Margaret Munnerlyn Mitchell was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on November 8, 1900, a fifth-generation Atlantan. Her father, Eugene Muse Mitchell, was an attorney and historian of Scotch-Irish and French Huguenot descent. Her mother, Mary Isabelle "Maybelle" Stephens, was of Irish-Catholic ancestry. Maybelle was also an active supporter of the suffragette movement, and her daughter was to adopt her feminist leanings.
Mitchell grew up listening to family stories of ancestors who had fought in the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) and the Civil War (1861-1865). She also heard stories of the Civil War from her parents and great aunts, who lived at the family's rural home in Jonesboro, Georgia, and from Confederate veterans with whom she would ride in the countryside around Atlanta. At the age of fifteen, Mitchell wrote in her journal: "If I were a boy, I would try for West Point, if I could make it, or well I'd be a prize fighter - anything for the thrills."
Mitchell attended the Washington Seminary, a private school, where she failed to shine. One day, she told her mother that she could not understand mathematics and would not be going back to school. Maybelle dragged her daughter to a road where grand plantation houses had fallen into ruin. She told the girl, "It's happened before and it will happen again. And when it does happen, everyone loses everything and everyone is equal. They all start again with nothing at all except the cunning of their brain and the strength of their hands."
Mitchell did go back to school. She enrolled in Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts in 1918, to study medicine. Her fiance, Clifford Henry, was killed while serving in World War I in France. In 1919, Maybelle Mitchell died in a flu epidemic and Mitchell left college to keep house for her father and older brother, Stephens.
By 1922, Mitchell was a "Flapper" much involved in the social scene of the new Jazz Age. She was pursued by two men, Berrien "Red" Upshaw, an ex-football player and bootlegger, and newspaperman John R. Marsh. She married Upshaw in September 1922. Upshaw's uncertain income led her to get a job as a reporter for The Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine, where Marsh was an editor and her mentor. Margaret's marriage to Upshaw was stormy and short-lived, culminating in marital rape. They divorced in October 1924. Less than a year later, she married Marsh. After her marriage, Margaret retained her maiden name of Mitchell, a decision that scandalized some members of Atlanta society. The couple lived in a cramped apartment at Peachtree Street - nicknamed by Mitchell "The Dump." The house is preserved as the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum.
In 1926, Mitchell gave up her job at the newspaper to convalesce from injuries sustained in a series of automobile accidents. She began writing her great and only novel, Gone With the Wind, to stave off boredom, never intending it to be published. However, an editor with the publishing company Macmillan read the manuscript and encouraged her to publish it. The book was published in 1936 and became an immediate bestseller. In six months it sold a record-breaking one million copies, and to date, it has outsold every other book except the Bible. Mitchell won the Pulitzer Prize for the novel in May 1937.
The novel was made into a famous film starring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable, which premiered at Loew's Grand Theater in Atlanta on December 15, 1939. Mitchell and all the stars attended.
During World War II, Mitchell became a volunteer selling war bonds and a volunteer and spokesperson for the American Red Cross.
On August 11, 1949, Mitchell was hit by a car while crossing Peachtree street near her home. She died five days later and is buried in Atlanta's Oakland Cemetery.