Mary Hunter Austin

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"Mary Austin" redirects here. For other persons with that name, see Mary Austin (disambiguation).
Austin circa 1900
(Photo by Charles Fletcher Lummis)

Mary Hunter Austin (September 9, 1868 – August 13, 1934) was an American writer. One of the early nature writers of the American Southwest, her classic The Land of Little Rain (1903) describes the fauna, flora and people – as well as evoking the mysticism and spirituality – of the region between the High Sierra and the Mojave Desert of southern California.


Mary Hunter Austin was born on September 9, 1868 in Carlinville, Illinois (the fourth of six children) to George and Susannah (Graham) Hunter. She graduated from Blackburn College in 1888. Her family moved to California in the same year and established a homestead in the San Joaquin Valley. Mary married Stafford Wallace Austin on May 18, 1891 in Bakersfield, California. He was from Hawaii and a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley.

For 17 years Austin made a special study of Indian life in the Mojave Desert, and her publications set forth the intimate knowledge she thus acquired. She was a prolific novelist, poet, critic, and playwright, as well as an early feminist and defender of Native American and Spanish-American rights. She is best known for her tribute to the deserts of California, The Land of Little Rain (1903). Her play, The Arrow Maker, dealing with Indian life, was produced at the New Theatre, (New York) in 1911, the same year she published a rhapsodic tribute to her acquaintance H.G. Wells as a producer of "informing, vitalizing, indispensable books" in the American Magazine.

photo of Mary Hunter Austin's home in Independence, CA
Mary Hunter Austin wrote about her Independence, CA home in The Land of Little Rain.

Austin and her husband were involved in the local California Water Wars, in which the water of Owens Valley was eventually drained to supply Los Angeles. When their battle was lost, he moved to Death Valley, California, and she moved to Carmel, California. There she was part of a social circle that included Jack London, Ambrose Bierce, and George Sterling and was one of the founders of the Forest Theater.

After visiting Santa Fe in 1918, Austin helped establish the Community Theatre there[1] and directed the group's first production held February 14, 1919 at the art museum's St. Francis Auditorium.[2]

In 1929, while living in New Mexico, Austin co-authored a book with photographer Ansel Adams. Published a year later, the book, Taos Pueblo, was printed in a limited edition of only 108 copies. It is now quite rare because it included actual photographs made by Adams rather than reproductions.[3]

Austin died August 13, 1934 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Mount Mary Austin, in the Sierra Nevada, was named in her honor.[4] It is located 8.5 miles west of her longtime home in Independence, California. A biography was published in 1939.[5]


  • A 1950 edition of The Land of Little Rain and a 1977 edition of Taos Pueblo each included photographs by Ansel Adams.
  • The Austins' home in Independence, California is now a historical landmark. It was designed and built by the couple.
  • A teleplay of The Land of Little Rain was written by Doris Baizley and presented on American Playhouse in 1989. It starred Helen Hunt.



  1. ^ Cline, Lynn (2007). Literay Pilgrims : The Santa Fe and Taos Writers' Colonies 1917–1950. University of New Mexico Press. p. 48. ISBN 9780826338518. 
  2. ^ Weigle, Marta (1982). Santa Fe & Taos : The Writer's Era 1916–1941. Santa Fe. NM: Ancient City Press. p. 155. ISBN 0941270084. 
  3. ^ Hammond, Ann (2002). Ansel Adams: Devine Performance. New Haven: Yale University Press. pp. 20–22. ISBN 0-300-09241-5. 
  4. ^ "Mount Mary Austin". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. 
  5. ^ Helen McKnight Doyle, Mary Austin: Woman of Genius (New York: Gotham House, 1939).
  6. ^ "Fire: a drama in three acts". Playbook 2 (5–7). Oct–Dec 1914. OCLC 17287569 and 593527817
  7. ^ Performed as an outdoor pageant at Tahquitz Canyon, Palm Springs, California in 1921. Culver, Lawrence (2010 & 2012). The Frontier of Leisure: Southern California and the Shaping of Modern America. Oxford University Press. p. 162. ISBN 978-0199891924.  Check date values in: |date= (help) OCLC 464581464 and 811404022

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