An inconvenient truth? Donald Trump’s Scottish mother was a low-earning migrant

By Martin Hannan:Credit:The National
SHE was one of the poor, the huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, who became a multi-millionaire philanthropist and mother of an almost certain Presidential candidate. The question is, why has Donald Trump never put anyone right about the true story of his mother’s immigration?

Perhaps he didn’t know. On the face of it, the tale of a poor Scottish girl making it rich in the USA and giving birth to a possible president should be a great backstory for any candidate yet, given his views on poor immigrants, maybe “the Donald” wishes to downplay Mary Anne Macleod Trump’s early status – though as The National has shown, she was never an illegal immigrant.

Perhaps it may have something to do with this position statement on immigration, taken from the Trump campaign website: “The influx of foreign workers holds down salaries, keeps unemployment high, and makes it difficult for poor and working-class Americans – including immigrants themselves and their children – to earn a middle-class wage. Nearly half of all immigrants and their US-born children currently live in or near poverty, including more than 60 per cent of Hispanic immigrants.

“Every year, we voluntarily admit another two million new immigrants, guest workers, refugees, and dependents, growing our existing all-time historic record population of 42 million immigrants.

“We need to control the admission of new low-earning workers in order to: help wages grow, get teenagers back to work, aid minorities’ rise into the middle class, help schools and communities falling behind, and to ensure our immigrant members of the national family become part of the American dream.”

How inconvenient for the would-be president that “low-earning worker” was exactly the status of Mary Anne Macleod when she emigrated from Scotland to the USA in 1930.

She came from Tong, pronounced Tongue, a scattered community a few miles north-east of Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. It is a beautiful but desolate place that can trace its history back to Viking times, as Tong is the anglicised version of Tunga, which is of Norse origin.

Mary Ann was born in a croft at 5 Tong, which her father had owned since 1895, the youngest of ten children. Her father was Malcolm Macleod, a fisherman and crofter, born on December 27, 1866 in Stornoway. Malcolm was respected in the community as shown by his appointment as Compulsory Officer – truancy officer in modern parlance – for Tong school in 1919, while Mary Anne was still a pupil there. He later became a councillor and is reported to have run the local post office. He died on June 22, 1954, in Tong at the age of 87.

Her mother was Mary Macleod, nee Smith, born on July 11, 1867 in Tong. The National today publishes a rarely seen photograph of Mrs Macleod feeding the hens at the croft.

Mary Anne never knew her maternal grandfather, Duncan Smith, who drowned in a fishing accident when her mother was just one year old. Mrs Macleod died at home of pneumonia on December 27, 1963. She had met her grandson Donald just once.

Raised in a Gaelic-speaking household, Mary Anne’s second language was English, which she learned at Tong school. Her registration document for the school is in the proud possession of the local community centre, but, typically, it is not on display – Tong people are not given to boasting.

Malcolm and Mary had children at regular intervals until Mary Anne was the tenth and last to arrive when Mary Macleod was 44.

Little is known of Mary Anne’s schooling. On one American form, Mary Anne says she was educated to the equivalent of America’s eighth grade, meaning that she probably left school at 14, presumably to work on the croft or in some other job to help boost the family income.

There can be little doubt about the influence of her three sisters on what Mary Anne did next. Christina, Joan and Katie had all gone to the USA by one way or another, and by the time Mary Anne was 17, they were either working or married and obviously doing well. By comparison to Tong life and the grinding poverty of a fishing and crofting family, the attractions of emigration to her are all too obvious.

She might have stayed in the island to get married but the First World War and the Iolaire Disaster, in which more than 200 local sailors returning from the war died when their ship sank in The Minch, had winnowed out the numbers of eligible bachelors. At 17, she applied for and was given an immigration visa. The rest, as The National shows today, is documented history.

As we have proved, Mary Anne was not “on holiday” when she met Fred Trump, himself the son of German immigrants. Much has been made of the German side of the Trump family and how they came to the USA at a time when immigration rules were less strict, as did Mary Anne’s three sisters, but Mary Anne arrived in New York some time after Congress passed laws in 1924 restricting immigration.

It may well be that she was introduced to him by her sister Catherine at a party, but why should that account be accurate when the well-told “holiday” story is not?

FRED was almost seven years older, already an established builder and developer who had been a carpenter by trade. Their rarely seen wedding photograph is faded but shows what a strikingly handsome couple they made. No matter how they met or conducted their courtship, it was clearly a love match, and it could be speculated that on her visit to Tong in 1934, she told her parents of her intentions to wed.

By April 1935, according to the 1940 census, Mary Anne was resident at the Trump family home at 175/24 Devonshire Road in a middle-class area of Long Island known as Jamaica in the borough of Queens.

The following January, Frederick Christ Trump and Mary Anne Macleod were married at the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church. The Rev Dr George Buttrick, already a famous preacher who would go on to become a well-respected author and lecturer on Christian theology, officiated.

The happy couple hosted a splendid wedding reception for 25 guests at the Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan – not then, as now, a byword for luxury and elegance. It later became the New York residence of President John F Kennedy, where he conducted his dalliances with Marilyn Monroe and others.

Thanks to the Stornoway Gazette, we know that the bride wore a “princess gown of white satin with a long train and a tulle cap and veil,” and her bouquet was of “white orchids and lilies of the valley.”

The matron of honour was Mary Anne’s elder sister Mrs Mary Joan Pauley and the best man was the groom’s brother Dr John Trump, with his sister Mrs William Walter and Mary McCorth being the bridesmaids.

The honeymoon was brief, apparently in Atlantic City, and the couple returned to Jamaica and set up home. It is often wondered why Mary Anne, having married an American citizen, did not immediately become one herself.

Her naturalisation in 1942, some 12 years after she immigrated and six years after her marriage, is hard to explain but is not unknown.

Indeed, some statistics say that five years after marriage is the normal time for naturalisation, and it’s a trait that ran in the family – Donald Trump married his first wife Ivana in 1977 but she was not naturalised until 1988.

The year after Mary Anne and Fred were married, on April 5, 1937, Maryanne was born, the eldest of the five children of the Trumps.

Mary Anne Trump duly set about becoming a homemaker, while assisting her husband as a hostess and partner for the inevitable social events that accompany the career of a businessman. Though clearly as a former domestic servant she could have managed things herself, by 1940 the Trumps did have a large house and an Irish maid, Janie Cassidy, also a naturalised citizen.

Mary Anne was charming, vivacious and shrewd, an ideal partner for a man on the make, though Fred was often said to be in thrall to a powerful woman, his mother Elizabeth, who helped found the family building firm – indeed it bore her name for decades.

Fred certainly was on the make. He built and either sold or rented tens of thousands of houses across New York, making his first huge profit from a supermarket development. There have been accounts of Fred indulging in suspect business practices but he was never convicted of anything, and Mary Anne became his rock.

IT seems like an almost gilded existence, but the Trumps were to know travail and tragedy. Their second child was Fred Jr, whose life was blighted by alcoholism before he died in 1981 at the age of just 42 – “it had a huge impact on my life”, said Donald Trump, who does not drink or smoke.

Fred and Mary had three other children. Maryanne Barry is a much-respected federal judge who has visited Lewis frequently and is quite loved by people there. She donated a reported £150,000 to a care home on the island.

Elizabeth, later Elizabeth Grau, who worked in banking, was born in 1942; Donald John was born in 1946; and Robert Trump, who was later president of his father’s firm, was born in August 1948 when Mary Anne was 36. It was a traumatic final birth and she was seriously ill for some time afterwards.

As Donald went to work for his father, and became the leading family figure by far, Mary Anne remained in the background and contented herself with charitable work, mostly concentrated on her home area on Long Island. The Trump Pavilion at Jamaica Hospital commemorates the family’s donations.

Mary Anne Trump rarely hit the headlines herself, however on October 31, 1999 at the age of 79, she was mugged in a car park in Queens. A black delivery truck driver, Lawrence Herbert, 44, caught the 16-year-old assailant, and Donald Trump rewarded him with a cheque that stopped Herbert losing his home to a foreclosure.

Fred Trump died on June 25, 1999, at the age of 93 in the Long Island Jewish Medical Centre in New Hyde Park. He once described his Donald as “the smartest person I know.”

Mary Anne died in the same hospital just more than a year later on August 7, 2000, mourned by all who knew her in America and Scotland. She was 88.

The founder of the Sunshine Group of real estate companies, Louise M Sunshine, paid her this tribute: “In every family there is someone who inspires, leads and is steadfast in her compassion and love. Mary Trump was one of those rare spirits.”

On Lewis, with typical understatement, her death notice in the Stornoway Gazette had just 27 words: “Peacefully in New York on 7th August, Mary Ann Trump, aged 88 years. Daughter of the late Malcolm and Mary Macleod, 5 Tong. Much missed.”

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Victor Imhangbe

Hey, there! I am Victor Imhangbe and I am the brain behind this great lifestyle blog where you get to read everything from life to education to fashion and pretty much about everything else. I invite you to keep keeping tab on our latest news and updates!

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