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Mary Pinkney Hardy MacArthur


During the Victorian era in which she was raised, women like Mary Pinkney Hardy MacArthur, known as "Pinky" to her friends, were more often judged by the achievements of their husbands and sons than by their own. Applying this standard, Mrs. MacArthur -- wife of a highly accomplished General, mother of one of the greatest soldiers in American history -- was surely one of the more successful women of her day. 

She was raised at Riveredge, the Hardy family plantation just outside of Norfolk, Virginia. A proper Southern belle, Pinky was proud of her four brothers who fought with the Confederate Army. Her family was less than pleased, then, when she announced her engagement to Arthur MacArthur, Jr., the young hero of the Union's important victory at Missionary Ridge. Her brothers refused to attend the ceremony when the two were married at Riveredge in May of 1875. But the color of her husband's uniform mattered less to Pinky than the honor of his vocation, and she proved to be an outstanding army wife. 

Life on rough, isolated army posts like the one at Ft. Selden, New Mexico was hard enough for soldiers; one can imagine how difficult it must have been for a woman raised in Southern high society, trying to raise young boys. But it was in these years -- likely the most trying of her life -- that Pinky's iron will and toughness became apparent to all. One friend, noting "her swift poise and the imperious way she held her head," commented that "in my picture of her there is a lot of white muslin dress swishing around and a blaze of white New Mexican sunlight, and in the midst of it this slender, vital creature that I have never forgotten." 

But beyond the general hardship, Pinky's greatest test came when her middle son, four-year-old Malcolm, died of measles in New Mexico in 1883. In his "Reminiscences," Douglas would write that this loss was "a terrible blow to my mother, but it seemed only to increase her devotion to Arthur and myself." In these early years his father was the figure on which Douglas would model himself, but his mother played an equally important role. "My mother, with some help from my father, began the education of her two boys," MacArthur remembered. "Our teaching included not only the simple rudiments, but above all else a sense of obligation. We were to do what was right no matter what the personal sacrifice might be. Our country was always to come first." 

In many ways, Pinky's relationship with her youngest son would become the dominant factor in the latter half of her life. In 1898, with her husband fighting a war half a world away in the Philippines, Pinky lived near Douglas at West Point, where her prodding and encouragement would help him finish first in his class. After the death of her husband in 1912 and the premature death of her eldest son Arthur in 1923 (which cut off a promising naval career), Pinky allied herself even more closely with Douglas. In 1925, she wrote a fawning letter to Army Chief of Staff John J. Pershing, imploring him to "be real good and sweet -- the 'Dear Old Jack' of long ago...and give my boy his well earned promotion." The peerless army wife had become a formidable army mother. 

When his mother died shortly after their arrival in the Philippines in 1935, Douglas was crushed. His aide Dwight Eisenhower wrote that her passing "affected the General's spirit for many months." He wrote simply in "Reminiscences" that "our devoted comradeship of so many years came to an end." For a man not often guilty of understatement, this came pretty close. 

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