During her long and successful writing career, Marion Harland published over seventy books of fiction, domestic advice, history, and biography; indeed, at her death in 1922, her name was "as well known in . . . America as that of the president of the United States" ( Smith, "Marion Harland"2). Born December 21, 1830, in Amelia County, Virginia, Mary Virginia Hawes was the third of eight children of Samuel Pierce Hawes, a transplanted merchant from Dorcester, Massachusetts, and Judith Anna Smith, the daughter of an aristocratic Virginia planter. Although Mary Virginia completed her formal schooling with two years at a girls' seminary in Richmond, she was educated largely at home, studying independently and with tutors. At thirteen, Mary Virginia went with her sister to live with a relative, Ann Rice, in Hampden-Sidney, Virginia; there, a student at Union Theological Seminary tutored the two girls. Samuel Hawes had directed the tutor to educate his daughters "as if they were boys and preparing for college." Years later, Marion Harland would write about this time of intensive education, "Were I required to tell what period of my nonage had most to do with shaping character and coloring my life, I should reply, without hesitation, 'The nine months passed at Rice Hill'" ( Autobiography97).
At age fifteen, Mary Virginia began publishing short moral treatises in two Richmond religious weeklies, "using a male pseudonym to lend authority to her evangelical essays and . . . to protect herself from the curiosity of friends and neighbors" ( Smith, "Legacy Profile"52). In 1853, the Southern Era published her story "Kate Harper," written under the pseudonym Marion Harland, and awarded her a $50 prize for the "best temperance serial" ( Autobiography240). Pleased with her success, Mary Virginia "dragged out the rough copy" of the