Chaney, William Henry (1821-1903)

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Chaney, William Henry (1821-1903)

Pioneer nineteenth-century American astrologer W. H. Chaney was born on January 13, 1821, in Chesterville, Maine. He was but nine when his father died and he left Maine when he was 16. He began a life of wandering that first led him to the sea. Nine months in the Navy drained him of visions of being a modern-day pirate, and he deserted and settled in Wheeling, West Virginia, where he studied law and eventually, in 1847, opened a legal practice. Little is known of his activity during the Civil War (1861-65), but in 1866 he was living in New York City and while there met Luke Broughton, the man largely responsible for the building of the astrological community in the United States.

Broughton introduced Chaney to astrology and led him in an intense study of the stars. Unfortunately, his new career ran into an immediate obstacle when in 1867 Chaney became a victim of an antiastrology crusade led by the New York Herald. He spent six months in jail and after his release, in 1869, he moved to the West Coast, where he resided for the next 17 years. After his move to California, his wife, who had remained in the East, obtained a divorce. In 1874 he married for what would be the fourth time, to Flora Wellman. As had his previous attempts at married life, this one would prove short-lived, but would have notable consequences. On January 12, 1876, his son Jack was born. After Chaney and Flora divorced, and Flora remarried, Jack would take the name of his stepfather and eventually grow up to write novels as Jack London.

Chaney continued to move about from town to town teaching astrology. By the end of the 1880s he had moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where he wrote and published a set of astrological texts including his most well-known, Chaney's Primer of Astrology and American Urania, published in 1890. He finally settled in Chicago, Illinois, and in 1897 married for the sixth and last time. He began a magazine which he named The Daisy-Chain, after his new bride.

Though he fell out with Broughton in his mature years, Chaney was his most famous and productive student and is remembered for helping create the profession of astrology on the West Coast and in the Midwest. He died in Chicago on January 6, 1903.


Chaney, W. H. The Astrologer's Vade Macum. Baltimore: Eureka Publishing, [1902].

. Chaney's Annual with the Magic Circle Astrological Almanac. St. Louis: Magic Circle Publishing, 1890.

. Chaney's Primer of Astrology and American Urania. St. Louis: Magic Circle Publishing, 1890.

Holden, James H., and Robert A. Hughes. Astrological Pioneers of America. Tempe, Ariz.: American Federation of Astrologers, 1988.