Have you ever thought something and everyone else said you were crazy?
Have you ever been called crazy and then have the thing you were called crazy for turn out to be absolutely true?
This not only happened to one woman, but she was discredited in the media had a psychological condition named after her, and had a hand in bringing down a United States president.
Learn more about Martha Mitchell on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily.
Martha Elizabeth Beall was born in 1918 in the town of Pine Bluff, Arkansas.
She was an only child who grew up in a rural area and by all accounts had a normal upbringing. She liked to sing and wanted to become an opera singer, and also studied piano.
She attended college hoping to become a nurse but ended up transferring colleges twice before winding up at the University of Miami with a degree in history.
She took on a teaching position in Mobile, Alabama which she hated, and then got a job as a secretary back home in Pine Bluff, at the Pine Bluff Arsenal, a military facility that made bombs and grenades.
Her boss was a Brigadier General. In 1945 he was transferred to Washington DC he decided to bring his trusted assistant, Martha, with him.
In Washington, she met a man named Clyde Jennings who was an Army officer and they soon got married. The couple moved to New York after he was discharged from the army, where he became a traveling salesman.
After being apart from each other so often, by 1956 the marriage fell apart.
However, soon after she met a successful New York attorney by the name of John Mitchell.
…and this is where the story really starts to get interesting.
John was one of the top municipal bond attorneys in the United States and worked on Wall Street bringing in a quarter-million-dollar a year salary in the late 1950s. That is a lot today, but it was really a lot back then.
In 1966, John Mitchell’s law firm merged with another firm and he became a new founding partner. That new law firm’s name was: Nixon Mudge Rose Guthrie Alexander and Mitchell.
The Nixon in that name was the one and only Richard Nixon, the former Vice-President of the United States.
Mitchell was actually a Kennedy Democrat until he met Nixon, who converted him into becoming a Republican. They became fast friends.
When Nixon announced himself as a candidate for president in 1967, he tapped John Mitchell as his campaign manager.
When Nixon won the presidency, he picked John Mitchell to become the Attorney General, the highest-ranking law enforcement official in the country.
The couple moved to Washington DC and got an expensive apartment in the posh Watergate Complex.
Living in Washington and married to one of the highest-ranking men in the government, Martha became very well known. She appeared on news talk shows, and would often be positioned as the attack dog for the Nixon administration. She was willing to say things about war protesters and other Republican party talking points that the administration couldn’t say.
In 1970, she was one of the most recognizable women in American. She appeared on the variety show Laugh-In and on the cover of Time and Life Magazines.
She earned the nickname “Martha the Mouth”, and at first, Nixon loved her.
Over time, Martha became disillusioned with the administration. Nixon wasn’t scaling down the war in Vietnam. He didn’t appoint a woman to the Supreme court like he said he would. And she noticed that the administration was far too interested in punishing enemies than doing things for the country.
On an Air Force One flight, Martha went back to the press section to play cards with some of the reporters and began talking negatively about the war, which angered the President and those around him.
Martha kept talking, expressing herself, and internally they spoke of the “Martha” problem.
In 1972, Nixon appointed John Mitchell to head the Committee to Re-Elect the President or the CRP, or as some called it, CREEP.
In June 1972, the couple was in California for campaign fundraising events when news broke of a break-in at the Democratic Party offices at the Watergate Complex back in Washington.
John Mitchell issued a statement to the press that the CRP had nothing to do with this. However, one of the men who was arrested in the break-in was James McCord, who Martha knew was the head of security for the CRP and was also assigned to be her daughter’s bodyguard and driver.
She knew something was up.
She called her husband and asked why McCord was being thrown under a bus. She said she wanted him to leave politics and go back to law. He stopped taken her calls after this point.
On June 22, she called Fred LaRue, who worked for the CPR, and told him to tell her husband that he had to leave politics immediately and that she was going to take it to the press.
Martha then called Washington reporter Helen Thomas with United Press and told her that she was going to leave her husband unless he left the CRP. In the middle of the call, Thomas heard the words “You just get away”, and then the line went dead.
She tried to call her back but couldn’t get ahold of her.
She ran the story and over the next few days, no one could find Martha Mitchell.
Several days later she was found at the Westchester Country Club in New York with black and blue marks all over her arms.
She told her story that a former FBI agent by the name of Steve King had ripped the phone cord out of the wall while she was talking. He tried to hold her down on the bed, but she ran to another room where he again pulled the phone out of the wall.
He grabbed her and threw her into her bedroom and locked the door. When she tried to escape over the balcony, he ran in and threw her to the ground, and started kicking her.
Eventually, a doctor was brought in and she was injected with a tranquilizer.
Despite Watergate being the biggest news story on the planet, Martha’s account of what happened to her was relegated to women’s section of most newspapers.
After speaking out against the president and telling her story, the administration began a campaign of discrediting her. They told the media that she had a drinking problem and that she had a nervous breakdown. Terms such as “unhinged” and “mentally unfit” were thrown about.
No one in the media took her or her story seriously. The discrediting campaign had largely been successful.
Eventually, Nixon was reelected and the watergate story was exposed, but it would have come to the nation’s attention much earlier if people had listened to Martha Mitchell.
John Mitchell eventually was divorced from Martha and in 1974 was sentenced to prison. He remains the highest-ranking government official ever to spend time in prison.
James McCord, one of the Watergate burglars, admitted in 1975 that her story was true.
Richard Nixon of course resigned. In a 1977 interview with David Frost he said “If it hadn’t been for Martha Mitchell, there’d have been no Watergate.”
Steve King, the man who hit and kicked Martha, was named the US Ambassador to the Czech Republic in 2017.
Clinical psychologists have dubbed the “Martha Mitchell effect”, which is when a clinician diagnoses someone as delusional, when in fact they are telling the truth.
Martha herself developed cancer and passed away in 1976 at the age of 57.
At her funeral, an anonymous mourner sent a floral arrangement of white chrysanthemums that spelled out three words: “Martha was right.”