Mary Johnston

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Mary Johnston
Johnston no later than 1900
Johnston no later than 1900
Born (1870-11-21)November 21, 1870
Buchanan, Virginia
Died (1936-05-09)May 9, 1936
Warm Springs, Virginia
Occupation Novelist, activist
Nationality American
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]

Mary Johnston was born in the small town of Buchanan, Virginia, the eldest child of John William Johnston, an American Civil War veteran, and Elizabeth Dixon Alexander Johnston. Due to frequent illness, she was educated at home by family and tutors.[2] She grew up with a love of books and was financially independent enough to devote herself to writing.


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 later, Sir Mortimer (1904). 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.

Portrait published in 1909

To Have and to Hold was serialized in The Atlantic Monthly in 1899 and published in book form 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 fifth bestselling book in the U.S. in 1902, and Sir Mortimer, serialized in Harper's Monthly magazine from November 1903 through April 1904, was published in 1904. Her best-selling 1911 novel on the American Civil War, The Long Roll, brought Johnston into open conflict with Stonewall Jackson's widow, Mary Anna Jackson.[3] Beyond her native America, Johnston's novels were also very popular in Canada and in England.

During her long career Johnston wrote, in addition to 23 novels, numerous short stories, two long narrative poems, and one play. She used her fame to advocate for women's rights and strongly supported the women's suffrage movement.

Her book titled Hagar (1913), considered to be one of the first feminist novels as well as somewhat autobiographical, captures the early days of women's rights. Johnston's deep focus on female suffrage in the United States is documented by her letters and correspondence with 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 and subsequent Johnston novels.[4]

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."[4]

Film adaptations[edit]

Three of Johnston's books were adapted to film. Audrey was made into a 1916 silent film of the same name, and her blockbuster work To Have and to Hold was made into silent films both in 1916 and in 1922. Pioneers of the Old South was adapted as the film Jamestown (1923).[5][6]

Death and legacy[edit]

Three Hills, Johnston's home in Warm Springs, Virginia, 1915

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.

Three Hills, her house at Warm Springs, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013.[7] Her Richmond home on Linden Row was listed in 1971.[8]

Selected works[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. ^ Brooks, Clayton McClure, Samuel P. Menefee and Brendan Wolfe. Encyclopedia Virginia. "Mary Johnston (1870–1936)". Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. 2014-03-20. 
  3. ^ Hettle, Wallace (Spring 2008). "Mary Johnston and "Stonewall" Jackson: A Virginia Feminist and the Politics of Historical Fiction" (PDF). Journal of Historical Biography. 3. 
  4. ^ a b Cox Bryan, Mollie (March 3, 2016). "Ahead of her Time". Virginia Living. Cape Fear Publishing. Retrieved June 27, 2016. 
  5. ^ Jamestown. 1923. 
  6. ^ Jamestown. 1923. 
  7. ^ "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. 
  8. ^ National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 

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