Margaret Brainard Hamilton was born in 1902 in Cleveland, Ohio to Walter J. Hamilton and Jennie Adams. She attended Hathaway Brown school in Shaker Heights. She also later became a member of the Junior League of Cleveland before she moved to Painesville. Her parents eventually made her attend Wheelock College in Boston where she majored in education and eventually became a kindergarten teacher before becoming an actress.
Hamilton was drawn to theatre at an early age and made her stage debut in 1923. She made her film debut in 1933 and her plain jane looks brought her steady work as a character actress earning $1,000.00 a week.
In 1939, Hamilton played her most famous role of all as the Wicked Witch of the West opposite Judy Garland's Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. During a second take of the shooting of her fiery exit from Munchkinland when the trapdoor is dropped, Hamilton suffered a second degree burn on her face and a third degree burn on her hand. The scene had to be edited so you couldn't see it in the final take. She had to recuperate for six weeks at the hospital and at home before returning to the set to film her final scenes. She reportedly later said she wouldn't sue because she knew how the business operated and knew she would never work again.
In later life, Hamilton would say she worried about how the Wicked Witch of the West effected children. She even went on Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood to show how make-up transformed her into the Wicked Witch and explained it was just a character she was playing. She even reprised the Wicked Witch role on Sesame Street but it was cancelled after complaints. She would go on to star in soap operas and television shows.
In the 1970's she lived in New York City and did public service announcements promoting the welfare of animals. She also starred as Cora in nationwide Maxwell House commercials. She later served on the Board of Education in Beverly Hills before dying in her sleep after a heart attack in Connecticut in 1985.