Church Mouse to the White House (excerpted)

Martha looks back: excerpts from her unpublished memoir Church Mouse to the White House, describing how she and her husband agreed to go to Czechoslovakia to do aid work.

“What madness has brought us,” I thought, “A Unitarian minister and his wife, from the easy security and pleasant life of a family with two children living in Wellesley Hills, “one of the better bedrooms of Boston,” to come to this tense, politically torn country in the heart of Europe?” Neither of us had any Slavic blood, or even a previous relationship with the Czech people. Waitstill traced his ancestry back to the Mayflower, and even back of that to the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and even laughingly beyond that to Hastings the Pirate. I was born in Providence, Rhode Island, or British parents who were naturalized United States citizens. Both of us were securely and unconsciously American. Perhaps it was our free thinking, democratic New England Unitarianism that now tied us to the Czechs we had come to know better since our arrival in Prague on February 23. The Czech republic was based on our U.S. model. As Unitarians we felt a strong kinship with the Czechs when we attended  their church services and heard more about their ancient leader, Jan Hus, and his battle for liberal religion, humanitarianism and freedom of ideas.

It really was Waitstill’s sense of duty to help the democratic victims of fascism which had inspired him to accept this mission in Czechoslovakia. He had an ingrained and spontaneous noblesse oblige reaction to many situations which often led him into time-consuming and onerous fulfillment. But once he had given his word, he followed through at any cost. [. . .]

Our children were eight and three at the time, and I had never for one minute entertained the thought of leaving them. Dr. Baker went on, “But, you’ve given me an idea. If you would be willing to go for just a few months, to get the program started you could give the Commission the momentum it needs. Meanwhile, we could look for replacements.”

The lure was great. I could see Waitstill’s delight at the thought of the challenge. Here was a way to channel his indignation against the Nazis and to help their victims. He turned to me. “Would you like to go, Martha?”

“But what about Hastings and Martha Content?” I replied. “We can’t both just go off and leave them. Why don’t you go, and I’ll keep the home fired burning.”

“Missionaries leave their children,” he replied. “I’m sure that ours can be left in good hands. I want to go, but I won’t go without you.”

He turned to Dr. Baker, “Ev, let’s assume that we are going. How soon would we have to leave?" [. . .]

I had managed to implement the minutae of our personal lives ever since the first year of our marriage when I had begun taking Waitstill’s philosophy courses. And, as a minister’s wife, I had done all the entertaining, cake baking, committee organization, sympathetic listening and behind-the-scenes facilitating that was expected of me. But this was different. I was torn between my love and duty to my children and to my husband…1


  • 1 : Martha Sharp, Church Mouse to the White House, Ch 2 "In Retrospect" (unpublished manuscript).

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