Facsimile of 1904 Edition

      Marcia Muth
      The words “Pioneer Women” conjure up a ready image: prairie wagons, hardships on the trail and bravery in the face of danger. Above all else it calls up the image of determination. Pioneer women are not, however, confined to a particular era or area. There have always been pioneer women and in each generation that tradition continues.
            Mary Austin was one of those pioneer women. She had an instinctive drive to break away from the constraining customs of the time. She had the determination to seek a life in literature, and social and political action rather than the prescribed domestic life of her time. She was a crusader and reformer who promoted the rights of women and the preservation of Hispanic and Native American culture. Austin was concerned about education and was one of the first to write about environmental issues.
            She was born in Carlinville, Illinois in 1868 and even as a child felt that she had a special destiny to fulfill. Educated at Blackburn College, she graduated in 1888. She had insisted on her right to go to college at a time when women were not encouraged to seek higher education. The popular theory was that the mental stress of higher education would be detrimental to a woman’s physical health. Her two years of college prepared her to be a teacher.
            After moving to California with her family soon after graduation, Austin taught school. In 1890, she married a fellow teacher, Stafford Wallace Austin. It was an unhappy marriage. In fact, she said that she considered her marriage “a total disappointment.” At this same time she became interested in community affairs, labor problems and writing. She discovered people of similar interests in Carmel, California. Seeing a wider world ahead, Austin solved her personal problems by walking away from her marriage. Later they were divorced.
            Despite the large size of the country, there was a strong sense of unity among the writers. They kept in touch with each other, they shared lectures, suggested publications and gathered together whenever possible. There were several major centers of literary activity in the county: New York, Chicago, Taos and Santa Fe, New Mexico and parts of California. One of Austin’s first literary friends was Charles Lummis who gave her advice and helped her to place her first manuscripts. Later, Mabel Dodge Luhan invited her to come to New Mexico.
            Austin became known as a lecturer and writer on issues of social justice. However, she did not limit herself to those subjects but also wrote novels, plays, short stories and poetry. In all, she wrote thirty books and more than 200 articles.
            Although her first visit to New Mexico was short, she later returned and built a home in Santa Fe where she lived until her death in 1934. In New Mexico, she was an activist in promoting causes associated with both the Hispanic and the Native American peoples. Her home became a welcoming place for visitors like Willa Cather and Ansel Adams.
            Her most popular book, The Land of Little Rain, was first published in 1903 and became known as an American Southwest classic. It is still considered to be one of the best descriptions of Western desert life.
            In her autobiography, Earth Horizon, she said this about her work: “I wrote what I lived, what I had observed and understood.”