Mark Twain's Family


Patricia Truslow, Contributor

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Mark Twain's parents

Mark Twain's father, John Marshall Clemens, was born in Virginia where he obtained a license to practice law in 1822. In 1823, he married Clemens' mother, Jane Lampton from Kentucky. The Clemenses moved from Virginia to Missouri in 1835, where Twain's father became a storekeeper and justice of the peace. Mr. Clemens was viewed in the community as an upstanding and congenial citizen, but at home he was strict and always irritated. Mark Twain once remarked that he had never seen his father smile and that his knowledge of his father only "amounted to an introduction." His mother, by contrast was openly friendly and witty, traits that her sixth child copied.

Mark Twain's wife

Olivia Langdon, Mark Twain's wife of more than thirty years, was born in New York to a wealthy family in the coal business. Her family was very religious, became reformists and abolitionists. Olivia, or Livy, was educated at home and at the Thurston Female Seminary; she later attended Elmira Female College. Livy's education far surpassed that of her well-known husband, which served her well as the editor of many of Twain's literary works. Livy and Mark were married by Congregationalist ministers in February 1870 after a one-year courtship and one declined proposal, which Livy accepted the second time it was offered one month later.

Livy was an invalid for several of her teenage years and would continue to have health problems for the rest of her life. When she became ill while living in Italy, Twain moved her back to Riverdale, New York where her health steadily worsened. Upon the advice of doctors to stay apart from her husband due to her tuberculosis, Livy and Mark spent months without seeing each other. In order to be in a warm climate, Mark moved Livy back to Italy in 1903, where she died from heart failure in June 1904. Her personal legacy is as a co-founder of the Hartford Art School, now a part of the University of Hartford.

Mark Twain's children

The first child of Livy and Samuel Clemens was Langdon Clemens, born on November 7, 1870. He was a sickly child during his short life, which contributed to his death at the age of nineteen months from diphtheria.

Olivia Susan Clemens was born on March 19, 1872, and immediately dubbed "Susy" by her family. At the age of thirteen, Susy began writing an autobiography of her famous father, most of which Twain included in his own autobiography years later. He used her exact wording, grammar and spelling as well as her version of events taking place around her during that early part of her life. Susy contracted spinal meningitis in 1896 while her parents were traveling abroad. She died on August 18, 1896 at the age of 24 without ever seeing them again; her parents never got over the loss of her and never returned to their home in Hartford where her death had occurred. Susy was Twain's muse; he grieved for her the rest of his life.

Mark and Livy's second daughter, Clara Langdon Clemens, was born on June 8, 1874. Her nickname "Bay" derived from her two-year old sister Susy's pronunciation of "baby." Bay was the most adventurous of the Clemens children, always having mishaps and getting into mischief, which was often instigated by her father. Clara became piano soloist and a sometimes performer in small operatic roles. Her one literary work, My Father: Mark Twain describes traveling with her father on his lecture tours around the world. Even though she was fiercely independent of her family, preferring a life of her own, she found herself responsible for holding the family together after Susy's death, a responsibility that would fall to her again after her mother's death. Clara married a Russian composer for whom she had one daughter, Nina, the only grandchild to ever be born to Mark and Livy. Clara was the only Clemens child to outlive the parents.

The fourth and last child of Mark and Livy was their daughter, Jane Lampton Clemens, who was born on July 26, 1880. In spite of her given name, Jane was always called "Jean" by her family. Jean was what today would be called an "animal rights activist" who joined the Humane Society and made donations to animal care around the world during her family's travels. Stricken with severe epilepsy at the age of fifteen, Jean was never able to enjoy her life the way her sisters had; she spent most of her final years under the supervision of doctors and nurses, finally being institutionalized for years before her death in 1909 at the age of 29.