Martha Mitchell

What Was Martha Mitchell Known for?

Martha Mitchell was married to John Mitchell, president Richard Nixon’s first attorney general. In Washington, D.C., she became a public figure known for her unfettered comments about politics and life in the capital. Mitchell, who often telephoned reporters, alleged she was physically prevented from contacting the press after the June 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate building complex. When she was again able to speak to reporters, Mitchell called herself “a political prisoner” who was fed up with “all those dirty things” in politics. These statements received little attention, in part due to rumors about her mental instability.

Mitchell and her husband, who remained loyal to the president, separated in 1973. She was vindicated when the Watergate scandal and looming impeachment charges resulted in Nixon’s resignation from the presidency on August 9, 1974. She had little time to appreciate this as she became ill with cancer in 1975 and died at the age of 57 in 1976.

Early Life and Education

Martha Mitchell was born Martha Elizabeth Beall on September 2, 1918, in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Mitchell’s father was a cotton broker and her mother taught elocution. She graduated from Pine Bluff High School in 1937. She then went to three colleges: Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri; the University of Arkansas and the University of Miami, from which she graduated in 1942. She wanted to become an actress, but because her parents disapproved, she majored in history and minored in education instead.

First Marriage to Clyde Jennings

After graduating college, Mitchell became a seventh-grade teacher in Mobile, Ala. However, she “despised” the job and only lasted a year. Back in Pine Bluff, she found work as a secretary at a local arsenal.

In 1945, Mitchell followed the arsenal’s commanding general to Washington, D.C., where she held another secretarial position. There, she met serviceman Clyde Jennings. The two wed on October 5, 1946. After moving to New York, their son, Jay, arrived in November 1947.

Mitchell’s marriage faltered after a few years, and she and her husband divorced in August 1957.

Second Marriage to John Mitchell

Martha met John Mitchell in New York City in 1954, and the two married in December 1957. In January 1961, their daughter Martha “Marty” was born. The family relocated to Rye, New York, in 1964.

John Mitchell, an attorney at the time, became friends with Richard Nixon when they worked for the same law firm, and later supported and helped organize Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign. When Nixon was elected president that year, he made John Mitchell his attorney general.

Life in Washington, D.C.

While being interviewed on television in 1969, Mitchell said that, according to her husband, a recent protest against the Vietnam War had been akin to the Russian revolution, with some American liberals behaving “worst than communists.” This moment put Martha Mitchell in the spotlight and led to her becoming a national figure with a reputation for speaking her mind. She often telephoned reporters to share her views on happenings inside the White House walls.

Mitchell appeared on the cover of Time magazine’s November 30, 1970, issue, representing “The Wives of Washington.” Though some Republicans saw her as an embarrassment, the party’s base embraced her.

Mitchell directly involved herself in politics when she called the wives and staff of senators and threatened to campaign against anyone who didn’t vote for her husband’s Supreme Court nominations. After Senator J. William Fulbright didn’t support a nominee, she contacted a paper in their home state of Arkansas to say, “I want you to crucify Fulbright.”

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