Bohemian WriterBorn in Carlinsville, Illinois, Mary Austin ventured west with her brother and widowed mother to homestead in California. She was trained as a teacher, so, in addition to trying to grow crops on the arid soil she earned money by teaching. She also became fascinated by the native American culture she discovered.
She fell in love and married another teacher and had a baby girl who apparently suffered from some mental deficiency. Emily Hahn, in her history of American bohemianism, Romantic Rebels picks up the story:
[Austin's] husband had known that there was a chance that any infant he fathered would be like this-- the taint ran in his family. He had never told Mary, and now, when she asked him why he hadn't, he replied loftily, 'In our family we don't talk about such things." That did it. Mary put the little girl into an institution and left her husband.
After leaving her family, Mary entered the Bay Area's bohemian vortex. She wrote books such as The Land of Little Rain (1902) which told the story of her homesteading experiences with the Indians.
Richard Miller in Bohemia: The Protoculture Then and Now describes Mary Austin:
Free-loving, neurotic, homely, hair to her waist, considered eccentric even by her contemporaries, she had a writing platform in a tree and while walking through the woods or the streets of Monterey often wore Grecian robes, possibly less for romantic reasons than to conceal a squat figure.
But Emily Hahn sees Austin as less a true bohemian, more of an observer, "a dweller by the roadside that leads to bohemia." She was one of the early settlers of the Monterey-Carmel area south of San Francisco. This community of artists would quickly grow as George Sterling, Jack London, Henry Laffler, and Ambrose Beirce sought out the more rural landscape to do their work.
Austin left the Carmel bohemian vortex in 1912 to travel in Europe where she met Isadora Duncan. Eventually she settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico. When she died she was buried according to her specifications on a mountain overlooking the land she loved.
The fate of her daughter is unknown.
Mary AustinNo Cosmic Record Austin is the Dharma Beat's General Manager
1997 Dharma Beats Roster
1997 Mary Austin Cosmic Player Plate
Published: December 24, 1996
© 1996, 1997 by the Cosmic Baseball Association