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May 28, 2004 7:16 pm

Was Washington Sterile?

From the Newsletter of the American Revolution Roundtable (June 2004):

The March 2004 issue of the medical journal, Sterility and Fertility, ran an article arguing that Washington was sterile due to a tuberculosis infection contracted before his marriage. George supposedly contracted the disease from his brother, Lawrence, who died of tuberculosis of the lungs. But the disease can also appear as tuberculosis epididymiria, which blocks the passageway in the back of the testicles through which sperm normally passes.

The Post called Willard Sterne Randall, author of a biography of Washington, (and a Round Table member and frequent speaker) to ask his opinion. Will replied:"In a diary entry written when he was 64, Washington made it clear that he thought he had what it takes to father children. If Martha were to die before he did, he wrote, he believed he was capable of having children by a younger wife --although he added he would marry a woman"of an age suitable to my own."

"In Washington's mind, at least, there is the idea that he could father a child," Will continued."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?"

Will is by not means the only historian who suspects the likely cause of the Washington's childlessness was a severe bout of measles Martha Washington suffered shortly after their marriage in 1759, when they were both 27 years old."I don't think it is George," Will says."I think it is Martha."

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