Mary Johnston

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For other people named Mary Johnston, see Mary Johnston (disambiguation).
Mary Johnston
Portrait of Mary Johnston.jpg
Picture of Mary Johnston
Born (1870-11-21)November 21, 1870
Buchanan, Virginia
Died May 9, 1936(1936-05-09)
Occupation Novelist, activist
Subject Literature
Notable works To Have and to Hold

Mary Johnston (November 21, 1870 – May 9, 1936)[1] was an American novelist and women's rights advocate from Virginia. She was one of America's best selling authors during her writing career and had three silent films adapted from her novels.

Early life[edit]

The daughter of an American Civil War soldier who became a successful lawyer, Mary Johnston was born in the small town of Buchanan, Virginia. A small and frail girl, she was educated at home by family and tutors. She grew up with a love of books and was financially independent enough to devote herself to writing.

Career as novelist[edit]

Johnston wrote historical books and novels that often combined romance with history. Her first book Prisoners of Hope (1898) dealt with colonial times in Virginia as did her second novel To Have and to Hold (1900) and 1904's Sir Mortimer. The Goddess of Reason (1907) uses the theme of the French Revolution and in Lewis Rand (1908), the author portrayed political life at the dawn of the 19th century.

Mary Johnston.

To Have and to Hold was serialized in the The Atlantic Monthly in 1899 and published in 1900 by Houghton Mifflin. The book proved enormously popular and was the bestselling novel in the United States in 1900. Johnston's next work titled Audrey was the 5th bestselling book in the U.S. in 1902, and Sir Mortimer serialized in the Harper's Monthly Magazine from November 1903 through April 1904 and published in 1904. Her best-selling 1911 novel on the American Civil War, The Long Roll, brought her into open conflict with Stonewall Jackson's widow, Mary Anna Jackson.[2] Beyond her native America, Johnston's novels were also very popular in Canada and in England.

During her long career, in addition to twenty-three novels, Johnston wrote a number of short stories, one drama, and two long narrative poems. She used her fame to advocate women's rights, strongly supporting the women's suffrage movement.

Her book titled Hagar, considered to be one of the first feminist novels as well as somewhat autobiographical about Johnston herself, was published in 1913. Hagar captures the early days of women’s rights, as Johnston was very focused on female suffrage in the United States as demonstrated by her letters and correspondence with and from women working for the right to vote. But Hagar created a controversy among men and tradition-minded women, who were upset by the book’s progressive ideas. Many refused to purchase it, or subsequent Johnston novels.[3]

During her life, Johnston was close friends with Gone with the Wind author Margaret Mitchell, who once commented “I hesitate to write about the South after having read Mary Johnston.”[3]

Film adaptations[edit]

Three of Johnston's books were adapted to film. Audrey was made into a silent film of the same name in 1916 and her blockbuster work To Have and to Hold was made into a silent film in 1916 and filmed again in 1922. Pioneers of the Old South was adapted to film in 1923 under the title Jamestown.


Johnston died in 1936, at the age of 65, at her home in Warm Springs, Virginia.[1] She was interred in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.

Her house at Warm Springs, Three Hills, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013.[4] Her Richmond home on Linden Row was listed in 1971.[5]

Partial bibliography[edit]

  • Prisoners of Hope (1898)
  • By Order of the Company (1900)
  • To Have and to Hold (1900)
  • Audrey (1902)
  • Pioneers of the Old South (1903)
  • Sir Mortimer (1904)
  • The Goddess of Reason (1907)
  • Lewis Rand (1908)
  • The Long Roll (1911)
  • Cease Firing (1912)
  • Hagar (1913)
  • The Witch (1914)
  • The Fortunes of Garin (1915)
  • The Wanderers (1917)
  • Foes (1918)
  • Michael Forth (1919)
  • Sweet Rocket (1920)
  • Silver Cross (1921)
  • 1492 (1922)
  • The Great Valley (1926)
  • The Exile (1927)
  • Miss Delicia Allen (1932)


  1. ^ a b Kelly, William W. (2006). "Mary Johnston (1870-1936)". In Flora, Joseph M. Southern Writers: A New Biographical Dictionary. Vogel, Amber; Giemza, Bryan. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press. pp. 222–223. ISBN 0-8071-3123-7. Retrieved June 24, 2010. 
  2. ^ Hettle, Wallace (Spring 2008). "Mary Johnston and "Stonewall" Jackson: A Virginia Feminist and the Politics of Historical Fiction" (PDF). Journal of Historical Biography 3. 
  3. ^ a b Cox Bryan, Mollie (March 3, 2016). "Ahead of her Time". Virginia Living. Cape Fear Publishing. Retrieved June 27, 2016. 
  4. ^ "National Register of Historic Places Listings". Weekly List of Actions Taken on Properties: 2/04/13 through 2/08/13. National Park Service. 2014-01-03. 
  5. ^ Staff (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 

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