William Quan Judge

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William Quan Judge

William Quan Judge was one of the principal Founders of the Theosophical Society in 1875. He provided superb leadership to the American Section until his untimely death in 1896, but left a body of writings that are among the clearest explications of the principles of Theosophy.

See also Judge writings.

Personal life

Ella Judge

William Quan Judge was born in Dublin, Ireland on April 13, 1851 to Frederick "Fred" Hughes Judge (1822-1880) and Alice Mary Quan.

Fred Judge became a Freemason in 1856.[1] In 1847 he married Alice. They had seven children, of whom William was the third. There were four girls – Lucinda ("Lucy"), Alice, Emily, and Carrie – and three boys – William, John, and Frederick. When only seven years old, William was struck by serious illness and was near death.

Alice Judge

During the year of his convalescence, he began to show an interest in mystical subjects. Unaware of his ability to read, the family found him engrossed in books dealing with Mesmerism, Phrenology, Magic, Religion and similar subjects.[2]

Mrs. Judge died in 1858 at the birth of the youngest son. On July 14, 1864, the Judge family emigrated to the United States, sailing on the Inman Liner City of Limerick. Fred Judge initially worked in Brooklyn as a clerk, and later was a merchant of building supplies. Six of the children were with him; Carrie was absent from the household - probably dead before she turned twelve.[3][4] The 1870 census shows Fred remarried to Jennie Minerva Burch, with the six children. William was then studying law.[5]

William married Ella Miller Smith, a school teacher, on September 16, 1874. They residence was initially in Brooklyn, New York with Ella's father, Joseph Smith, owner of a shoe store. Their daughter Alice was born on June 13, 1875, but died very young of diphtheria. Joseph Smith seems to have retired, and his son-in-law took over as head of the household, which also included Ella's older sister Joanna.[6][7] Ella, like her husband, was a Methodist, but her beliefs took a stricter form than his, and she never accepted his interest in Theosophy. She did, however, eventually became member of the Society for a brief time, joining on March 29, 1994.[8] Judge's sister Emily joined that same week.[9] They may have been trying to express support for William when he was ill and under siege.

Legal and business career

After his schooling was completed, young Judge sought work in the legal profession.

He became a naturalized American citizen in April, 1872, and was admitted to the State Bar of New York one month later. His industry, natural shrewdness and inflexible persistence commended him to his clients and he became, as time went on, a specialist in Commercial Law.[10]

Young WQJ

By the autumn of 1874, when he first met H. P. Blavatsky, he was employed in the law office of E. Delafield Smith, U S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. He represented Madame Blavatsky in her divorce from Michael C. Betanelly, and the divorce was granted on May 25, 1878.

From 1879 to 1881, Judge traveled to Venezuela and Mexico on business ventures that were ultimately unsuccessful; he was laden with debt and a damaged law practice. He was exposed to the insect-borne tropical parasite that causes Chagas Disease (sometimes misidentified as the short-lived Chagres Fever). No treatment was available, and he suffered its effects greatly for the rest of his life.

In 1884, after returning to New York after his visit to the Theosophical Society's international headquarters at Adyar, Madras, India, "Judge found his financial prospects greatly improved. He joined the law firm in which Olcott's brother worked."[11]

Meeting Olcott and Blavatsky

Mr. Judge knew Colonel Henry Steel Olcott from the legal community in New York, where they both worked.

After reading Col. Olcott's articles in the New York Daily Graphic (published in March, 1875, as a work entitled People from the Other World) outlinging his experiences as the Eddy homestead at Chittenden, Vt., where some weird Spiritualistic séances were being held, he wrote to the Colonel asking for an introduction to Madame Blavatsky. Eventually the desired invitation came, and resulted in an association that was to last throughout their lives.

Judge became a frequent visitor at H.P.B.'s apartment, at 46 Irving Place, New York, where the founding of the Theosophical Society was soon to take place.[12]

His younger brother John Henry Judge was also involved with H.P.B., assisting her in preparing the manuscript of Isis Unveiled for publication. William Quan Judge's wife Ella, however, was actively opposed to his engagement in Theosophical interests.

Communication with Mahatmas

The first written communication to Judge from the Masters was described in a letter to Dâmodar dated June 11, 1883. Judge wrote: "I have your last. On the back is written in red pencil 'Better come M.'" A few months later, Judge journeyed to Europe and then India.[13]

Two letters have been published (in text and replica) that were written from Master Morya to Mr. Judge. See Letter 1 and Letter 2.

As with the "1900 Letter" of Annie Besant, doubt has sometimes been cast upon the authenticity of letters received after the death of H. P. Blavatsky in 1891.[14] That doubt was a significant factor in the crisis that enveloped the Society in 1894-1895.

Claude Bragdon wrote:

There is abundant evidence, aside from the best evidence of all -- the fruitfulness of his labors -- that he was under the direct guidance of the Masters. One Adept wrote of him, "when the presence is upon him, he knows well that which others only suspect and 'divine'." In the same letter he is referred to as the one "who of all chelas suffers most and demands, or even expects, the least."[15]

Signed cabinet card by Taber, San Francisco

Theosophical work

Founding of the Theosophical Society

During a meeting at Madame Blavatsky's rooms on Tuesday, September 7, 1875, a stimulating lecture was given by George H. Felt, who claimed to be able to summon elemental spirits. Colonel Olcott, H. P. Blavatsky, W. Q. Judge, and others agreed that it would be desirable to form a Society to study such phenomena. After several more meetings, by-laws were adopted and officer elected. Colonel Olcott was chosen as President; G. H. Felt and Dr. Seth Pancoast as Vice-Presidents; Madame Blavatsky, Corresponding Secretary; John Storer Cobb Recording Secretary; Henry J. Newton, Treasurer; Charles Sotheran, Librarian; and William Q. Judge was chosen as Counsel to the Society. Its founding became public with an inaugural address by Colonel Olcott on October 30, 1875.[16]

Early years in Theosophical Society

The departure of Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott for India on December 17, 1878 left a huge vacuum in the Theosophical Society. Major-General Abner Doubleday was acting President for a short while until Olcott could be in communication again. However, without the stimulus of the salon HPB had kept at the Lamasery, New York's Theosophical activity languished. Lodges were established in 1882 in Rochester, New York and in St. Louis, Missouri; in 1883 in Los Angeles and New York City. American membership was sparse away from these population centers and the few energetic individuals who established the lodges, with no national organization, journal, or touring lecturers to support them.

Judge wrote rather despairingly to Olcott, complaining that the was being left out in the cold. This situation was undoubtedly connected with his trials as a probationary chela... It is from the period of 1879-82 that Judge's correspondence with Dâmodar K. Mâvalankar dates. The replies of the latter revealed to Judge a more intimate relationship between master and pupil than he had ever hoped for himself, and this made Judge his fervent admirer and life-long friend.

In a letter to Dâmodar dated June 11, 1883, Judge writes: "I have your last. On the back is written in red pencil 'Better come M.'"[17][18]

1884 work in Europe

On March 25, 1884, Mr. Judge arrived in Paris, so he was on hand to meet Henry Steel Olcott three days later.

According to some of his published letters, Judge was ordered by the Masters to stay there and help H.P.B. in writing The Secret Doctrine, which at that time was still envisioned as a new version of Isis Unveiled – a plan abandoned later. Judge worked for and with H.P.B., both in Paris and at Enghien, where they stayed for a while in May as guests of Count and Countess Gaston d'Adhémar. He also was in London for a few days during H.P.B.'s hurried trip there in early April.[19]

1884 visit to Adyar

Following the visits to London and Paris,

Judge left Paris for India at the end of June, arriving in Bombay July 15th, where he lectured the 18th on "Theosophy and the Destiny of India." After lecturing at Poona, Hyderâbâd, Secunderâbâd and Gooty, he reached Adyar August 10th. His brief stay at Adyar seems to be shrouded in somewhat of a mystery, which we may never be able to unravel for lack of adequate documentation.

It was during Judge's stay at Adyar that the Christian College Magazine of Madras published the article "The Collapse of Koot Hoomi," with fifteen forged letters purporting to have been written by H.P.B. That period was one of grave anxiety and serious trouble, and the atmosphere at Adyar must have been electrically charged.[20]

Olcott had left a Board of Control to administer the Theosophical Society and its Adyar estate during his absence: Dr. Franz Hartmann, St. George Lane-Fox, W. T. Brown, R. Raghunath Row, G. Muttuswamy Chetty, P. Sreenivas Row and T. Subba Row. Some of them should have been present at the time of his visit, of which little is known. He was involved in gathering statements from witnesses about the behavior of the Coulombs.

Judge left in a few months, while the parties of Olcott and Blavatsky were still en route from Europe to deal with the Coulomb affair. He sailed from Liverpool on November 15, 1884, and for the first time met A. E. S. Smythe, future president of the Canadian TS, who was greatly impressed by the American.

Despite what must have been a frustrating trip, Judge arrived home energized and really to devote more time to the Society. Grace Knoche suggests, "It became clear to Judge that his real work was not in India. It was in America."[21]

Formation of American Section

In 1886, Judge proposed to Olcott and Blavatsky that an American Section should be formed. With their approval, he took on the new role of permanent General Secretary. He began publication of his magazine The Path, and wrote many articles to fill the pages. "H.P.B.'s admiration of this journal was very marked, and she referred to it as 'pure Buddhi.'"[22]

The Section was greatly invigorated by its first convention, held on October 30, 1886 in the home of Dr. J. D. Buck in Cincinnati. Five new lodges were formed in 1886, six in 1887, nine in 1888, and nine in 1889.

Expansion of Theosophical literature

During the late 1880s and the 1890s, a steady stream of new Theosophical literature became available. Periodicals cropped up from all over the world – Lucifer and The Vahan from England. The Theosophist from Adyar, The Lamp from Canada, and The Sphinx from Germany. The United States produced The Occult Word, The New Californian, Theosophical Siftings and others.

In addition to Blavatsky's Isis Unveiled, The Secret Doctrine, and other books, readers had access to many works of Eastern literature newly translated. A. P. Sinnett published The Occult World and Esoteric Buddhism.

Judge contributed greatly in periodicals, books, and pamphlets. He wrote An Epitome of Theosophy in 1888, Echoes from the Orient in 1890, Letters That Have Helped Me in 1891, and The Ocean of Theosophy in 1893. See Judge writings for a more comprehensive list.

1888 work in Europe

According to Boris de Zirkoff,

In December, 1888, Judge was in Dublin, Ireland, and there is evidence that he went from there to London and assisted H.P.B. in the formation of the Esoteric Section. On December 14 of that year H.P.B. issued a special order appointing Judge as her "only representative for said Section in America" and as "the sole channel through whom will be sent and received all communications between the members of said Section and myself [H.P.B.,]" and she did so "in virtue of his character as a chela of thirteen years standing."[23]

The same years Judge was appointed by Col. Olcott as Vice-President of the Theosophical Society, and in 1890 was officially elected to that office, the rules having been changed.[24]

1890 attack on HPB

In the midst of his duties as General Secretary of the American Section, Vice President of the international Theosophical Society, Out Head of the Esoteric Section, editor-owner of The Path and its publishing office, and maintaining his home life and law practice, an extra challenge came to Judge in 1890.

The New York Sun published a derogatory piece on H.P.Blavatsky in July 1890. Judge represented her in a suit against the paper, but her death automatically terminated the case. Nevertheless, the Sun continued to investigate the accusations it had published and concluded that they were utterly without foundation. The paper published an apology in 1892 and printed an article by Judge on H.P.Blavatsky's life under the title "The Esoteric She."[25]

1891 portrait by Elliott & Fry, London

1891 Death of H. P. Blavatsky

On May 8, 1891, the Theosophical world suffered the shock of Madame Blavatsky's death. Judge embarked on May 13 for London.

He attended the Convention of the European Branches of the T.S., July 9-10, under Olcott's chairmanship; Annie Besant had arrived a few days after H.P.B.'s death. It is during that period in London that the Esoteric Section was placed under the joint Outer Headship of Judge and Annie Besant. Judge returned to the U.S.A. on August 6th.[26]

1892 Olcott resignation and resumption of Presidency

In January of 1892, Colonel Olcott resigned from Presidency of the Theosophical Society. Judge, as Vice President, stood to succeed him, and was endorsed by the American Section, Annie Besant, London's Blavatsky Lodge, and the European Section. The Indian Section agreed that Presidential duties could be assumed by Judge, but not to remove the title from Olcott during his lifetime. Judge himself urged Olcott to revoke his resignation, writing that a Master had told him the time was not right. The President-Founder also received a similar message from his Guru, and finally revoked the resignation on August 21.

1893 World's Parliament of Religions

Early in 1893, Mr. Judge was afflicted with the loss of his voice, which was deeply distressing in his role as a lecturer:

I wish I could give you better news respecting my throat than is as yet possible. Although I cannot yet speak in public, my voice in conversation is usually better than it was, although there are times when even now I have difficulty in making myself understood. This long and most unfortunate crippling of my work in an important department has occasioned me no little disturbance of mind, and it certainly seems strange that the rally is so slow [27]

However, he recovered later in the year, and, in his role as Vice President, headed a delegation of Theosophists at the World's Parliament of Religions in Chicago. Annie Besant and Professor G. N. Chakravarti accompanied him by train from New York, stopping at the Cincinnati Theosophical Society on September 9 to dedicate the lodge's new Theosophical Hall. They were joined in Chicago by other official representatives of the Society, including the Anagarika Dharmapala, Miss F. Henrietta Müller, and Mrs. Isabel Cooper-Oakley. A Theosophical Congress was held within the greater Parliament on September 15-17. The six delegates spoke to packed halls, supplemented by Theosophists Dr. Jerome A. Anderson, Claude Falls Wright, Mrs. Mercie M. Thirds, Dr. J. D. Buck, and George E. Wright. Newspaper coverage of the event praised the Theosophical Congress and its speakers lavishly, and the event was considered to be a complete success in promoting the tenets of Theosophy and the understanding of world religions. Judge wrote, "being an effort to get on one platform representatives of all religions, it was just what our Society has been accomplishing steadily during the past eighteen years, and what our objects and constitution have always expressed."[28]

July, 1895

1894-1895 Accusations against Judge


1895 split of American Section


Editorial work and writings

Mr. Judge was a proficient writer and editor. His works are among the clearest explications of the principles of Theosophy. See Judge writings.


Letters That Have Helped Me, 4th edition, 1891

Mr. Judge conducted an extensive correspondence with Madame Blavatsky, Colonel Olcott, A. P. Sinnett, Josephine Cables, and others. He wrote hundreds of letters to members of the Theosophical Society. Many were published in The Theosophist and The Path, and in these compilations:

  • Judge, William Quan, and Julia Keightley. Letters That Have Helped Me . Available at Theosophical University Press Online. These letters form a conversation between "Jasper Niemand," the pseudonym used by Julia Keightley, and "Z," representing Judge. See also these sources: Theosophy World, ULT, London, and Hathitrust.
  • Mavalankar, Damodar K. Damodar, The Writings of a Hindu Chela compiled by Sven Eek. See also Biographical notes. Originally published in 1940 by Theosophical University Press, Point Loma, California. Six letters written to Judge by Damodar K. Mavalankar are reproduced from originals held in the Archives of the Theosophical Society based in Pasadena, California.
  • Bowen, Patrick D. and K. Paul Johnson, eds. Letters to the Sage: Selected Correspondence of Thomas Moore Johnson Volume One: The Esotericists. Forest Grove, OR: The Typhon Press, 2016.
  • Some Letters of H.P. Blavatsky to W.Q. Judge at BlavatskyArchives.com.
  • Letters that Judge wrote were copied by Alexander Fullerton into a series of correspondence logs that still exist in the archives of the Theosophical Society, Pasadena. Selected letters were recopied by an unknown person in a set of 12 quires that have been transcribed and are available at the Theosophical Society in America Archives.

Art and photography

WQJ drawing of Dr. Ami Brown

Mr. Judge was a fine artist, and produced some excellent drawings of the people and scenes in his life. In 1888, a newspaperman reported that Judge's works decorated the American Section headquarters at 115 Nassau Street: "Several water colors, done by Mr. William Q. Judge, adorn the walls. One of the drawings shows the Theosophical Headquarters and Colonel Olcott's dwelling place at Adyar, India. Another reveals an Indian temple."[29]

He also experimented with photography in 1888, using the first camera that was available for popular use:

George Eastman invented flexible roll film and in 1888 introduced the Kodak camera shown to use this film. It took 100-exposure rolls of film that gave circular images 2 5/8" in diameter. In 1888 the original Kodak sold for $25 loaded with a roll of film and included a leather carrying case... After finishing the roll, the consumer mailed the camera back to the factory to have the prints made.[30]


Mr. Judge had been ill for some time, from lingering results of Chagas disease (often erroneously referred to as Chagres fever) contracted in Venezuela. His friend Ernest Temple Hargrove wrote to Dr. J. D. Buck early in 1896:

I think that Judge is ten per cent weaker than when you saw him. Today and last night his cough seemed rather better; the mucus came away more easily. But he can hardly walk. He asked me last night "use your intuition. How long do you think this can last?" I said "If it goes on not more than a week." That was in reference to a crisis through which both he and I thought he was passing. For the drop was very sudden--ten percent in a day--yesterday. I do not know what caused it; nor does he. There is nothing else at all now. He gets more sleep now during the day.

Truly, even to the lay eye, it is a case full of contradictions, and it is impossible to take any view or form any opinion that is not flatly denied by facts within the next 24 hours. I should not be surprised at anything; not even at seeing him improved 20 per cent in a day.[31]

Mr. Judge passed away on March 21, 1896 in New York. Hargrove wrote of his last day:

He fought and fought on until he was convinced that the battle was done, and that his disease had won the victory. Then he began to become the man who is about to be liberated, and as the hour of deliverance approached he became more light hearted and more willing to pass into the infinite.[32]

After a simple ceremony at the headquarters of the Theosophical Society in New York, the funeral procession took the body by the Thirty-Fourth Street ferry to be cremated at Fresh Pond Crematory in Queens. Mrs. Judge took the ashes to be placed in a family cemetery plot.[33]

Tributes and honors

The William Q. Judge Library is at the headquarters of the Temple of the People in Halcyon, California. B. P. Wadia established the William Quan Judge Cosmopolitan Home for university students at the Indian Institute of World Culture. It was a hostel based Theosophical principles.[34]

Many colleagues have written of Judge:

George William Russell (Æ)

Writing to Carrie Rea on September 6, 1894, Russell wrote,

A man whom I consider the wisest and sweetest of any I have ever met... I have more reverence for him than for any other human being I know of... I think he says only things he knows.[35]

Katherine Hillard

Some little time elapsed before I learned to recognize, under that quiet and rather insignificant exterior, the wisdom, the practical common sense, the humor and the independence of the man. Day by day I learned to know him better, and to trust him more...

To the mystical element in the personality of Mr. Judge was united the shrewdness of the practical lawyer, the organizing faculty of a great leader, and that admirable common sense which is so uncommon a thing with enthusiasts. . . . And blended with the undaunted courage, the keen insight, the endless patience, that made his personality so powerful, were the warm affections, the ready wit, the almost boyish gaiety that made it so lovable.[36]

Obituary in Mercury

Mercury, the journal of the American Section of the Adyar Society published this gracious and conciliatory obituary:

On 21st of March William Q. Judge quitted this sphere of activity. The news saddened all for every heart kept a shrine sacred to the well-beloved co-worker of H.P.B. We remember only his virtues, which were many, his talents which were great, and we know that the good he did for the many years he labored as the Vice-President of the T. S. and Secretary of the American Section will bless his name for all time. All honor to his memory.[37]

Additional resources

These resources may be helpful in understanding the life and work of Mr. Judge.


  • Eek, Sven, and Boris de Zirkoff. WILLIAM QUAN JUDGE, 1851-1896: The Life of a Theosophical Pioneer and Some of His Articles. Theosophical Publishing House, 1969.




  1. Ireland, Grand Lodge of Freemasons of Ireland Membership Registers, 1733-1923.
  2. Boris de Zirkoff, "Judge, William Quan" H. P. Blavatsky Collected Writings Volume I (Wheaton, Illinois: Theosophical Press, 1966), 472.
  3. "Frederic Hughes Judge" in the New York, New York, Index to Death Certificates, 1862-1948.
  4. New York, State Census, 1865.
  5. 1870 United States Federal Census.
  6. New York, State Census, 1865.
  7. 1880 United States Federal Census.
  8. Theosophical Society General Membership Register, 1875-1942 at http://tsmembers.org/. See book 1, entry 10964 (website file: 1D/38).
  9. Theosophical Society General Membership Register, 1875-1942 at http://tsmembers.org/. See book 1, entry 10921(website file: 1D/37).
  10. Boris de Zirkoff, "Judge, William Quan" H. P. Blavatsky Collected Writings Volume I (Wheaton, Illinois: Theosophical Press, 1966), 472.
  11. Boris de Zirkoff, 473.
  12. Boris de Zirkoff, 473.
  13. The original of WQJ's letter in reply to Damodar's letter, on the back of which M sends his message, is in the Archives of the Theosophical Society, Adyar; Damodar's letter is missing.
  14. Constance Wachtmeister, "H.P.B. And The Present Crisis In The Theosophical Society" Theosophy in Australasia (July 5, 1895), 5-8. For a more extended quotation see Theosophists.org website.
  15. Claude Bragdon, Episodes from an Unwritten History, pp. 24-5
  16. Henry Steel Olcott, Old Diary Leaves First Series (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1974), 135.
  17. Boris de Zirkoff, 475.
  18. See also Sven Eek, Dâmodar and the Pioneers of The Theosophical Movement, Adyar, 1965, pp. 78-100.
  19. Boris de Zirkoff, 475-476. See also The Word, XV, April, 1912, pp. 17-18.
  20. Boris de Zirkoff, 476.
  21. "A Salute to William Quan Judge" by Grace Knoche. Reprinted from Sunrise magazine, April/May 1986.
  22. Boris de Zirkoff, 477.
  23. See Volume X of H. P. Blavatsky Collected Writings, page 194.
  24. Boris de Zirkoff, 479-480.
  25. http://www.katinkahesselink.net/his/WilliamQuanJudge.htm "William Quan Judge"] in KatinkaHesselink.net.
  26. Boris de Zirkoff, 481-482.
  27. William Q. Judge letter to Dr. J. Lopez [of New Orleans]. April 10, 1893. Transcribed from a correspondence log at Theosophical Society, Pasadena Archives.
  28. William Quan Judge, "The Theosophical Congress and the Parliament of Religions" The Path VIII (November 1893), 247-249. Quoted in Echoes of the Orient Volume II, pages 159-160.
  29. New York Morning Journal September 5, 1888. Quoted in Echoes of the Orient, page xxix.
  30. Original Kodak Camera, Serial No. 540 at Smithsonian website.
  31. E. T. Hargrove letter to J. D. Buck. Dated "Thursday, 1896." Cincinnati Theosophical Society Papers. Records Series 20.02.01. Theosophical Society in America Archives.
  32. "Only Ashes Left of W. Q. Judge" New York Herald (March 24, 1896), 12.
  33. "Only Ashes Left of W. Q. Judge" New York Herald (March 24, 1896), 12.
  34. W. Dallas TenBroeck, "Biographical Notes on Sri B.P. Wadia" Keeping the Link Unbroken (Theosophical Research Monographs, 2004), 120.
  35. Letters from A E. Selected and Edited by Alan Denson. LOndon: Abelard-Shuman, 1961. Quoted in Echoes of the Orient, xxxi.
  36. Katherine Hillard, "Why I Became a Theosophist" Theosophical Quarterly (July, 1909), 59-61. Available at Blavatsky Archives.
  37. J. Helen Smith, "Obituary" Mercury 2.9 (April, 1896), 276.