Literary Classics 

Fiddle-dee-dee!
Margaret Mitchell turns 100
by Joyce Dixon

 

Margaret Mitchell (born November 8, 1900) was more than a southern belle who published one book, Gone With the Wind.  Atlanta's Peggy Mitchell was raised with family stories of patriotism and war -- from the Irish Rebellions to World War I influenced the stories she wrote as a girl.  She was given social conscience from her parents.  Her mother was a suffragist and her father was a lawyer and president of the Atlanta Historical Society.

Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell (center) with Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, David O. Selznick, and Olivia de Havilland.

Photo Credit: University of Georgia Hargrett Library

 

The spirited girl dressed in knickers and called herself "Jimmy."  She wrote, directed and staged plays in the family's front parlor rooms.  Yet, her desire to serve others was strong.  Mitchell was studying medicine at Smith College, when she was called home at the death of her mother.  She did charity work in the black and poor wards at Grady Hospital, an act that barred her admission into the Junior League. 

In December of 1922, Peggy Mitchell joined the staff of the Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine.  The ex-debutant was expected to be fickle, but she was often the first one there and an eager reporter for all assignments.  Besides the items on fashion and profiles of Georgia women in history, Mitchell entered Atlanta's darker side for stories on mental health, prison inmates, and the poor.  She was the Atlanta Journal's first woman to report hard news.   

Her career as a journalist was cut short in 1926 from arthritis in her ankles and feet.  She spent most of her time reading library books, until her husband John Marsh brought a typewriter home and suggested that Mitchell write her own book.  Gone With the Wind, originally titled "Tomorrow is Another Day," was written in apartment number one of what is now the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum. 

In 1935 her friend Lois Cole, who worked for McMillan Publishing Company, asked to show Mitchell's manuscript to a visiting book editor Harold Latham.  Spellbound by her novel, Latham bought it.  Gone With the Wind was published in June 1936 and by October had sold one million copies.  Hollywood producer David O. Selznick bought the film rights and the search for Scarlett began. 

In 1937, Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind won the Pulitzer Prize.   In December of 1939, the movie premiered in Atlanta. 

After the success of Gone With the Wind, Mitchell turned her energies to volunteer projects.  Her activities included:

  • Sponsored undergraduate and medical school education of fifty Morehouse College graduates.
  • Credited by Hughes Spalding with the inspiration for the Hugh Spalding Pavilion at Grady Hospital.
  • Funded black and white emergency clinics at Grady Hospital.
  • Campaigned across the Southeast and raised $65 million to rebuild USS Atlanta after it sank at Guadalcanal.
  • Helped to rebuild French town of Vimontiers after World War II.
  • Supported police chief Herbert Jenkins in intergrating Atlanta Police Department.
  • Led creative writing program at Atlanta Federal Penitentiary.
  • Covered medical expenses for many nuns associated with the Sisters of Mercy of St. Joseph's Infirmary.
  • Nursed friends, relatives, and households help at bedside at Grady Hospital and St. Joseph's.

On August 11, 1949 Margaret Mitchell was hit by an off-duty cab driver as she crossed Peachtree Street at 13th.  She died from internal injuries several days later at Grady Hospital.  Margaret Mitchell is buried in the Mitchell family plot at Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta. 

Though her will asked for all her unpublished writings to be destroyed at her death, some items missed that fate as they were discovered in recent years.  Lost Laysen, a romance set in the South Pacific, was written when Mitchell was sixteen and given to a close friend.  It was published in 1995.  Jane Eskridge and Wailes Thomas, two school teachers, discovered the girlhood journals and short stories of Peggy Mitchell in items inherited from Thomas' mother's home in Atlanta.  Eskridge edited the writings into Before Scarlett: Girlhood Writings of Margaret Mitchell.  The articles Peggy Mitchell wrote during her years as an Atlanta Journal reporter have been compiled by Patrick Allen into the book Margaret Mitchell: Reporter.  These works and the various biographies written about Margaret Mitchell give insight into the woman behind Gone With the Wind.


Centennial Events

November 7, 2000    

"Margaret Mitchell: Reporter" Exhibit at Margaret Mitchell House and Museum displaying items from her years as a reporter for the Atlanta Journal.  The exhibit will be open till further notice.

November 14, 2000

"Benjamin Mays and Margaret Mitchell: A Unique Legacy in Race Relations."  Morehouse College in Atlanta will host a forum to celebrate Mitchell's financial contribution to the education of black doctors.  The event begins at noon.

 

 

Margaret Mitchell (standing in center) as a member of the Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine staff.  Photo Credit: University of Georgia Hargrett Library

Sites of Interest

Margaret Mitchell House and Museum

Gone With the Wind - Official Movie Site

Margaret Mitchell: Georgia Women of Achievement

Margaret Mitchell: Georgia Writers Hall of Fame

Margaret Mitchell Forum


Selected Books 

Margaret Mitchell, Reporter, edited by Patrick Allen. Hill Street Press, 2000.  

       Hill Street Press, 2000.  
 
       Marianne Walker.  Peachtree Publishers, 2000.
 
      Ghost Tours, 1999.
 
       Mercer University Press, 1999.  
 
       Clares & Petry, 1996.

Gone With the Wind: 60th Anniversary Edition, by Margaret Mitchell. Scribner, 1996.

Gone With the Wind (DVD), 1939.

Lost Laysen, by Margaret Mitchell. Scribner, 1997. Reprint Edition.


2000 Joyce Dixon, All Rights Reserved

Margaret Mitchell Photo Credits: University of Georgia Hargrett Library