Martha Elizabeth Beall Mitchell (September 2, 1918 – May 31, 1976) was the wife of John N. Mitchell, United States Attorney General under President Richard Nixon. She became a controversial figure with her outspoken comments about the government at the time of the Watergate scandal.Contents
Born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, to cotton broker George V. Beall and teacher Arie Beall (née Ferguson), Mitchell graduated from Pine Bluff High School in 1937. She attended Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and the University of Miami, from which she received a BA in history. She worked for about a year as a teacher in Mobile, Alabama, then returned to Pine Bluff in 1945. After World War II, she began work as a secretary at the Pine Bluff Arsenal, but was soon transferred (with her boss, Brigadier General Augustin Mitchell Prentiss) to Washington, D.C., where she met Clyde Jennings, Jr. whom she married on 5 October 1946, and with whom she moved to New York City. By Jennings, she had a son, Clyde Jay Jennings (b. 2 November 1947). The couple separated on 18 May 1956 and divorced on 1 August 1957.
She married John N. Mitchell on 30 December 1957. The couple had a daughter, Martha Elizabeth, nicknamed Marty (born 10 January 1961). John Mitchell met Nixon professionally, became a friend and political associate, and was appointed Attorney General after Nixon's 1968 election to the presidency. As a result of his role as the head of the Committee to Re-Elect the President (known as CRP or "CREEP") during the 1972 campaign, he became associated with the growing Watergate scandal. During this time, Martha was an outspoken socialite, with frequent appearances on talk shows and variety shows. Her frank and uncensored talk, generally in support of Republican causes, led to her being nicknamed "Martha the Mouth" or "The Mouth of the South"  Her husband's impending conviction led to a divorce from Mitchell in 1973.
In the days immediately after the Watergate break-in in 1972, her husband enlisted former FBI agent Steve King to prevent her from learning about the break-in or contacting reporters. Despite these efforts, Martha learned that one of her friends, her daughter's bodyguard and driver James W. McCord Jr., was among those arrested. She began to explore the events in order to help him. While on a phone call with Helen Thomas about the Watergate break-in, King pulled the phone cord from the wall. She was held against her will in a California hotel room and forcefully sedated by a psychiatrist after a physical struggle with five men that left her needing stitches. Nixon aides, in an effort to discredit Mitchell, told the press that she had a "drinking problem". Mitchell began contacting reporters when her husband's role in the scandal became known, initially in an effort to defend him. Nixon was later to tell interviewer David Frost in 1977 that Martha was a distraction to John Mitchell, such that no one was minding the store, and "If it hadn't been for Martha Mitchell, there'd have been no Watergate." Because of these allegations, she was discredited and abandoned by most of her family, except for her son Jay. The Mitchells separated in 1973.
In 1976, in advanced stages of multiple myeloma, Mitchell slipped into a coma and died at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York City at age 57. She is buried in the Bellwood Cemetery in Pine Bluff.Legacy
The birthplace and childhood home of Martha Beall Mitchell, now the Martha Beall Mitchell Home and Museum, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in January 1978. Martha Mitchell Expressway in Pine Bluff is also named for her.
Martha Mitchell was portrayed in the 1995 film Nixon by actress Madeline Kahn who, like Mitchell, died at the age of 57 of cancer.
In 2004, a three-act play, This is Martha Speaking…, by Thomas Doran premiered in Pine Bluff, Arkansas starring Lee Anne Moore as Martha Mitchell and Michael Childers as John Mitchell. That same year, a one-woman play about Mitchell, Dirty Tricks by John Jeter, appeared off-Broadway.
The "Martha Mitchell effect", in which a psychiatrist mistakenly or willfully identifies a patient's true but extraordinary claims as delusions, was later named after her.Notes