fit to begin a new publication called the O.E.Library Critic, a biweekly periodical that first appeared on August 30, 1911. Besides advertising the Library’s work, it also served “as a critical review and as the editor’s [Stokes’] personal means of laying his views before the public.”[11] Shortly after its inception, it took on more of a Theosophical flavor as his interest in the Society grew. In a letter to a Miss Grace Boughton. dated August 19, 1912, he did remark that both the Library and the CRITIC were originally intended to arouse general interest in occult teachings but were “now” employed as feeders into the T.S. In early 1913, he described the changing nature of the Critic’s role in terms that would take considerable importance after 1917. It was, to summarize his statement, to be considered an independent Theosophical periodical.[12] At first, the emphasis was on the term Theosophical, as already noted, for Stokes followed and supported the official policies of the Society. As a consequence, he urged membership in the Order of the Star in the East: the Theosophically initiated organization centering around the coming of the World Teacher through his vehicle, Jiddu Krishnamurti. Furthermore, he supported other Theosophically orientated groups as well, such as the Karma and Reincarnation League[13] and gave his support to the leaders of the T.S., among whom were Mrs. Besant, Charles Webster Leadbeater, and A.P. Warrington.

From late 1917 on, however, the attitude of the Critic drastically changed. Stokes now asserted his independence quite vociferously by attacking the policies and leadership of the T.S. What he wrote in 1913 thus bore fruit in 1917[14]:

“Not being an official organ, and not being subsidized by anyone, it [the CRITIC] is its own master and can say just what it believes to be true and right without fearing that it will be called to order. It can give expression to opinions which many believe in privately, but are afraid to state openly, lest their associates regard them as ‘dangerous.’”

From October 1917 to the end of his life, Dr. Stokes became the most outspoken opponent of Mrs. Besant, Mr. Leadbeater, their followers, and the Liberal Catholic [133] Church, the organization that was to be associated with the T.S. primarily through the influence of its bishop, Mr. Leadbeater. In nearly every issue, the Critic would contain an article dealing with the  Liberal Catholic Church’s “raid” on the Theosophical Society, express horror and outrage over the sexual proclivities of James Ingall Wedgwood (the founder of the Liberal Catholic Church) or of C.W. Leadbeater, and rail against the ‘idiocies’ and ‘lunacies’ of the new, pseudo-Theosophical teachings of Leadbeater and his followers. As the years went by, Dr. Stokes extended his criticisms to other Theosophical and occult groups, including the Rosicrucians (AMORC), the United Lodge of Theosophists, Brother XII and his Aquarian Foundation, Alice Bailey and her Arcane School, the Ballards and the “I AM” Movement, and the Silver Shirts (Christian American Patriots) of William Pelley.

At approximately the same time that the Critic became more of a periodical of protest, Dr. Stokes introduced the expression “Back to Blavatsky” in the November 14, 1917 (VII, no.7) issue of the Critic, a phrase at first denoting books and periodicals that contained the true Theosophical teachings of Madame Blavatsky and later referring additionally to those Theosophical lodges and independent Theosophical groups that followed and advocated not only the writings of Blavatsky but also the Mahatma letters and, to a lesser degree, the works of William Q. Judge. Reminiscing on the origin of the Phrase some twenty years later, he wrote[15]:

“In those days [around 1910–1917] H.P. Blavatsky was nearly forgotten. Both Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine were out of print, except the editions issued by the much maligned Katherine Tingley, of Point Loma; and, you must know, no properly trained theosophist of the Adyar T.S. at that time would touch anything issuing from that source even with a pair of tongs.... In T.S. lodges The Secret Doctrine was almost forgotten. It was a rare and valuable book, so rare and valuable that it was usually kept ... locked up on the top shelf of the lodge junk closet .... As for Judge’s Ocean of Theosophy, that couldn’t be had at the book table even on order; we don’t approve of him, don’t you know.... In short, every effort was made, presumably by superior orders, to [134] press the sale of the books of Besant and Leadbeater and to discourage the reading of the older theosophical literature.”

It goes without saying that Dr. Stokes was, perhaps more than any other member of the Adyar Theosophical Society, responsible for reintroducing the works of Blavatsky and Judge to the general membership.

The above observations give a cogent justification for the importance of the Critic to the Theosophical movement. Few theosophical periodicals spoke out with such forcefulness, common sense, and intellectual acumen. None covered the movement so thoroughly. Whether it concerned the vagaries of the Adyar T.S., the efforts of the United Lodge of Theosophists to espouse the writings of Blavatsky. the significant contributions of the leader of the Theosophical Society (Point Loma), Gottfried de Purucker, in initiating and sustaining the Fraternization Movement during the 1930s, or in observing and reporting on other occult groups, the CRITIC provided a unique window on the whole Theosophical movement unsurpassed in breadth and candidness. Germane to this observation is the assessment of the wife of Charles Lazenby, an early Canadian Theosophist, on the periodical[16]:

... that wonderful little slip of paper to which all occultists and world workers should contribute, for it is a caustic of current occult literature .... it makes loose writers sit up straight, and it has aired many dark cells and let in the light.

Despite this significant contribution to Theosophy, there was another side to Dr. Stokes that usually is ignored or dismissed by those familiar with his work but which clearly reveals the nobility of his character. Curiously enough, he was deeply involved in penal reform, a strange interest for a former chemist publishing a theosophical periodical. Yet, a superficial examination of the Critic reveals that almost fifty percent of the space was devoted to some matter dealing with prisons, prison reform, and methods of aiding prisoners. From an idealistic perspective, this was his way of offering service to humanity, for “service, even more than knowledge. makes the true theosophist.”[17] From a doctrinal perspective, theosophy sheds considerable light on how prisoners should be treated and why. In Stokes’ view, the central role of karma, the law of cause and effect, reveals that the performance of an evil deed constitutes a debt that must be [135] repaid by the one who committed the action. As such, there is no place for revenge—’an eye for an eye’—for the only revenger is karma; nor can there be vicarious atonement and forgiveness of sin, for karma must be fully resolved. To sit in a prison does not allow the prisoner to pay off his debt; to be discharged in the same mental condition resolves nothing.[18]

Stokes involved himself in this area quite by accident, but, as illustrated above, he quickly saw the need for assuming the task of advocating prison reform. Shortly after forming the O.E. Library League in January, 1914, an informal association of persons who wished to correspond with one another on various topics, Stokes soon observed that many prisoners began to write in for correspondents. Within a relatively short period of time, therefore, the League became primarily involved with prison work and prison reform.[19] When it became incorporated in November, 1918, the objects of the organization gave an official stamp to this change in emphasis[20]:

“The objects and purposes of this corporation are, the promotion of prison reform and of public interest in the same; material and educational assistance of inmates of penal and reformatory institutions in the United States and elsewhere; the mutual improvement of its members; cooperation in other philanthropic and charitable work and movements; and the publication and dissemination of a Journal to be known as the ‘The O.E. Library Critic’ and other literature relating to the alms of this corporation.”

The work of the League was to call for considerable hardship and sacrifice on Stokes’ part, for he received only meager financial support and transitory interest from the members and less than an enthusiastic response from prison officials. Although it is difficult to ascertain the extent of the League’s influence in this area, membership at one point approached 8000 with two-thirds of the members prisoners. In keeping with the above statement, however, only 2000 members were considered active. [21]

A full appreciation and understanding of Dr. Stokes’ views cannot be given in the scope of this paper, but certain themes are clearly evident. As a firm believer in the Theosophical ideal of brotherhood, he was deeply concerned with the problem of man’s inhumanity to man. He was a true friend of the friendless and of the oppressed, [136] asking nothing in return. The private correspondence that is still available to us reveal a man who carried on the work of “trying to clean the soiled skirts of his beloved Theosophy,”[22] of maintaining an eternal vigilance over the body of truths that seemed to have been abandoned by the Society that was founded to protect and reveal those truths. Of course, those who were on the receiving end of Dr. Stokes’ vituperations viewed his contributions quite differently. Without once mentioning either the Critic or its editor, the President of the Theosophical Society, Annie Besant, once editorialized that [23]

“the paper is quite unique in its regular misrepresentations .... I used to read it with interest because of its articles against brutality in goals. But they have ceased to be interesting, since one cannot rely on their accuracy. An editor who misrepresents without scruple a person or a Society he hates, cannot be trusted, for he may equally misrepresent a Governor of a goal against whom he has a private spite, and hold him up as a monster of cruelty, when he is nothing of the kind.”

One’s opinion notwithstanding, celebrated or notorious, faultless and honorable in his viewpoint or simply misguided, or worse, beguiling, Dr. Stokes deserves a place in history for his unquestioned sacrifices to better the lot of prison inmates, to defend those whom he perceived were unjustly accused, and for his fierce devotion to Truth. This is aptly illustrated in a remark made in the Critic[24]:

“Just as the test of friendship is sticking to one’s friend, not only when fortune smiles on him and when he is all that he might wish him to be, but when trouble overtakes him, when the hand of calumny is laid on him, when he is sick, abandoned by others, in prison, or even when he has been found guilty of gross errors, and as one shows the stuff one is made of in so doing, so also the friend of Theosophy is tested by defending it when it needs defending, let it cost what it may to do so.”

This was his credo from the time he took an active interest in the affairs of the Theosophical Society (1912) and in prison reform (1914) to his dying day (September 30, 1942). [137]


* I wish to express my appreciation to the following individuals and groups for assisting me in my research and for being so generous with their time and advice:

Ms. Diana Alten, manuscripts cataloger for the Haverford College Library;

Mr. Robert Boyd, Membership Section of the Theosophical Society, Adyar, India;

Mr. John Cooper of Gladesville, New South Wales (Australia);

Mr. Ted G. Davy, General Secretary of The Theosophical Society in Canada;

Mr. Michael Gomes;

Ms. Grace F. Knoche, Leader, The Theosophical Society (Pasadena);

Mr. John Van Mater, librarian for The Theosophical Society (Pasadena);

Mr. Kirby Van Mater, archivist for The Theosophical Society (Pasadena);

Ms. Brenda Rice of The John Crerar (Chemistry) Library, University of Chicago;

Mr. Jeffrey L. Sturchio, Associate Director of The Center for History of Chemistry, University of Pennsylvania. 

[1] Biographical Catalog of the Matriculates of Haverford College: 1833–1922. Prepared by a Committee of the Alumni Association (Philadelphia: Printed for the Alumni Association, 1922); Who’s Who in America, especially from the years 1918 to 1944–1945; American Men of Science, edited by Jaques Cattell, seventh edition (Lancaster, Pa.: The Science Press, 1944), p. 1717. The latter reference states that Dr. Stokes was at the University of Chicago from 1892–1894. This is confirmed by the University of Chicago according to Ms. Brenda Rice of the Chemical Library of the University (letters dated March 15, 1985 and May 10, 1985).

[2] Information on John Hinchman Stokes appears in Who’s Who in America, 1954–1955. The Biographical Catalog of the Matriculates of Haverford College lists three children on page 185: John Hinchman, Harmina W., and Dorothy N. Stokes. A fourth child, Henry Newlin Stokes, Jr., most likely died in infancy. A birth certificate was found in Dr. Stokes’ papers. [138]

[3] The Catalogue of Scientific Papers: Fourth Series (volume 18), compiled by the Royal Society of London (Cambridge University Press, 1923) contains a list of publications from 1884–1900 on pages 977–78. Further titles are found in volume 15 (p. 851), 17 (pp. 178, 757, 908), and volume 19 (pp. 193,235). The National Union Catalogue (volume 570, pp. 652–53), Chemisches Centralblatt (1901, volume 72, part 1: 761 and 1217; part 2: 1318; 1902, volume 73, part 1: 279; 1906, volume 77, part 1: 1374), Chemical Abstracts (published by the American Chemical Society, 1907, volume 1, numbers 1–8: 832–33; numbers 9–17: 1955–57 and 1672–73; 1909, volume 3. numbers 16–22: 2544–45), and the precursor to Chemical Abstracts, the Review of American Chemical Research (1895, volume 1:192–93; 1897, volume 3: 4–7; 1898, volume 4: 2–4; 1899, volume 5: 2–3, 74; 1901, volume 7: 33, 173; 1902, volume 8: 9–11, 75–76; 1912, volume 12: 565) provide additional information on his published work.

[4] Mr. Robert Boyd has informed me that Stokes joined the Washington, D.C. Branch of the Theosophical Society (Adyar) on June 24, 1904 (letter dated March 12, 1985). Stokes himself mentioned that he joined in 1903 in a letter to Henry Herrick Bond, dated October 31, 1912. The difference in dates is perhaps explained by the fact that the application sent to Adyar, India from the U.S. would have taken at least five months by mail. Once there, there was also the matter of processing.

[5] Some of this information was published in Stokes’ article, “History of the Oriental Esoteric Society,” appearing in the O.E. Library Critic (II, no. 3 [September 25, 1912]). Further information was obtained from a court case between the O.E. Center of the United States of America, et. al. (Plaintiffs) and Henry N. Stokes (Defendant), Equity No. 31,317, heard in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia (now the Superior Court).

[6] An agreement between Dr. Stokes and his wife, Wilhelmina, dated January 8, 1914.

[7] “The Oriental Esoteric Library” (unpublished), dated February 25, 1913; “History of the Oriental Esoteric Society”; defendant’s statement in the court case mentioned in note 5.

[8] Letter to Mr. A.E.L. Leckie. dated January 16, 1910; correspondence between Miss Marsland and Dr.Stokes between 1907 and 1911.

[9] Many of the facts appear in the court case. The disagreement was in part due to the association of the O.E. Center with the “Universal Brotherhood,” an organization to which he disapproved. Whether this referred to the Point [139] Loma Theosophical Society is not certain. This Society, now headquartered in Pasadena, has no record of an affiliation with the O.E. Center.

[10] Letter to Henry Herrick Bond (September 13, 1912); “The Oriental Esoteric Library” (unpublished).

[11] “Incorporation of the O. E. Library League,” The O. E. Library Critic VIII, no. 10 (December 25, 1918).

[12] “Mrs. Besant and the Oriental Esoteric Library,” The O. E. Library Critic XI, no. 22 (June 7, 1922).

[13] It is called the Karma and Reincarnation League in the Critic (II, no. 3 [October 9, 1912]), but elsewhere it is called the Karma and Reincarnation Legion (“Karma and Reincarnation,” The O. E. Library Critic III, no. 12 [January 28, 1914] and “At the Periscope” VIII, no. 17 [April 2, 1919]).

[14] “What Is the Critic?” The O. E. Library Critic II, no. 23 (July 2, 1913).

[15] “Back to Blavatsky,” The O. E. Library Critic XXIV, no. 5 (October, 1936).

[16] From Mrs. Lazenby’s memoirs. I am grateful to Mr. Ted G. Davy for providing me with this information.

[17] [H. N. Stokes], “How I Became a Theosophist,” The O. E. Library Critic XIII, no. 10 (December 19, 1923).

[18] “Some Relations of Theosophy to Prison Reform,” The O. E. Library Critic XIII, no. 2 (August 29, 1923).

[19] He states that the O.E. Library League owed its character to the Oregon State Prison magazine Lend A Hand (“An Exchange of Bouquets,” The O. E. Library Critic VIII, no. 17 [April 2, 1919]). The first mention of this magazine was made in the March 25, 1914 issue of The O. E. Library Critic III, no. 16.

[20] Published in The O. E. Library Critic VIII, no. 18 (April 18, 1919). Other sections of the By-Laws were published in numbers 22 (June 11, 1919) and 26 (August 6, 1919).

[21] The membership numbered 7,934 as of June 13, 1917 (The O. E. Library Critic VI, no. 22 [June 13, 1917]). In the December 25, 1918 issue of The O. E. Library Critic (VIII, no. 10), he mentions “two thousand or more” active members in the notice “A Grateful Acknowledgement—And a Moral.”

[22] The quote is from A.E. Smythe’s obituary notice of Dr. Stokes, which appeared in The Canadian Theosophist XXIII, no. 10 (December, 1942): 320. I thank Mr. Davy for the information.

[23] The Theosophist XLIII, no. 1 (October, 1921): 8. I thank Mr. John Cooper for the information. The full text also appears in the section “At the Periscope” of The O. E. Library Critic XI, no. 9.

[24] “Stickers and Quitters,” The O. E. Library Critic XV, no. 5 (August 12, 1925)­.



[Author’s Note: The following article appeared in The Washington Post, March 18, 1939, p. 15. Many readers are aware that Dr. Stokes was the editor of the O. E. Library Critic. Indeed, he appeared in the last issue (Vol. XVIII, No. 3-4: p. 159) regarding the Hare Brothers’ assessment of the Mahatma Letters in their (at the time) recently published book, Who Wrote the Mahatma Letters? and the unpublished and apparently unavailable manuscript of William Kingland’s commentary based upon The Mahatma Letters of A. P. Sinnett. At the time of the appearance of my two articles on Mr. Stokes (“H. N. Stokes and the O. E. Library Critic,” Theosophical History, Vol. I, No. 6 [April 1986] and “H. N. Stokes’ Early Contact with the Theosophical Society,” Theosophical History, Vol. II. No. 1 [January 1987]), the Post article was unknown at the time of these early articles, but is of value because it presents a human side of the editor of The Critic. Indeed, as far as I am aware, this is the only article in a public newspaper about either Stokes or The Critic. However, readers of The Critic are aware that one of its main purposes was prison reform. Indeed, Dr. Stokes was cited for his attempts to “put prisoners in touch with persons who will write to them.” This quote appears in a letter to the Editor of The New York Times by an A. Buhler, dated May 3, 1924. The letter appeared in the May 28, 1924 issue on p. 22.

The O.E. Library Critic is now online at The Blavatsky Archives (Vol. 12 to 27) (Vol. 12 to 27) as well as a series of articles by Stokes on W. Q. Judge and Katherine Tingley and on the Hare Brothers’ Who Wrote the Mahatma Letters? The complete run of the O. E. Library Critic is available on The International Association for the Preservation of Spiritualist and Occult Periodicals Website.]


From the Whasington Post of March 18, 1939

Dr. Henry Newlin Stokes

Many of His Neighbors Are Unaware of His

Library on Q Street; Publishes Pamphlet on Theosophy ‘to Expose Fakery and Fraud’

   [This series is about men and women 70 or older who are finding that so-called “old-age” is really a lot of fun. They still are producing and getting a big thrill out of their work or hobbies. You know some qualifies. Tell us who they are.—Editor’s note.]

By Gerald G. Gross.

Washington has many libraries, but perhaps the most unusual is the one operated by Dr. Henry Newlin Stokes, 79, in his old-fashioned three-story house at 1207 Q street northwest. Although he has conducted it in the same location for more than a quarter century, its books are of such limited appeal and the librarian so unassuming that many of his neighbors are unaware of its existence.

Dr. Stokes, father of one of America’s leading syphilologists, Dr. John H. Stokes, of the University of Pennsylvania, might easily be misjudged as an eccentric if one went only by the appearance of his library-residence. To the contrary, he is a quite sociable individual, progressive and good humored, as even a short conversation will bring out.    

Thousands of books and pamphlets on theosophy and occultism are scattered all over he house, from basement to attic. Stacks of them are everywhere, some piled on shelves that nearly reach the ceiling.

‘You Can See What a Job It Would Be’ 

Before he founded the “O. E. Library League” nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Stokes had achieved an enviable reputation as a chemist. Born in Morrestown, N. J., on October 24, 1859, he received his college education at Haverford College and became one o the first successful candidates for the doctor of philosophy degree at Columbia University.    

During the next five years, from 1884 to 1889, he studied chemistry in Germany and Switzerland. Returning to the United States, the elder Stokes served successively in the United States Geological Survey, on the faculty of the University of Chicago and at the Bureau of Standards. He retired from chemical work in 1909 to devote himself to his books and the editing of the “O. E. Library Critic,” a pamphlet on mystical literature which comes out monthly.

As he says in the December 1938 issue, which is the latest:

“The editor modestly calls attention to the fact that this issue begins the twenty-sixth volume of the Critic. In fact, that means rather more than 25 years of stormy existence, for, as may have been noted, while it aims to be published every month, it has often had to double up because funds were lacking to publish regularly.”

‘I Try to Keep Record Straight on Occultism’

The “O. E.” in the pamphet’s [sic] title does not stand for anything, he says.     

Dr. Stokes sells books, lends books, exchanges books and keeps books. Many of his volumes are on subjects other than occultism. Inspection revealed titles on card tricks, keeping well, photography, prison service, psychology and economics.    

He does most of his reading, writing and editing at night. Sometimes he doesn’t get to bed until 4 in the morning. But he sleeps well into daylight hours. To keep in condition he takes long hikes every Sunday, usually with other members of his hiking club.




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