Years ago we published a post about the creation of Monopoly and only touched on Elizabeth J. Magie the creator of the game that became Monopoly. Since then I have found a bit more about her and discovered she had quite an interesting life and deserved her own post.
Elizabeth J. Magie was born in 1866 in Illinois. Her father James K. Magie had been a newspaper editor and moved to the Washington, D.C. area in the 1880s. The 1894 directory says she was a stenographer at the Post Office Department and living at 229 H Street NE. It looks like between 1900 and 1902 she struck out on her and became independent typist/stenographer at 416 5th Street NW. By 1904, she had moved out of Washington to Brentwood, MD and was likely still independent but had moved to the new Colorado Building –at 14th and G Street NW. Beyond work, she even did a bit of performing including a 1905 production of Hedda Gabler.
Magie was a lifelong proponent of Georgism, a single tax movement widely popularized by Henry George through his first book, Progress and Poverty, and was even the secretary and treasurer of a single tax club. I had never heard of Georgism, but simply, it was an economic ideology that government should be funded by a tax on land rent and not by taxes on labor. Her interest in spreading the word on Georgism led her to develop a game to better illustrate its principles and by 1903 she filed for a patent for the Landlord’s Game (748,626). An article in the January 28, 1936 Evening Star has this to say:
A follower of principles of the famous “single taxer” of the nineteenth century she still holds the Henry George School of Social Science classes in her home. Thirty-two years ago, she created “The Landlord”s Game” as a means of spreading interest in George’s system of taxation.”
A small news item featured in the Evening Star that year shows Magie using the game at a meeting of the Woman’s Single Tax Club of the District of Columbia:
the evening was spent in playing the “landlord’s game,” invented by Miss Lizzie J. Magie, illustrating the economic evils which the single tax is intended to correct. After many amusing experiences with rents, mortgages, stocks and bonds, deeds and franchises, legacies, luxuries, poorhouses and jails, refreshments were served.
By 1906 Magie had moved to Chicago and did some acting, but really got noticed for a stunt she pulled. In an effort to sell her skills as a typist and stenographer, she “sold herself”–a story that was picked up and sensationalized in a number of newspapers. She did receive a variety of offers and ultimately accepted one writing a series of articles about working girls in great cities. An October 18, 1906 National Tribune interview with the arresting title “Rebellion Against Condition,” shows a very resolute woman:
“I offered to sell myself to the highest bidder for the purpose of meeting some person who could place me where I belong in the ranks of the world’s workers,” she said with an angry gesture. “What had my appearance to do with that?
“I don’t want a husband. I don’t want a person who will interest himself in me for personal reasons. I admit I seek an ‘angel,’ but I seek a financial one. I ask nothing more than a fair chance. I get $10 a week as a stenographer now. That is no pay for a woman of ambition. I wish to be constructive, not a mere mechanical tool for transmitting a man’s spoken thoughts to letter paper.”
This reveals a hopeless lack of harmony with the absolute conditions of modern life. Miss Magie, like many other women, entered the ranks of workers, and proudly protested that she wanted no favors or assistance except what she rightfully earned. She probably said, as other ambitious women, that she was going to work her way upward as a young man of her age would.
A few years after moving to Chicago she married Albert W. Phillips and later the couple moved to the Washington area. Magie never forgot her creation and eventually she revised the game and was issued a new patent 1,509,312. Magie’s game had been moderately popular on college campuses and eventually caught the eye of Charles B. Darrow. He used it as the basis of a new game, Monopoly, that he went on to patent in 1935.
Georgism and the Landlord’s game continued to be part of Magie’s life. In 1939, a newspaper reported on a party she hosted where they played the Landlord’s game. When she renewed her patent for the game she expanded on her thoughts. The patent filing itself says:
The object of this game is not only to afford amusement to players, but to illustrate to them how, under the present or prevailing system of land tenure, the landlord has an advantage over other enterprises, and also how the single tax would discourage land speculation.
She continued to invent other games and even considered it to be what she did for a living because in the 1940 Census her occupation was listed as a “maker of games.” Magie died in 1948 and is buried in Arlington, Virginia.
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