By Orcuil Crichton
The American people know more about the family of Donald Trump than perhaps that of any other presidential candidate — beside Jeb Bush, of course. It is common knowledge that Trump’s father was a real estate developer in New York, that he married three models, and that he fathered Ivanka in addition to four other children. But less known is the story of the woman who raised “The Donald.” So who is Donald Trump’s mother?
Her name was Mary MacLeod Trump, and she passed away in New York City in 2000, at age 88. According to her obituary, in addition to her role as wife and mother, Trump was a prominent philanthropist in the city. Much of her philanthropical work centered in Jamaica, Queens, where the Trump family lived. She actively supported the Woman’s Auxiliary of Jamaica Hospital and the Jamaica Day Nursery. And there was plenty of money to give; by the time of his death, Trump’s father, real estate developer Fred Trump, had accumulated a fortune worth $300 million.
Mary MacLeod was born in Tong, Scotland in 1912 and met Fred Trump on a trip to New York. She emigrated to the U.S., and the two married in 1936. She visited her home country often, and sometimes brought young Donald and his four siblings with her. She spoke Gaelic, and taught her children some of the language.
She was a religious woman, according to statements by Trump. She was also traditional, according to her son. “Whenever anything was on about, ceremonial about the Queen of England she could sit at the television and just watch it. She had great respect for the Queen and for everything she represented,” CNN reports Trump said.
Trump’s mother buried a son, Trump’s older brother, Freddy Jr., when he was just 43. According to The New York Times, Freddy Jr. drank heavily. Donald became his father’s protege instead. He worked with his father in real estate until Fred Trump’s decline due to Alzheimer’s, and his eventual death in 1999. Mary passed away only a few months after her husband, in 2000.
In 2008, Trump traveled to his mother’s birthplace in Scotland to meet with his maternal relatives. He originally planned on building a $1 billion luxury golf resort in the area in honor of his mother’s family. “I wanted to do something special for my mother,” Trump said, according to The Guardian. After local environmentalists protested the hotel’s construction and Trump butted heads with a wind farm located near the proposed property, he abandoned the plan and chose to develop in Ireland instead.
Trump has been surrounded by immigrant women for most of his life. In addition to his Scottish-born mother, both Trump’s ex-wife Ivana and current wife Melania were born outside the U.S.
New pictures of Donald Trump’s mother bear witness to a family saga he cannot bear to tell, the black and white photos track the life of Mary Anne MacLeod, the island girl who became the wife of New York property magnate Fred Trump and mother to his controversial son.
Together with the memoirs of Mary’s teenage penpal Agnes Stiven, they highlight the immigrant heritage of the US politician who wants to build a wall against the world.
In these portraits of one girl from Lewis is the story of how modern-day America came to be.
The three phases of European emigration – the Old World home, the ocean voyage and the opening door to wealth and happiness in the New World – are captured in prints from the 1920s and 30s.
The teenage Mary MacLeod sitting on the windowsill of a “white” house near Stornoway
Born in 1912, Mary was part of a large family in the crofting village of Tong, the biggest such settlement in the Outer Hebrides and three miles from the island capital, Stornoway.
Mary’s father was postmaster in the village as well as a fisherman and so one of the first to elevate himself out of the endemic rural poverty.
When she started her penpal correspondence with Agnes – an east coast girl of her own age whose prize-winning painting and address had appeared in the Dundee Courier – Mary described “her lonely life on the island”.
The story most often told is that Mary went to the US on “holiday” to see her older sister Catherine who had left for New York.
But the memoir of their friendship that Agnes left behind puts that Trump myth to rest.
Agnes wrote: “Mary’s older sister in New York invited her to visit her there…and soon afterwards her sister found her a job as a nanny with a wealthy family in a big house in the suburbs of New York.”
Mary became the fourth of the MacLeod sisters to migrate to seek her fortune in the New World.
According to Agnes, she and Mary met in Glasgow in the late summer of 1928 when Mary was on the way to America for the first time.
“Mary had long fair hair and blue eyes, my hair was short and dark and I had hazel eyes. Each thought the other was pretty,” Agnes recollected in her journal.
“Mary’s news in 1929 was not so optimistic. Her employers had been involved in the Wall Street Crash which shook not only America but the whole world. Mary lost her job and went to New York City to find employment.”
Meanwhile Agnes, a gifted linguist, had became a post-graduate scholar at Marburg University in Germany.
She recalls in her memoir that she next met Mary in 1934 in Glasgow when Mary left again for New York “where she now seemed to have settled”.
Agnes wrote: “We spent a hectic day together in Glasgow. In the morning, we went on a shopping spree and I particularly remember that in a big store on Sauchiehall Street, she bought a pair of fur-backed gauntlet gloves for her boyfriend Fred. I said I hoped he’d like them and she said, ‘He’d better.’”
On her 1934 visit, Mary and Agnes went to view the Queen Mary, then the world’s largest passenger ship, on the Clyde. She was being fitted out and without her distinctive four funnels.
Mary at Clydebank in 1934
Agnes snapped Mary on the quayside, a flared coat and jaunty hat adding to her glamour. “I thought Mary was very pretty, with her hair still quite long and permed,” wrote Agnes.
“I saw Mary off on board the ship at Clydebank that evening and that was the last time we saw each other until 61 years later in London.”
Between 1880 and 1920, more than 25million foreigners arrived in the US.
Scottish emigration reached a peak in the 1920s, with 363,000 Scots leaving for the US and Canada in that decade.
The pictures are marked on the back by Agnes as being “en route” on the SS Transylvania, the Anchor Line passenger vessel that ran between Glasgow to New York in the inter-war years.
Shipping records show that Mary MacLeod, by then 22, arrived again in the United States in 1934.
Mary in a swimming costume on the steps of a pool in Long Island, where the elite of New York decamped for the summer.
The coy look of the girl on the Hebridean beach is replaced by a glossy poolside pose reflecting the golden years of Hollywood.
From domestic service to glossy glamour girl, Mary MacLeod had made it.
Two years later, she was married to Fred and would have five children: Maryanne, Fred jnr, Elizabeth, Robert and Donald, or Donald John as he is known in Tong.
Agnes noted: “She didn’t tell me the man she married in January 1936 was ‘the most eligible bachelor in New York’.”
War separated the two friends and altered the course of Agnes’s life.
The German man she married in 1938 went on to become a Panzer tank commander.
He came out of the war a damaged man, and the couple divorced, forcing Agnes and her children to return to Britain.
Most of her correspondence with Mary, apart from a few letters and photos at her parents’ home in Scotland had been lost.
The meeting was brought about because Donald Trump’s growing fame meant he was the subject of a documentary made by the newsreader Selina Scott.
Agnes recalled in her memoir that she was paying little attention to the programme at first.
But her ears pricked up at the mention of “Donald’s mother, who was a Scot originally Mary MacLeod from Lewis.”
A hopeful letter to “the apartment on the 64th floor of Trump Towers” received a swift reply and the friendship was picked up again with enthusiasm. The two women met in London in August 1995 to their great delight.
Mary regularly returned to Lewis before her death in 2000 at the age of 88.
Agnes died in March 2002, leaving a trove of photos and memoirs.
Mary’s eldest child, Maryanne Trump Barry, a senior US judge, visited Lewis often with her mother and made a £150,000 donation to the island’s Bethesda hospice in her memory.
But Donald Trump appears to have little interest in his island roots.
He visited Lewis in a great wave of publicity to promote his Scottish golf interests but public references to his mother’s background are conspicuous by their absence.
Maybe that is because these pictures of Mary MacLeod tell a very different history from the anti-immigrant bombast of his campaign trail speeches.
From the foreshore of Lewis to the exclusive swimming pools of Long Island, from sea to shining sea… Mary MacLeod’s pictures tell the story of a country made great by immigrants – people just like Donald Trump’s mother.
Your Editor Muses: Although she is no longer alive to comment, I wonder what she would say about her son’s ambition to make it harder for immigrants, documented or not, to start new lives in the United States, as she did herself.