On the origins of the Llewellyn Publishing Company
– December 1st, 2014
Llewellyn. It’s one of the greatest success stories in astrological publishing. From early beginnings in Portland, Oregon, it moved to Los Angeles and flourishes yet, having outlived its originator, astrologer Llewellyn George, by almost six decades and counting.
But it’s also become the subject of historical myth and exaggeration.
At Llewellyn’s website, we find under ‘About Us’ > ‘History: the Early Years’ the following claim:
“Llewellyn George started his publishing company in Portland, Oregon in 1901.”
In its context, this comment implicitly suggests that George, and George alone, founded Llewellyn in 1901, and that it was ‘his’ from that date onwards. But this is demonstrably false, and is even contradicted by the account given by Carl Llewellyn Weschke, the owner of the company since 1960, in his 1989 pamphlet “The Truth About 20th Century Astrology”, in which, on the very first page, he states:
“In Portland, Llewellyn George joined forces with another student [of W. H. Chaney], L. H. Weston, and together they taught astrology classes and wrote articles. In 1901, Llewellyn George, Weston, and another of Professor Chaney’s students, Ida Fletcher, founded the Portland School of Astrology.”
However, in the very next paragraph, Weschke goes on to imply that the responsibility for the publishing of Llewellyn George’s own books lay squarely with George himself:
“Llewellyn George was also a professional printer, first printing and publishing Weston’s magazines and books – including The Fixed Stars in Astrology and Vulcan, and then his own books”.
While it is true that Llewellyn George would eventually go on to publish these titles and his own books, in the early years he did not.
Then on p. 10 we find:
“Llewellyn George quickly founded the Portland School of Astrology upon moving to Oregon”.
Here, and subsequently, all reference to the involvement of Weston and Fletcher is eliminated in Weschke’s own account.
But what does the historical evidence in fact show?
While Weschke, as the purchaser of Llewellyn in 1960, can reasonably be presumed to have enjoyed privileged access to historical documents from George’s private archives, there is other evidence in the public domain, in the form of the early publications penned by Llewellyn George.
As for example, in his ‘Planetary Daily Guide for All’ for 1911:
Not only is the publisher of George’s 1911 almanac given in the following terms on the front cover:
I. Hulery Fletcher, Manager,
P.O. Box 573, Portland, Oregon, U.S.A.”.
But also, there is direct internal evidence in the advertising at the back that Fletcher was integrally involved with the operation of the Portland School of Astrology in ways beyond its publishing operation that she managed.
An advertisement for the school quotes the following extract from a review of its courses published in “The Advance Thought Magazine”, August 1910:
“The Portland School of Astrology, conducted by I. Hulery Fletcher and Llewellyn George, on Portland Heights, Portland, Oregon, U.S.A., is one of the most active centers for the education of the intellectual and spiritual in unison.
“Those taking their course of lessons in Astrology find that they not only have learned the rules for reading character correctly, but their intuitive, spiritual faculties are also greatly unfolded”.
To take another example, the first edition from 1907 of George’s ‘New, Improved Perpetual Planetary Hour Book’:
On the front cover, we find:
“I. Hulery Fletcher, Director.”
And at the start of the internal preface:
to the New
Improved Perpetual Planetary Hour Book
Llewellyn George, Astrologian.
“Published by the Portland School of Astrology.
“I. Hulery Fletcher, Manager and Director”
Indeed, no mention of the Llewellyn Publishing Company appears on any book or almanac penned by Llewellyn George prior to 1912. The reason is clear: it did not exist before that date.
All George’s titles published up to and including the year 1911 were published by either the Portland School of Astrology or (as it was latterly termed) the P.S.A. Bulletina Publishing Co., whose sole manager and director is consistently named as I. Hulery Fletcher, clearly the same Ida Fletcher fleetingly mentioned by Weschke as one of the co-founders of the Portland School of Astrology in his published account.
So in summary, not only did Fletcher (at least) co-found the Portland School. She also directed it and held the overall managerial position, a position senior to that of Llewellyn George within its ranks.
This revelation in itself causes me to wonder whether it was Fletcher who bankrolled the start-up and therefore assumed the right to direct the company, with George working as her subordinate. He was a very young man when the Portland School started up.
It is only in 1912, with for example the publication of the first edition of George’s book ‘Astrological Gleanings’, that we see for the first time the existence of the Llewellyn Publishing Company and the Llewellyn College of Astrology. Evidently, he had broken free of Fletcher to head his own operation that year. But whether this is because she had retired or died, or whether it is because he was no longer satisfied with his subordinate role and wanted sole control of and financial benefit from his writings and teachings, for now we can only speculate. Perhaps in one or two of the vanishingly scarce early issues of the monthly “Astrological Bulletina” there may lie clues.
But the historical record is clear: Llewellyn was founded not in 1901, but in 1912 (or possibly, at the earliest, during 1911); and prior to that date, the Portland School of Astrology was not under the control or direction of Llewellyn George himself.
So why has Fletcher been subdued within, if not entirely written out of, the historical record? And why has the fact that the Llewellyn Publishing Company was not in fact actively publishing or ostensibly even in some kind of a latent existence prior to 1912 been glossed over by Llewellyn in the present day?
The answer is open to speculation, but my working assumption is that it is an attempt to glorify the personal role of Llewellyn George in the history of Llewellyn the company, by exaggerating his dominance from the inception of the Portland School of Astrology onwards, to make it look like a romantic story-book success tale of a singly driven charismatic founder.
Historical truth is rarely so simple or pretty.
But when we consider additionally the fact that I. Hulery Fletcher was a woman at a time when women were not generally expected to direct companies over the heads of men, she starts to look like an unjustly neglected unsung heroine of the history of 20th century astrology in the United States, and one whose reputation deserves to be restored to the historical record of the origins of the Llewellyn Publishing Company.