Mary Johnston

Bath County
Writer and Suffragist

While growing up, Mary Johnston (November 21, 1870–May 9, 1936) read widely and developed a deep love of Virginia's history and landscape. She used the setting of 17th-century Virginia for her first two novels, Prisoners of Hope (1898) and To Have and to Hold (1900), which became a best seller that was twice made into silent movies. Her Civil War novels, The Long Roll (1911), and Cease Firing (1912) were critically acclaimed. A popular author of almost two dozen novels, Johnston purchased property at Warm Springs, in Bath County, and built a large house there in 1913.

As one of the most successful female authors early in the 20th century, Johnston used her fame in support of the woman suffrage movement. She joined the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia when it was founded in 1909 and published several essays advocating voting rights for women. She regularly spoke on behalf of suffrage throughout the state and was often a featured speaker at national suffrage conventions and events, including the March 1913 parade in Washington, D.C. When she spoke to the nation's governors at a 1912 convention, she expressed her belief that the "indestructible" movement for women's rights "is going to revolutionize the world." The progressive ideals that she presented in her pioneering feminist novel Hagar (1913) generated controversy and her popularity began to decline.

Johnston retired from most political activity about 1915, but she continued to express her keen interest in social reform through her writing until her death.