May 8, 1835 - May 9, 1909
Augusta Jane Evans Wilson was born in Columbus, Ga., to well-to-do parents. When her father’s business went bankrupt in the 1840s economic depression, the family moved, first to Texas, then to Mobile, Ala., where she spent the rest of her life. Wilson had little formal education, but her mother educated her at home and encouraged intellectual pursuits. She began writing as a way to supplement the family’s income. Her second novel, Beulah, published in 1859, sold well and was well received by critics. Wilson’s Christian faith influenced her writing, which tended to feature virtuous heroines who educated themselves by individual studies and then gave up their studies to accept their roles as Christian wives.
Wilson’s devotion to the Southern cause was so strong that, in 1860, she broke off her engagement to a Northern journalist because of his support for Lincoln. During the Civil War, she wrote for a Mobile newspaper and nursed Confederate soldiers in a hospital she helped organize. Her novel Macaria, which idealized the sacrifices of Confederate women, was so popular that a Union general banned it from his ranks and confiscated and burned copies of it. Her novel St. Elmo was the third most popular nineteenth-century American novel, after Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Ben-Hur. In 1868, she married a wealthy older widower and neighbor. She continued to write, in addition to managing his household, but her later novels were not as popular. Wilson died at age seventy-four and was buried in Mobile’s Magnolia Cemetery amid the graves of Confederate soldiers.
Augusta Jane Evans Wilson was one of the nineteenth century’s best-selling authors and a national celebrity. The sales of her domestic novels made her one of the first women in America to generate a substantial income from her writing. Although she was conservative in religious, social, and political matters, her books advocated the importance of women’s intellectual development.
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Photo by W. A. Reed; from Life and Works of Augusta Evans Wilson, by Sidney C. Phillips, 1937.
Last updated on May 30, 2008.