Munnerlyn Mitchell was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on November 8, 1900, a
fifth-generation Atlantan. Her
father, Eugene Muse Mitchell, was an attorney and historian of Scotch-Irish and
French Huguenot descent. Her mother, Mary Isabelle "Maybelle" Stephens, was of
Irish-Catholic ancestry. Maybelle was also an active supporter of the
suffragette movement, and her daughter was to adopt her feminist leanings.
Mitchell grew up listening to family stories of ancestors who had
fought in the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) and the Civil War
(1861-1865). She also heard stories of the Civil War from her parents and great
aunts, who lived at the family's rural home in Jonesboro, Georgia, and from
Confederate veterans with whom she would ride in the countryside around
Atlanta. At the age of fifteen, Mitchell wrote in her journal: "If I were
a boy, I would try for West Point, if I could make it, or well I'd be a prize
fighter - anything for the thrills."
attended the Washington Seminary, a private school, where she failed to shine.
One day, she told her mother that she could not understand mathematics and
would not be going back to school. Maybelle dragged her daughter to a road where grand
plantation houses had fallen into ruin. She told the girl, "It's happened
before and it will happen again. 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."
Mitchell did go back to school. She
enrolled in Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts in 1918, to study
medicine. Her fianc´┐Ż, Clifford Henry, was killed while serving in World War I
in France. In 1919, Maybelle Mitchell died in a flu epidemic and Mitchell left
college to keep house for her father and older brother, Stephens.
By 1922, Mitchell was a "Flapper" much
involved in the social scene of the new Jazz Age. She was pursued by two men, Berrien "Red" Upshaw, an ex-football
player and bootlegger, and newspaperman John R. Marsh. She married Upshaw in
September 1922. Upshaw's uncertain income led her to get a job as a reporter
for The Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine, where Marsh was an editor and
her mentor. Margaret's marriage to Upshaw was stormy and short-lived, culminating
in marital rape. They divorced in October 1924. Less than a year later, she
married Marsh. After her marriage, Margaret retained her maiden name of
Mitchell, a decision that scandalized some members of Atlanta society. The
couple lived in a cramped apartment at Peachtree Street - nicknamed by Mitchell
"The Dump." The house is preserved as the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum.
In 1926, Mitchell gave up her job at the newspaper to convalesce
from injuries sustained in a series of automobile accidents. She began writing
her great and only novel, Gone With the Wind, to stave off boredom, never
intending it to be published. However, an editor with the publishing company
Macmillan read the manuscript and encouraged her to publish it. The book was
published in 1936 and became an
immediate bestseller. In six months it sold a record-breaking one million
copies, and to date, it has outsold every other book except the Bible. Mitchell won the Pulitzer Prize for the
novel in May 1937.
The novel was
made into a famous film starring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable, which premiered
at Loew's Grand Theater in Atlanta on December 15, 1939. Mitchell and all the
During World War
II, Mitchell became a volunteer selling war bonds and a volunteer and spokesperson
for the American Red Cross.
On August 11,
1949, Mitchell was hit by a car while crossing Peachtree street near her home.
She died five days later and is buried in Atlanta's Oakland Cemetery.