Marie Poutz was a prominent American worker in the Theosophical Society in America, affectionately known as "Poutzie."
Early life and education
Marie Poutz was born on February 12, 1860 to Pierre and Estelle Ferrier Poutz in New Orleans. A few months later, her French parents moved back to Paris for a time: "Her father had accumulated sufficient fortune to retire from active business life, and love for the old country with its greater cultural advantages appealed to both parents." She was educated in Paris until she was seven years old.
By this time the Civil War in America had been fought and lost by the Southern States, and with it came the collapse of the ample fortune of the Poutz family. The conditions were such that there was nothing to do but return to America and take up life once more on the old plantation. Conditions were difficult and it was not until 1873 that the family fortune was regained.
Pierre was a cotton buyer, and two of his sons also worked in the cotton industry as buyers and inspectors. He was a director of an insurance company and a compressed air company, and also had in interest in shipping. Marie, the youngest, was educated privately after the family's return to Louisiana. She had a classical education, including German and music, but did not learn English until later. Her father had an excellent lyric bass voice, and at some social events she accompanied his performances.
During this educative period, at the age of fourteen, she ceased to believe in the dogmas of the Christian Church which had been taught to her. But at the age of fifteen she came across the works of Flamarion, Louis Figuier [a French scientist] and others of like nature, which did appeal to her and were a very good stepping stone to Theosophy, and satisfied her for many years.
As for what is called the social life, Miss Poutz cared little for it, and while her friends plunged into the gay society of dances and parties with great zest, her interest was in her studies and music.
When Marie was twenty-one, her family took in two small daughters of a friend, and Marie embraced the responsibility of raising them. Her mother was frail, and died in 1890. Her father's fortune again disappeared,
so that at the age of thirty-six she began teaching music. Her earnings were meager, and sometimes $32.00 per month had to suffice to support the family of four [herself, her father, and the two girls]. The teaching period lasted for eleven years, and during that period her father died, the older of the girls married, and the younger one became self supporting as a stenographer.
Theosophical Society involvement
Joining the Theosophical Society
In 1902 she attended her first Convention, meeting there C. W. Leadbeater, Minnie Holbrook and A. P. Warrington. Minnie Holbrook was a friend of many hundreds of lives in the past, having been Vesta in the Lives, while Miss Poutz was Libra.
Her biographer's references to Libra and Vesta are related to Leadbeater's 1924 book The Lives of Alcyone, which detailed his psychic perceptions of past relationships of many prominent Theosophists. Stories from the Lives had been published serially in 1910-1911, and were a major topic of conversation among Theosophists for a few years.
Mr. Warrington was also an old friend of the past, and to use her own words, "gave her the chance of her life.” For in 1907 he was appointed by Dr. Besant Corresponding Secretary of the Esoteric School for the Americas, and he asked Marie Poutz to be his assistant. The headquarters for the work being in Norfolk, Virginia, Miss Poutz arrived there, eager to begin work, but vague as to its exact nature. She was accompanied by her adopted daughter, Mathilde Saizan, who became Mr. Warrington’s stenographer. Mr. Warrington was engaged in the practice of law, and he had one other employee, an office boy. So the work of the Esoteric School was carried on side by side with the practice of law...
The Esoteric School was later moved to Chicago, and then to Hollywood, California, and later to the Ojai Valley. Thus Miss Poutz’ life become merged in the work and in the life of the Society.
Work at Krotona Institute of Theosophy
By 1912 she had moved to the new Theosophical colony of Krotona in Hollywood. There she worked as a stenographer and secretary to the president, A. P. Warrington. She was also a teacher and lecturer. Later, after the Krotona Institute of Theosophy was relocated in Ojai, Ventura County in 1924, she sometimes worked in the Krotona Library. She served as vice president of the Krotona Institute until the end of her life, as well as head of the Esoteric School of Theosophy for the Western hemisphere. She visited many lodges all over the United States, and served at least two terms as a director of the American Theosophical Society.
In 1921 Miss Poutz was a delegate to the First World Congress of the Theosophical Society in Paris, along with A. P. Warrington, A. F. Knudsen, Max Wardall, and others. After the congress, she accompanied Annie Besant to the international Theosophical Society headquarters in Adyar, Chennai, India, expecting to "drink in wisdom from her lips." The reality was a bit different.
As soon as I arrived I offered myself to Mr. Jinarajadasa for work in the E. S. [Esoteric Section] Office, of which he was in charge. He accepted me by saying that he expected it. So, I was expected there. Now, in those days Mrs. Besant was doing her political work, and this is an example of a typical day: Every morning after breakfast she would pass over that road where so many talks were delivered, then on near the E. S. Office, and on her way to her car to be taken to Madras to her work. Naturally when she started all of us would line up to see her pass and smile. Now, she saw me among the workers and she said: 'So you have found your work.' I said 'Yes.' This was conversation number one. A few weeks later she gave a tea under the banyan tree for all the residents at Adyar. She went from one to the other with some gracious remark. She came to me, among others. She asked: 'Are you now at Leadbeater Chambers?' I said: 'Yes, I am very comfortable and happy.' 'Good,’ she said, and passed on. That was conversation number two. Then at the end of March when I was getting ready to go from Adyar to Australia with others, I went to say good-bye to Mrs. Besant. She said: 'So you have decided to go.' 'Well,' she added, 'Mr. Warrington and I will join you in a few weeks. I am glad I could get better acquainted with you.' It was certainly not through any speaking word. She probably had some other means of getting acquainted with which I myself was not familiar. But that is the sum total of our conversation during the seven months. But that was enough. She was right. There is a way of getting acquainted without words. I certainly became nearer to her. How, I do not know; but it is true.
On the return trip, Miss Poutz sailed on the S.S. Ventura, along with A. P. Warrington, Jiddu Nityananda, his brother Nitya, and Fritz Kunz. Miss Poutz did become close to Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater over the years, exchanging many letters. In 1928, Dr. Besant appointed her Corresponding Secretary of the Esoteric School, when Mr. Warrington left that position to became International Vice-President of The Theosophical Society.
Her second trip to Adyar occurred in 1934, to attend the first international convention in the presidency of Dr. George S. Arundale after Annie Besant's death.
Recognition of her work
During summer conventions and summer school at the American Section's headquarters, Olcott, the members would meet for meditation before breakfast, according to Clara Codd: "Generally this is taken by the most beloved person in the whole section, little Miss Marie Poutz, head of the esoteric work."
In March 24, 1948, the members at Krotona celebrated Miss Poutz's 50th anniversary of membership with a party.
The lodge members gathered in the Great Hall where the platform had been made beautiful with great bouquets of stock against the dark blue velvet backdrop and flanking an easel draped effectively with silk scarves. On the Easel was the handsomely illuminated and framed scroll which had been awarded Miss Poutz by the National Society at last summer's Convention, honoring this same anniversary.
Miss Poutz was escorted to a scarf-draped chair in the center of the platform by the lodge president, Mr. Herbert Staggs. Miss Elizabeth Hancock at the piano played a favorite of Miss Poutz's, the slow movement from Beethoven's Seventh Sonata. Then Miss Poutz for more than an hour delighted 'her family,' with reminiscences of these important fifty years. She told us how she found Theosophy, how she entered the Society in March, 1898 in New Orleans, and bits about her work under four Presidents of the Society, Colonel Olcott, Dr. Besant, Dr. Arundale and Mr. Jinarajadasa. It was an unforgettable event for those fortunate enough to be present...
The scroll had been illuminated by a member who was world-famous in that art, Mr. A. Theo. Bondy of Wilmette, Illinois, who is known in among Theosophists for creating a superb illumination of The Three Objects. The wording was:
To Marie Poutz – The Sixty-First Annual Convention of The Theosophical Society in America hereby gives tangible expression of its deepest gratitude and appreciation to Marie Poutz for her fifty years of faithful service to The Theosophical Society and for the inspiration and encouragement she has given to so many to make Theosophy a living power in their lives.
Miss Poutz became a Co-Mason in 1908, and was active in that order for the rest of her life. She was a thirty-third degree Mason. She participated in laying the cornerstone at Krotona in Hollywood, along with A. F. Knudsen, Isabelle Holbrook, and American Theosophical Society President A. P. Warrington. On August 29, 1926, she joined the Masonic ceremony to lay the cornerstone for the headquarters building of the Society in Wheaton, Illinois.
Miss Poutz remained youthful and active even during her final illness. She died on July 28, 1951 in Ventura County, California. Her dear friend Maude N. Couch spoke at her funeral on August 2, 1951 in the Krotona Auditorium, with Mr. Eugene Munson officiating.
- New Orleans, Louisiana Birth Records Index: 1790-1899.
- Maude N. Couch, "Marie Poutz: In Memory of Miss Poutz Whose Death Occurred on July 28, 1951" The American Theosophist 39 no.9 (September, 1951): 165-167.
- Couch, 165.
- 1880 United States Census.
- "Statement of the Affairs of New Orleans Insurance Company" Time-Picayune (December 27, 1883): 6, and numerous similar notices.
- "Charter of the New Orleans Compressed Air Propelling Company" Time-Picayune (March 20, 1879): 3.
- "Havre" Time-Picayune (November 12, 1879): 7, and numerous similar notices.
- Couch, 165-166.
- "Society" Times-Picayune (May 22, 1887): 9.
- Couch, 166.
- Couch, 166.
- Membership Ledger Cards roll 6. Theosophical Society in America Archives.
- Couch, 166.
- Couch, 166.
- U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989.
- 1910 United States Federal Census.
- U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989.
- "Charles' Letter" The New Orleans Item (August 27, 1916), 16.
- 1930 United States Federal Census.
- Couch, 167-168.
- "About the Candidates" The American Theosophist 30 no.4 (April, 1942): 86.
- "World Congress of Theosophists" Salt Lake Telegram (July 26, 1921): 9. An Associated Press article.
- "Miss Poutz" The Messenger 9 no.1 (June, 1921): 8.
- Couch, 166.
- Couch, 166.
- "Visitors Incognito" The San Diego Union (July 7, 1935): 2.
- Clara Codd, So Rich a Life (Pretoria: Institute for Theosophical Publicity, 1956), 332.
- "A Party for Miss Poutz" American Theosophist 36 no.4 (April, 1948): 95.
- "Message of Appreciation to Miss PoutzThe American Theosophist 36 no.2 (February, 1948): 47.
- Couch, 166.
- See her in YouTube video of the event.
- Couch, 167.