Margaret Munnerlyn Mitchell (November 8, 1900 – August 16, 1949) was an American author and journalist. One novel by Mitchell was published during her lifetime, the American Civil War-era novel, Gone with the Wind, for which she won the National Book Awardfor Most Distinguished Novel of 1936 and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1937. In more recent years, a collection of Mitchell’s girlhood writings and a novella she wrote as a teenager, Lost Laysen, have been published. A collection of articles written by Mitchell for The Atlanta Journal was republished in book form. Margaret Mitchell was a Southerner and a lifelong resident and native of Atlanta, Georgia. She was born in 1900 into a wealthy and politically prominent family. Her father, Eugene Muse Mitchell, was an attorney, and her mother, Mary Isabel “May Belle” (or “Maybelle”) Stephens, was a suffragist. She had two brothers, Russell Stephens Mitchell, who died in infancy in 1894, and Alexander Stephens Mitchell, born in 1896.
Eugene Muse Mitchell, the father of Margaret Mitchell
Mitchell’s family on her father’s side were descendants of Thomas Mitchell, originally of Aberdeenshire, Scotland, who settled in Wilkes County, Georgia in 1777, and served in the American Revolutionary War. Her grandfather, Russell Crawford Mitchell, of Atlanta, enlisted in the Confederate States Army on June 24, 1861 and served in Hood’s Texas Brigade. He was severely wounded at the Battle of Sharpsburg, demoted for ‘inefficiency,’ and detailed as a nurse in Atlanta . After the Civil War, he made a large fortune supplying lumber for the rapid rebuilding of Atlanta. Russell Mitchell had thirteen children from two wives; the eldest was Eugene, who graduated from the University of Georgia Law School
Mitchell’s maternal great-grandfather Philip Fitzgerald emigrated from Ireland, and eventually settled on a slaveholding plantation near Jonesboro, Georgia, where he had one son and seven daughters with his wife, Elenor. Mitchell’s grandparents, married in 1863, were Annie Fitzgerald and John Stephens, who had also emigrated from Ireland and was a Captain in the Confederate States Army. John Stephens was a prosperous real estate developer after the Civil War and one of the founders of the Gate City Street Railroad (1881), a mule-drawn Atlanta trolley system. John and Annie Stephens had twelve children together; the seventh child was May Belle Stephens, who married Eugene Mitchell May Belle Stephens had studied at the Bellevue Convent in Quebec and completed her education at the Atlanta Female Institute .
The Atlanta Constitution reported that May Belle Stephens and Eugene Mitchell were married at the Jackson Street mansion of the bride’s parents on November 8, 1892:
…the maid of honor, Miss Annie Stephens, was as pretty as a French pastel, in a directoire costume of yellow satin with a long coat of green velvet sleeves, and a vest of gold brocade…The bride was a fair vision of youthful loveliness in her robe of exquisite ivory white and satin…her slippers were white satin wrought with pearls…an elegant supper was served. The dining room was decked in white and green, illuminated with numberless candles in silver candlelabras…The bride’s gift from her father was an elegant house and lot…At 11 o’clock Mrs. Mitchell donned a pretty going-away gown of green English cloth with its jaunty velvet hat to match and bid goodbye to her friends.
→Thomas Mitchell & Mary Ann Barnett
→William Mitchell 1777–1859 & Eleanor Thomasson 1781–1860 (11 children—only Isaac shown below)
→Isaac Green Mitchell 1819–1881& Mary Ann Dudley 1808–1859 (at least 9 children—only Russell shown below)
→Russell Crawford Mitchell 1837–1905 & Deborah Margaret Sweet 1847–1887 (Margaret Mitchell’s paternal grandparents had 11 children—only Eugene shown below)
→Eugene Muse Mitchell 1866–1944 & May Belle Stephens 1872–1919 (Margaret Mitchell’s parents had 3 children—shown below)
→Russell Stephens Mitchell 1894–1894
→Alexander Stephens “Stephens” Mitchell 1896–1983
→Margaret Munnerlyn “Peggy” Mitchell 1900–1949
→James Fitzgerald 1759–1836 & Margaret O’Donnell (at least 9 children—only Philip shown below)
→Philip Fitzgerald 1798–1880 & Elenor Avaline McGhan 1818–1893 (3 of their 8 children shown below)
→Mary Ellen “Mamie” Fitzgerald 1840–1926
→Annie Elizabeth Fitzgerald 1844–1934 & John Stephens 1833–1896 (Margaret Mitchell’s maternal grandparents had 12 children—2 are shown below)
→Annie E. Stephens 1868–1910
→Mary Isabel “May Belle” Stephens 1872–1919 & Eugene Muse Mitchell 1866–1944
→Sarah “Sis” Fitzgerald 1848–1928
Margaret Mitchell spent her early childhood on Jackson Hill, east of downtown Atlanta.Her family lived near her grandmother, Annie Stephens, in a Victorian house painted bright red with yellow trim.Mrs. Stephens had been a widow for several years prior to Margaret’s birth; Captain John Stephens died in 1896.After his death, she inherited property on Jackson Street where Margaret’s family lived. Grandmother Annie Stephens was quite a character, both vulgar and a tyrant. After gaining control of her father Philip Fitzgerald’s money after he died, she splurged on her younger daughters, including Margaret’s mother, and sent them to finishing school in the north. There they learned that Irish Americans were not treated as equal to other immigrants, and that it was shameful to be a daughter of an Irishman. Margaret’s relationship with her grandmother would become quarrelsome in later years as she entered adulthood. However, for Margaret, her grandmother was a great source of “eye-witness information” about the Civil War and Reconstruction in Atlanta prior to her death in 1934.
Girlhood on Jackson Hill
Little Jimmy (1905) byJimmy Swinnerton
In an accident that was traumatic for her mother although she was unharmed, when little Margaret was about three years old, her dress caught fire on an iron grate. Fearing it would happen again, her mother began dressing her in boys’ pants, and she was nicknamed “Jimmy”, the name of a character in the comic strip, Little Jimmy.Her brother insisted she would have to be a boy named Jimmy to play with him. Having no sisters to play with, Margaret said she was a boy named Jimmy until she was fourteen.
Stephens Mitchell said his sister was a tomboy who would happily play with dolls occasionally, and she liked to ride her Texas plains pony.As a little girl, Margaret went riding every afternoon with a Confederate veteran and a young lady of “beau-age”.
Margaret was raised in an era when children were “seen and not heard”. She was not allowed to express her personality by running and screaming on Sunday afternoons while her family was visiting relatives. Her mother would swat her with a hairbrush or a slipper as a form of discipline.
May Belle Mitchell was “hissing blood curdling threats” to her daughter to make her behave the evening she took her to a women’s suffrage rally led by Carrie Chapman Catt. Margaret sat on a platform wearing a Votes-for-Women banner blowing kisses to the gentlemen while her mother gave an impassioned speech.She was nineteen years old when the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, which gave women the right to vote.
May Belle Mitchell was president of the Atlanta Woman’s Suffrage League (1915), chairwoman of press publicity for the Georgia Mothers’ Congress and Parent Teacher Association, a member of the Pioneer Society, the Atlanta Woman’s Club, and several church and literary societies.
Margaret’s father was not in favor of corporal punishment in school. During his tenure as president of the educational board (1911–1912), corporal punishment in the public schools was abolished. Reportedly, Eugene Mitchell received a whipping on the first day he attended school and the mental impression of the threshing lasted far longer than the physical marks.
Jackson Hill was an old, affluent part of the city. At the bottom of Jackson Hill was an area of African American homes and businesses called “Darktown“. The mayhem of theAtlanta Race Riot occurred over four days in September 1906 when Mitchell was five years old. Local newspapers alleged that several white women had been assaulted by black men, prompting an angry mob of 10,000 to assemble in the streets.
Eugene Mitchell went to bed early the night the rioting began, but was awakened by the sounds of gunshots. The following morning he learned 16 Negroes had been killed. He wrote to his wife that rioters attempted to kill every Negro in sight. As the rioting continued, rumors ran wild Negroes would burn Jackson Hill.At Margaret’s suggestion, her father, who did not own a gun, stood guard with a sword. Though she and her family were unharmed, Margaret was able to recall the terror she felt during the riot twenty years later. Mitchell grew up in a Southern culture where the threat of black on white rape incited mob violence, and in this world, white Georgians lived in fear of the “black beast rapist”.
Stereoscope card showing the business district on Peachtree Street ca. 1907. The Mitchells’ new home was about 3 miles from here.
Soon after the riot, Margaret’s family decided to move away from Jackson Hill.In 1912, they moved to the east side of Peachtree Street just north of Seventeenth Street in Atlanta. Past the nearest neighbor’s house was forest and beyond it the Chattahoochee River.Mitchell’s former Jackson Hill home was destroyed in the Great Atlanta Fire of 1917.
The South (of her imagination)
While “the South” exists as a geographical region of the United States, it is also said to exist as “a place of the imagination” of writers.An image of “the South” was fixed in Mitchell’s imagination when at six years old her mother took her on a buggy tour through ruined plantations and “Sherman’s sentinels”, the brick and stone chimneys that remained after William Tecumseh Sherman‘s “March and torch” through Georgia. Mitchell would later recall what her mother had said to her: She talked about the world those people had lived in, such a secure world, and how it had exploded beneath them. And she told me that my world was going to explode under me, someday, and God help me if I didn’t have some weapon to meet the new world. From an imagination cultivated in her youth, Margaret Mitchell’s defensive weapon would become her writing. Mitchell said she heard Civil War stories from her relatives when she was growing up: On Sunday afternoons when we went calling on the older generation of relatives, those who had been active in the Sixties, I sat on the bony knees of veterans and the fat slippery laps of great aunts and heard them talk. On summer vacations, she visited her maternal great-aunts, Mary Ellen (“Mamie”) Fitzgerald and Sarah (“Sis”) Fitzgerald, who still lived at her great-grandparents’ plantation home in Jonesboro. Mamie had been twenty-one years old and Sis was thirteen when the Civil War began.