Preston, Margaret Junkin (1820–1897)

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Preston, Margaret Junkin (1820–1897)

American poet. Born Margaret Junkin on May 19, 1820, in Milton, Pennsylvania; died on March 28, 1897, in Baltimore, Maryland; first of eight children of George Junkin (a minister and educator) and Julia Rush (Miller) Junkin; sister of Eleanor Junkin (d. 1854, first wife of General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson); schooled at home: married John T. L. Preston (a professor of Latin), on August 3, 1857; children: two sons, George Junkin and Herbert Rush, and seven stepchildren.

A Northerner who made her reputation as a Southern poet, Margaret Junkin Preston was born in 1820 in Milton, Pennsylvania, the first of eight children of George and Julia Rush Junkin . Margaret's father, an educator and Presbyterian minister, provided for her schooling at home, teaching her Latin and Greek, as well as English literature and theology. Despite eye problems which frequently made it difficult for her to read and write (possibly the result of a childhood illness), Preston began her literary pursuits at an early age, winning prizes for her stories and verses, which were also published in magazines and newspapers. The family moved South in 1848, when George became president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia. It was there that Margaret wrote her first and only novel, Silverwood, a story of Southern life, which was published anonymously in 1856. She was offered additional money if she would allow the use of her name, but she refused.

In 1857, Margaret married John T.L. Preston, a professor of Latin at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington and a widower with seven children ranging in age from 5 to 22. Inheriting such a large family, and subsequently adding two sons of her own, Preston had little time for her career. (In a letter to Charleston poet Paul Hamilton Hayne in 1869, she described writing verses amid a "thousand petty housewifely distractions.") She produced her second book, Beechenbrook: A Rhyme of the War, during the period of the Civil War, at which time she remained loyal to her husband and to the Confederacy, although one of her brothers joined the Union Army and her father and a sister returned to Pennsylvania. (Her sister Eleanor Junkin , who had died in 1854, had been married to General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.) This caused a painful split in the family which Preston made mention of only in her personal diary. Beechenbrook focused on the wife of a Southern soldier who is killed in the war, and was published in Richmond in 1865. Republished in 1866 and 1867, the book solidified Preston's literary reputation throughout the South.

Preston produced four additional collections, including Old Song and New (1870), Cartoons (1875), For Love's Sake (1886), and Colonial Ballads, Sonnets, and Other Verse (1887). Her poetry, according to Robert H. Land in Notable American Women, was strongly influenced by the contemporary British and American poets she favored, particularly Robert Browning. In addition to poetry, Preston wrote a series of travel sketches, A Handful of Monographs (1886), following a trip to Europe in the summer of 1884. After the war, she produced two pieces for Century magazine: "Personal Reminiscences of Stonewall Jackson" (October 1886) and "General Lee after the War" (June 1889). Preston lived in Lexington until the death of her husband in 1890, when she moved to Baltimore to reside with her eldest son. She died there on March 28, 1897.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

suggested reading:

Coulling, Mary Price. Margaret Junkin Preston: A Biography. Winston-Salem, NC: Blair, 1993.

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Preston, Margaret Junkin (1820–1897)

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