The George C. Marshall Papers

George C. Marshall to Mrs. Chester M. Davis

MARSHALL said in 1957: “My first very clear recollection is going out to our barn in which we kept a horse and a cow . . . climbing up the ladder, which was fastened to the side of the barn, in an effort to get to the haymow—the first time I had ever tried this. . . . And as I climbed up the ladder, being very cautious and a little frightened, I came to a windowless opening which I could look out of between the rungs of the ladder. In a sense . . . this was my first look at the world.” (Marshall Interviews, pp. 19-20.)
The family's prosperity ended suddenly in 1890. Earlier that year Marshall's father had sold a large part of his coking business to the expanding Frick enterprises and had used the income to invest heavily in the Shenandoah Valley land boom. The investment was wiped out a few months later when the speculative bubble burst, plunging the family into unaccustomed financial straits. “We had to economize very bitterly,” Marshall recalled, and only his mother's modest income from some Pittsburgh property saved the situation. (Ibid., p. 70.)

My dear Mrs. Davis:

I receive so many requests somewhat similar to yours that it is not practicable for me to meet them. However, I will try, in a few words, to give you a partial answer to yours.[1]
My mother exercised a constant and lasting influence on my life. I was always very close to her, as her youngest child and because for some years my brother and my sister were away at school while I was at home with her. She was both gentle and firm, very understanding, and had a keen, but quiet, sense of humor, which made her my confidante in practically all my boyish escapades and difficulties.
She was a conscientious churchwoman and saw that I was always regular in my attendance. What I came to admire most about her while I was still young, and much more later on, was the way she bore a very heavy burden during the great financial depression of the nineties. She was in poor health, yet did all the work of our home and made it a cheerful place, where most of the young people of our various groups would assemble in the evenings when we were free, for music, good times, and interesting discussions. This was most uncommon in our community at that time. The custom was brought north by my parents from Kentucky.
All my mother's life, she sent me a check for $10.00 on my birthday. The point was, she gave me. Our only quarrel that I can think of was her insistence on my mailing her letters immediately they were written, and they generally seemed to be written very shortly after the carrier had collected the mail. I recall that when I returned home in 1927 from China to find her confined to her bed shortly before her death, she immediately directed me to mail a letter in the mailbox across the street, though it was then 6:30 in the morning and I had but greeted her a few moments previously after a three years' absence. I thought she was joking, but she was merely being her same self—always thoughtful of others, but determined in a few small things for herself.
She was a very wonderful mother, and I was very lucky to be her son.

Faithfully yours,

GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers (Retirement)
    [1]Mrs. Davis (Elisabeth Logan Davis) had written General Marshall on November 4, requesting information about his mother for a biographical sketch. Mrs. Davis was writing Mothers of America (Westwood, N.J.: F. H. Revell, 1954), a book about mothers of famous American men. Laura Bradford Marshall is not mentioned in the hook.