Preston, Margaret Junkin, 1820-1897

Alternative names
Birth 1820-05-19
Death 1897-03-28

Biographical notes:

Epithet: of Finingham

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000000614.0x000278

Margaret Junkin Preston (1820-1897) of Lexington, Va., was a poet and author.

From the description of Margaret Junkin Preston papers, 1812-1892, 1938, 1997. (Oceanside Free Library). WorldCat record id: 24599967

American author.

From the description of Papers of Margaret Junkin Preston [manuscript], 1889-1893, n.d. (University of Virginia). WorldCat record id: 647870329

Preston was the daughter of George Junkin, Washington College president, 1848-1861, and the wife of John T. L. Preston, professor at Virginia Military Institute, as well as a well-known poet.

From the description of Papers, ca.1839-1872. (Washington & Lee University). WorldCat record id: 567359557

From the description of Scrapbooks. (Washington & Lee University). WorldCat record id: 263416479

From the description of Papers. (Washington & Lee University). WorldCat record id: 567359564

Lexington (Rockbridge Co.) Va. resident.

From the description of Papers, 1864. (Duke University Library). WorldCat record id: 36115939

Margaret Junkin Preston (1820-1897) was a poet and author. Preston was the oldest child of the Reverend George Junkin and Julia Rush Junkin. At the time of Margaret's birth, her father was a minister of the Associate Reformed Church in Milton, Pa. Margaret was educated at home, chiefly by her father, who taught her Greek and Latin and encouraged her reading. When she was ten years old, the family moved to Germantown, Pa., where for two years Junkin was head of a manual labor school. In 1832, he went to Easton, Pa., to be president of the newly founded Lafayette College. He resigned in 1841 to become president of Miami University at Oxford, Ohio; in 1844, he was recalled to Lafayette. He left Easton in 1848 to accept a call to the presidency of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) at Lexington, Va.

By the time she was 21, Margaret had a serious visual disability. She continued her interest in literature, however, and wrote prose narratives, some of which won prizes. She lived for nine years in her father's house at Lexington. In 1853, her sister Eleanor married Major Thomas Jonathan Jackson, professor of mathematics at the Virginia Military Institute, who later was famous as Stonewall Jackson. Eleanor died only 14 months after her marriage. In 1857, Margaret became the wife of another member of the Virginia Military Institute faculty, Major John Thomas Lewis Preston (1811-1890). Major Preston, a widower with several young children, was professor of Latin in the Institute. Two sons were born of this marriage.

The Civil War divided Margaret Preston's family. Her father and sister sympathized with the North and left Lexington. Her husband and her brother-in-law became officers in the Confederate army. Major Preston was commissioned lieutenant-colonel and became adjutant-general on the staff of General Jackson.

Margaret's first published book, a prose tale entitled Silverwood, a Book of Memories, appeared anonymously in 1856. During the Civil War, she wrote a verse narrative of the war years under the title Beechenbrook, a Rhyme of the War. This was printed in Richmond in 1865 and nearly the whole edition was burned when the city was evacuated. It was reprinted in Baltimore in 1866. In 1870, J. B. Lippincott published her Old Song and New, and in 1875 a volume of verse entitled Cartoons, containing her most successful poetry was issued in Boston.

At the end of the Civil War, John Preston returned to his professorship at Virginia Military Institute, which he held until 1882, when at the age of 70, he retired. From 1874 to 1888, the Prestons spent their summers at the home of Colonel William Allan, principal of the McDonogh School near Baltimore and husband of Margaret Junkin Preston's step-daughter. In 1884, with her husband and other family members, Preston made an extensive trip abroad. Her husband died in 1890, and, from 1892 until her death in 1897, Preston lived in Baltimore at the home of her son, Dr. George J. Preston. She was buried in Lexington, Va.

For additional biographical information, see the Dictionary of American Biography ; E. P. Allan, Life and Letters of Margaret Junkin Preston (1903); and Mary P. Coulling, Margaret Junkin Preston: A Biography (1993).

From the guide to the Margaret Junkin Preston Papers (#1543), 1812-1892, 1938, 1997, (Southern Historical Collection)


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  • Women--Diaries
  • Women poets, American--19th century
  • Health resorts--History--19th century
  • Diaries (Blank-books)
  • Jessica (Fictitious character : Shakespeare)--Manuscripts
  • Women--Social life and customs
  • Poets, American--19th century
  • Lorenzo (Fictitious character : Shakespeare)--Manuscripts
  • American literature--Women authors


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  • London, England (as recorded)
  • North Elmham, Norfolk (as recorded)
  • Rockbridge Alum Springs (Rockbridge, Va.) (as recorded)
  • Virginia (as recorded)
  • Hot Springs (Va.) (as recorded)