George Washington: Martha sterile?

Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis in 1759. He was 26. She was a 28 year old widow who had borne four children during her eight year marriage to Daniel Custis 1a. Yet Martha never became pregnant during her 40-year marriage to Washington. Given her previous fertility,
it could well be concluded that the difficulty was not in her but in her husband. However, [Washington,] the magnificent athlete, who possessed in abundance every other physical prowess, could not altogether admit to himself that he was sterile. He believed, even when approaching old age, that if Martha died and he became remarried to a "girl," he might father an heir. In the meanwhile, his lack was a grievous one. 2a
Given the way the Custis children turned out MORE, Washington may have been lucky. The United States may have been lucky, too. The lack of an heir made it difficult to anoint Washington as King, which some elements favored at the time 3a. There is speculation that the lack of an heir made it difficult for Washington to accept an offer of Kingship 4a.

Washington's height, sterility, large hands, pockmarks, plus certain personality features and even his dental problems have led to the suggestion he had a syndrome associated with an XYY chromosome karyotype 4b. A geneticist concludes, however, "although there does seem to be a strong case that George Washington was affected with XYY syndrome, the evidence is just not conclusive" 4a. There are also speculations 5 -- dismissed by some 6 -- that Washington had Klinefelter syndrome, which is associated with an XXY karyotype. At least one historian believes that Martha was the cause of the marriage's childlessness 7, but his reasoning is unsupported and arrogant SEE BELOW.

A historian, Willard S. Randall interprets Washington's late-life statement about the possibility of fathering as follows: 7:
In Washington's mind, at least, there is the idea that he could father a child. ... If a virile man who can ride a horse 20 miles a day thinks he can still do it, do we listen to him or to a medical expert 200 years later? ... I don't think it is George. I think it is Martha.
Comment: This is numbskullery at its highest order. Randall petulantly dismisses the knowledge that medical science brings to bear on this physiological question, and instead relies on Washington's beliefs. Stephen Colbert (the blowhard character) would be proud.

Martha last gave birth at age 25, in December 1755, without known complications. She married Washington three years later, in January 1759. Although she had measles shortly afterwards, measles in adulthood is not linked with sterility 7. Comment: A Pubmed search for "measles AND Female Infertility" on March 10, 2013, repeated on Aug. 10, 2023, returns only three citations, none of which are relevant. Searching on "measles AND infertility AND female" in August 2023 returns one additional article, but it, too, is not relevant.

Cited Sources
  1. Montgomery-Massingberd, Hugh (ed). Burke's Presidential Families of the United States of America. 2nd ed. London: Burke's Peerage Limited, 1981.
    a  p.16

    Comment: Maps -- in great detail -- the ancestors and descendants of American presidents through Ronald Reagan. They would have had an exhausting time with President Obama's family tree! MORE

  2. Flexner, James Thomas. Washington: The Indispensible Man. Boston: Little, Brown, 1974.
    a  p.42

    Comment: Distillation of Flexner's four-volume biography of Washington published from 1965 to 1972.

  3. Boller, Paul F. Jr. Presidential Anecdotes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.
    a  pp.13-14
  4. Marion, Robert. Was George Washington Really the Father of our Country?. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1994.
    a  p.72  b  pp.41-74
  5. Smith, MJV. The father who was not a father. Virginia Medical Monthly. 1976;103:14-16, 21-22, 33. Pubmed: 1106028.
  6. Amory JK. George Washington's infertility: why was the father of our country never a father?. Fertility and Sterility. 2004; 81: 495-499.

    Comment: Reviews the differential diagnosis of Washington's sterility, and identifies genitourinary tuberculosis as the most probably cause. Fails to consider smallpox as a possible cause. Also identifies enteric tuberculosis as a possible cause of Washington's recurrent "dysentery," and expresses skepticism that he had Klinefelter syndrome.

  7. Harden B. First President's childlessness linked to disease. Washington Post. Feb. 29, 2004; A3.

George Washington · John Adams · Thomas Jefferson · James Madison · James Monroe · John Q. Adams · Andrew Jackson · Martin van Buren · William Harrison · John Tyler · James Polk · Zachary Taylor · Millard Fillmore · Franklin Pierce · James Buchanan · Abraham Lincoln · Andrew Johnson · Ulysses Grant · Rutherford Hayes · James Garfield · Chester Arthur · Grover Cleveland · Benjamin Harrison · Grover Cleveland · William McKinley · Theodore Roosevelt · William Taft · Woodrow Wilson · Warren Harding · Calvin Coolidge · Herbert Hoover · Franklin Roosevelt · Harry Truman · Dwight Eisenhower · John Kennedy · Lyndon Johnson · Richard Nixon · Gerald Ford · James Carter · Ronald Reagan · George Bush · William Clinton · George W. Bush · Barack Obama · Donald Trump · Joseph Biden