MARGARET MITCHELL Biography - Writers


Biography » writers » margaret mitchell


"If the novel has a theme it is that of survival. What makes some people able to             
come through catastrophes and others, apparently just as able, strong and brave,             
go under? It happens in every upheaval. Some people survive; others don't. What               
qualities are in those who fight their way through triumphantly that are lacking             
in those who go under...? I only know that the survivors used to call that                   
quality 'gumption.' So I wrote about the people who had gumption and the people               
who didn't." Margaret Mitchell @ Macmillan 1936                                               
Margaret Mitchell was born Nov. 8, 1900 in Atlanta to a family with ancestry not             
unlike the O’Hara’s in Gone With the Wind. Her mother, Mary Isabelle “Maybelle”               
Stephens was of Irish-Catholic ancestry. Her father, Eugene Muse Mitchell, an                 
Atlanta attorney, descended from Scotch-Irish and French Huguenots. The family               
included many soldiers - members of the family had fought in the American                     
Revolution, Irish uprisings and rebellions and the Civil War.                                 
The imaginative child was fascinated with stories of the Civil War that she                   
heard first from her parents and great aunts, who lived at the family’s                       
Jonesboro rural home, and later, from grizzled (and sometimes profane)                       
Confederate veterans who regaled the girl with battlefield stories as Margaret,               
astride her pony, rode through the countryside around Atlanta with the men.                   
“She was a great friend of my cousin,” recalled Atlanta resident Mrs. Colquitt               
Carter. “My cousin always said that when Peggy would spend the night, she would               
get up in the middle of the night and write things. She was always obsessed with             
expressing herself.”                                                                         
The family lived in a series of homes, including a stately home on Peachtree                 
Street beginning in 1912. Young Margaret attended private school, but was not an             
exceptional student. When, on one memorable day, she announced to her mother                 
that she could not understand mathematics and would not return to school,                     
Maybelle dragged her daughter to a rural road where plantation houses had fallen             
into ruin.                                                                                   
“It’s happened before and it will happen again,” Maybelle sternly lectured the               
girl. “And when it does happen, everyone loses everything and everyone is equal.             
They all start again with nothing at all except the cunning of their brain and               
the strength of their hands.”                                                                 
Chastened, Margaret Mitchell returned to school, eventually entering Smith                   
College in the fall of 1918, not long after the United States entered World War               
I. Her fiancé, Clifford Henry, was killed in action in France. In January 1919,               
Maybelle Mitchell died during a flu epidemic and Margaret Mitchell left college               
to take charge of the Atlanta household of her father and her older brother,                 
Although she made her society debut in 1920, Margaret was far too free-spirited               
and intellectual to be content with the life of a debutante. She quarreled with               
her fellow debs over the proper distribution of the money they had raised for                 
charity, and she scandalized Atlanta society with a provocative dance that she               
performed at the debutante ball with a male student from Georgia Tech.                       
By 1922, Margaret Mitchell was a headstrong “Flapper” pursued by two men, an ex-football     
player and bootlegger, Berrien “Red” Upshaw, and a lanky newspaperman, John R.               
Marsh. She chose Upshaw, and the two were married in September. Upshaw’s                     
irregular income led her to seek a job, at a salary of $25 per week, as a writer             
for The Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine where Marsh was an editor and her mentor.             
“There was an excitement in newspapering in the 1920’s, famed editor Ralph                   
McGill recalled. Margaret Mitchell, he said, “was a vibrant, vital person –                   
excited, always, and seeking excitement. And this excitement, I think, was a                 
sort of a hallmark of the 20’s.”                                                             
The Upshaw marriage was stormy and short lived. They divorced in October 1924,               
and less than a year later, she married Marsh. The two held their wedding                     
reception at their new ground-floor apartment at 979 Crescent Avenue – a house               
which Margaret affectionately nicknamed “The Dump.”                                           
Only months after their marriage, Margaret left her job at the Journal to                     
convalesce from a series of injuries. It was during this period that she began               
writing the book that would make her world famous.                                           
Gone With The Wind was published in June 1936. Margaret Mitchell was awarded the             
Pulitzer Prize for her sweeping novel in May 1937. The novel was made into an                 
equally famous motion picture starring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable. The movie               
had its world premiere at the Loew’s Grand Theater in Atlanta Dec. 15, 1939 with             
Margaret Mitchell and all of the stars in attendance.                                         
On Aug. 11, 1949, while crossing the intersection of Peachtree and 13th – only               
three blocks from “The Dump”, Margaret Mitchell was struck by an off-duty cab                 
driver. She died five days later and is buried in Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery                 
with other members of her family.