Biography of Margit von Mises: 1890-1993
Biography of Margit von Mises: 1890-1993
by -- Murray N. Rothbard
"I can see a day when economics will be taught as human action-including every subject that those words imply-and not broken up into courses that produce mathematicians instead of economists."
Margit von Mises died on June 25, just a week short of her 103rd birthday. While physically frail the last few years, Margit remained mentally alert until a few months before her death. Indeed, such a conventional phrase as "mentally alert" scarcely begins to describe Margit: down nearly to the end, she was sharp as a tack, vitally interested in the world and in everyone around her. It was impossible to put anything over on her, as people often try to do with the elderly. Indeed, since the death of her husband Ludwig von Mises 20 years ago, one had the impression she could out think and outsmart everyone with whom she came into contact.
After the death of her beloved Lu, Margit swung into action, to become an indefatigable one-woman "Mises industry." She dug up unpublished manuscripts of Lu's, had them translated and edited, and supervised their publication. She also supervised reprints and translations of Mises's published work. She was chairman of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. And she was fervent in pressing the cause of her late husband, as well as the ideas of freedom and free markets to which he had devoted his life. She refused to let any slighting or denigration of Mises by his genuine or less-than-genuine admirers or disciples go unremarked or go unchastised.
Margit's greatest achievement in the Mises industry was her wonderful memoir of her life together with Lu, a touching and romantic, as well as dramatic, story, on which she embarked after Lu's death in 1973, and which she published three years later (My Years with Ludwig von Mises, Arlington House 1976, CFE 1984). It is notable that, unlike necessarily stiff and formal biographies from outside observers, the memory of both Lu and Margit will be kept eternally alive in this lovely valentine to a devoted marriage.
It is a blessing that Margit was able to spend her last days and months in her beloved apartment in Manhattan's Upper West Side where she and Lu had lived since 1942. It was a cozy and elegant flat, filled with mementos, and, in recent decades, with a marvelous bust of Mises sculpted by a lady who became a family friend. For all friends of the Miseses, it is an apartment arousing memories of charming conversations, being plied with tasty sandwiches and cakes at tea parties, and of visits with Lu in his study.
Margit was a remarkable woman, who inspired great devotion in friends, neighbors, doctors, and nurses alike. For Margit, her physician, a distinguished cardiologist, thought nothing of making repeated house calls; indeed even her dentist, whom she went to for a half-century, made house calls replete with drilling equipment. But although Margit was mostly bedridden the last couple of years, she had been hardier than most people around her. Like most Viennese, the Mises were inveterate walkers and mountain-climbers; into her nineties, Margit could out-walk (or out-sprint!) people a half or a third her age. Indeed, at Margit's memorial service, her granddaughter talked with wonder about Margit's rapid walks that virtually put the granddaughter ("used to buses") under the table.
One time, Margit was telling me that someone had asked her if there was anything in common between Lu, her first husband Ferdinand Sereny, and other men she had admired. "They were all elegant," she said. And elegance is a term that springs to mind about Lu, Margit, and other products of the courtly and marvelous age of Vienna before World War I. It applies to Lu, whom Margit says in her memoir would never allow himself to be caught without his jacket, even in the hottest and muggiest weather. And to Margit herself, an actress in her youth, who when I first met her in the 1950s, was so stunningly beautiful that I was convinced that Mises had married a child bride.
Margit von Mises was the last of the Austrians, the last vestige of Old Vienna. And now Hayek is gone, and Margit is gone, and gone is that apartment on West End Avenue that held so many memories, and that held together and fostered so many of the luminaries of the Misesian movement: Larry and Bertha Fertig, Harry and Frances Hazlitt, J.B. and Ruth Matthews, Philip Cortney, Alfred and Ilso Shutz. It is vital that we keep faith with them, and honor their lives, lest they and their work and their cause be forgotten.
Margit and Ludwig von Mises were a magnificent team. In contemplating their lives, all the fuss about "family values" and "feminism" seems absurdly banal. Those who knew Margit know that she was one of the strongest-minded women they have ever met. And yet, despite or perhaps because of that fact, Margit was unsurpassed in devotion to Mises the person in life and in perpetuating his memory and his ideas after his death.
We live in an age where everyone seems to be bending to the latest wind, anxious to maintain his status as "politically correct." Lu and Margit were of a different and far nobler cloth and of a different age. They followed their own convictions and their own star without even a thought of compromise of principle, let alone of surrender. The death of Margit von Mises, yes even at age 102, leaves us all poorer and diminished in spirit.