Stokes, Henry Newlin (1859-1942)

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Stokes, Henry Newlin (1859-1942)

Theosophist and editor, born in 1859 at Moorestown, New Jersey. Stokes attended Haverford College (B.S.) and Johns Hopkins University (Ph.D., 1884). He later did postgraduate work in Germany and Switzerland. He returned to the United States in 1889 and became a chemist for the U.S. Geological Survey. He wrote articles for scientific journals and served a term as president of the Chemical Society of Washington, D.C. He moved to the Bureau of Standards in 1903.

Early in the new century the agnostic Stokes began a search in esoteric philosophy that led him to Theosophy and the writings of Annie Besant. He joined the Theosophical Society in 1903 and the following year also became a member of a small, independent theosophical organization, the Oriental Esoteric (OE) Head Center. The OE had been headquartered in Paris but had a small group in Washington. In 1905 Stokes helped establish the Oriental Esoteric Library as a focal point of occult information in the District. In 1909 he retired from the Bureau of Standards. During this time his former wife spread rumors alleging that he was involved with Anna Marsland, the head of the OE.

Over the next three years he devoted his increased free time to the OE, especially to developing the library, into which he poured much of his own finances. In 1910 he and Marsland broke with the Paris headquarters and established the Oriental Esoteric Society as a separate entity. Then, in 1912, he and Marsland split, and he sued the OE Society for the library, claiming that he had largely built it with his own money. The court agreed and gave him the books. He then aligned the library as an independent but associated organization of the American section of the Theosophical Society.

By 1911 Stokes had begun a periodical, the O. E. Library Critic, which became his means of livelihood for the rest of his life. After his break with Marsland he conceived the Critic as an independent theosophical periodical serving the larger cause of Theosophy. All was fine for a few years, but in the wake of the founding of the theosophically based Liberal Catholic Church in 1916, he turned on the church and especially bishops Charles W. Leadbeater and James I. Wedgwood. Stokes attacked Leadbeater for the new teachings he was introducing into the society and condemned the homosexual preferences of Wedgwood. He went on to attack theosophical offshoots such as the Aquarian Foundation, the Arcane School, and the I AM Movement.

Stokes couched his criticism of the new trends in the theosophical movement under the slogan Back to Blavatsky, a phrase he first used in the November 14, 1917 issue of the Critic. He lauded the groups and independent lodges that still adhered to the writings of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, the co-founder of the Theosophical Society. He did not leave the international Theosophical Society and is credited with reintroducing Blavatsky's writings to the general membership.

Stokes continued to edit the Critic until his death on September 20, 1942.


Santucci, James. "H. N. Stokes and the O. E. Library Critic." Theosophical History 1, 6 (April 1986): 129-39.

. "H. N. Stokes' Early Contact with the Theosophical Society." Theosophical History 2, 1 (January 1987): 4-22.