The Story of a Life in Writer Margaret Mitchell’s Atlanta Home

The Story of a Life in Writer Margaret Mitchell’s Atlanta Home
Photo: AP
Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh play Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara, center, in the 1939 movie "Gone With the Wind"

DOUG JOHNSON: Welcome to American Mosaic in VOA Special English.


I'm Doug Johnson. This week on our program, we play music from Shakira's new album ...

We also answer a question about the Smithsonian Institution ...

But first we explore the former home of a great American writer.

Margaret Mitchell House

(MUSIC: "Gone with the Wind" Theme)

DOUG JOHNSON: The writer Margaret Mitchell is best known for writing "Gone with the Wind," published in nineteen thirty-six. Her book, and the movie based on it, tell a story of love and survival during the American Civil War. Visitors to the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta, Georgia, can see where she lived when she started writing it and learn more about her own life. Shirley Griffith has our story.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Our first stop at the Margaret Mitchell House is an exhibit area telling about the writer's life. Margaret Munnerlyn Mitchell was born in Atlanta in nineteen hundred. She started writing stories when she was a child. Her interest in writing continued as an adult. She started working as a reporter for the Atlanta Journal newspaper in nineteen twenty-two.

One photograph of Ms. Mitchell, called Peggy, shows her talking to a group of young college boys. She was only about one and a half meters tall. The young men tower over her, but she seems very happy and sure of herself. The tour guide explains:

TOUR GUIDE: "Now in this picture Peggy is interviewing some boys from Georgia Tech, asking them such questions as ‘Would you really marry a woman who works?' And today it'd be ‘Would you marry one who didn't?"

The Margaret Mitchell House is a building that once contained several apartments. Now we enter the first floor apartment where Ms. Mitchell lived with her husband, John Marsh. They made fun of the small apartment by calling it "The Dump."

TOUR GUIDE: "Come on in...This is The Dump..."

John Marsh had an important influence on "Gone with the Wind." Around nineteen twenty-six, Margaret Mitchell had stopped working as a reporter and was at home healing after an injury.

Her husband brought her books to read from the library. She read so many books that he bought her a typewriter and said it was time for her to write her own book.

A photo of Margaret Mitchell from 1937
A photo of Margaret Mitchell from 1937

Margaret Mitchell grew up hearing stories about Atlanta and the Civil War from soldiers who had fought for the South. These stories would greatly influence her book. The main character in "Gone with the Wind" is Scarlett O'Hara. The book begins when she is a young woman and follows her through the difficulties of the war. It tells about her love for two men, Ashley Wilkes and Rhett Butler.

Our guide says Ms. Mitchell wrote the book in a surprising order.

TOUR GUIDE: "She always said she wrote the last chapter of ‘Gone with the Wind' first. So think about it. Rhett Butler had to be created somewhere here."

"Gone with the Wind" became a huge success. Margaret Mitchell received the Pulitzer Prize for the book. In nineteen thirty-nine the film version was released. It won ten Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The museum has several objects used in the filming of the movie "Gone with the Wind." These include the doorway of Tara, Scarlett O'Hara's family home, and a painting of Scarlett owned by Rhett Butler.


The Smithsonian Institution

DOUG JOHNSON: Our listener question this week comes from Argentina. Manuel Madrid wants to know about the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

James Smithson was a wealthy English scientist who lived during the late seventeen hundreds and early eighteen hundreds. He left directions about what to do with his money when he died if his only family member died without having a child. Smithson wanted his money to be given to the United States to start an organization in Washington designed to increase and spread knowledge. He did not say why he wanted to give his money to the United States. He had never visited America.

James Smithson died in eighteen twenty-nine. In eighteen thirty-eight, his gift was brought to the United States. It was one hundred thousand gold coins, valued at more than five hundred thousand dollars.

Eight years later, in eighteen forty-six, President James Polk signed legislation to create the Smithsonian Institution.

Today the Smithsonian Institution is the largest museum complex and research organization in the world. It includes nineteen museums. Two of them are in New York City. The National Zoo in Washington is also part of the Smithsonian, as are nine research centers around the world.

A view of the Smithsonian Castle in Washington
A view of the Smithsonian Castle in Washington

However, most people think of the Smithsonian as the large buildings along the wide grassy area in the center of Washington known as the National Mall. These buildings are home to the Smithsonian's largest museums. They include the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of Natural History, the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian. There are also museums for Asian, African and American art.

The Smithsonian Institution has almost one hundred forty million objects, creatures and works of art. Only some of them can be seen at any one time. They include the world's first airplane. A rock from the moon. The largest diamond in the world. President Abraham Lincoln's hat. And the ruby slippers Judy Garland wore in "The Wizard of Oz" movie.

The Smithsonian's main goal is to create lifelong memories of discovery for its visitors.? About thirty million people visit every year. You can also visit the Smithsonian online at


Shakira: "Sale el Sol"

DOUG JOHNSON: Colombian singer and songwriter Shakira was on the popular American show "Dancing with the Stars" Tuesday night. She danced and she performed her new single, "Loca." The crowd went crazy -- which is what "loca" means in Spanish. The song is from Shakira's new album, "Sale el Sol" or "The Sun Comes Out," which was released on Tuesday. And Shakira is also performing around the United States right now. Faith Lapidus has more.


FAITH LAPIDUS: That is the title song from Shakira's ninth album, "Sale el Sol." It has songs in Spanish and English. Shakira says the album represents the way she is now. She says it shows her state of mind as an artist and a woman.

Shakira's Sale el Sol

Some critics said her last album, "She Wolf," was missing Shakira's Latin sound and spirit. "Sale el Sol" is a sure return. Most of the songs are in Spanish. And the music has a clear tropical Latin beat. You can hear it in "Rabiosa."


Shakira says she also re-discovered her romantic side on "Sale el Sol." Her performance of "Lo Que Más" suggests the pain and longing of a lost love.


Shakira is famous for her powerful voice and energetic dance skills. We leave you with the English version of "Loca" from "Sale el Sol."


DOUG JOHNSON: I'm Doug Johnson. Our program was written by Dana Demange and Caty Weaver, who also was our producer.

If you have a question about American life, write to We might answer your question on this show. So be sure to include your name and country.

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio magazine in Special English.