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First Lady Biography: Mamie Eisenhower
14 November, 1896
, born 18 November, 1870, Rome, New York, meatpacker, died 23 June, 1951
Elvira Carlson "Minnie" Doud, born 13 May, 1878, Boone, Iowa; married 10 August, 1894, Boone, Iowa; died 28 September, 1960, Denver, Colorado
English, Swedish; Mamie Eisenhower's paternal ancestors in the United States extended back ten and eleven generations to England. They settled in Connecticut for over one hundred years before migrating west to New YorkState where MamieEisenhower's father was born, in the city of Rome. All of MamieEisenhower's maternal ancestors were Swedish; her grandfather Carl Severin Jeremiasson, born in Halland County, Sweden in 1841, and her grandmother, JohannaMariaAndersdotter, born in Fjarar, Sweden in 1841, immigrated to the United States and settled in Boone, Iowa.
Birth Order and Siblings:
Second of four children; three sisters; EleanorCarlsonDoud (27 June, 1895 - 8 January, 1912), EdaMaeDoud (23 December, 1900 - 9 November, 1918), Mabel Frances "Mike" Doud Gill Moore (6 October, 1902 - 15 October, 1988)
Auburn hair, blue eyes, 5'1"
Jackson Elementary School
, 1902-1905, Colorado Springs, Colorado; Corona [Elementary] School, 1906-1910, Denver, Colorado; East Denver High School, sporadic attendance 1910-1914, Denver, Colorado; The Mulholland [High] School, sporadic attendance 1910-1914, San Antonio, Texas; Miss Wolcott School for Girls, 1914-1915, Denver, Colorado, a finishing school; Miss Hayden’s Dance School, no date known, Denver, Colorado
Occupation before Marriage:
's early years were spent in a series of different towns and regions in the Midwest and Southwest. Her father relocated the family from Boone to Cedar Rapids, Iowa when she was only nine months old. In 1902, due to the frail health of her elder sister Eleanor the family relocated first to Pueblo, Colorado, then to Colorado Springs. In 1905, they settled permanently in Denver, Colorado. Due to her mother's dislike of the severe winters, the Douds purchased another home, in San Antonio, Texas and began spending the cold months there in 1910. Thus Mamie Eisenhower split her high school educations between two schools, one in Denver, the other in San Antonio. From childhood on, Mamie Eisenhower was especially close to all members of her family and they were extremely social in their communities, often making their home a center of activity for other children and families. Mamie Eisenhower had little interest in academics, but her father, a successful businessman, taught her the value of money and she early on developed an ease and skill with budget and finance. Thus, while she was raised with creature comforts including household help, jewelry and fine clothing, she remained extremely conscientious about cost and was expert at saving money. She played the piano, the electric organ and enjoyed dancing, bridge and canasta.
19 years old to Dwight David Eisenhower (14 October, 1890 - 28 March, 1969), West Point graduate, second Lieutenant U.S. Army, on 1 July, 1916, Doud home, Denver, Colorado. The couple met during the winter when the Douds lived in San Antonio, Texas and Eisenhower was stationed at nearby Fort Sam Houston. Following their wedding, they lived in the officers’ barracks there, the first of 33 homes that they lived in during the next 37 years of Eisenhower's military career assignments
Two sons; Doud Dwight (Icky) Eisenhower (24 September, 1917 - 2 January, 1921); John Sheldon Doud Eisenhower (born 3 August, 1922)
A decorated hero, and later U. S. ambassador to Belgium and military historian, John Eisenhower served as a White House aide to his father. His son David married Julie Nixon, the daughter of the 37th President.
Occupation after Marriage:
Being the spouse of a career military officer who placed his duty to the Army and his country above his family life proved difficult for Mamie Eisenhower throughout the first thirty-five years of her marriage. The 1920 death of her first son, and her frequent trips back to the comfort of her parents' home created tension between her and "Ike" as he was always known. Nevertheless, she determined to establish a new home for him in whatever place he had been assigned, including Panama, Paris and the Philippines. Much of her time was spent with other military wives and she sometimes involved herself in projects benefiting the communities in which they lived such as establishing a free hospital for Panamanian women who were racially barred from the U.S. Army hospitals.
During World War II, Eisenhower became Supreme Allied Commander of the European front and famously staged the D-Day Invasion of June 5, 1944. Promoted to five-star general, Ike led the final assault on Germany and accepted their surrender on May 7, 1945. Throughout the war years, Mamie Eisenhower lived in Washington at the Wardman Park Hotel. She didn’t see her husband for nearly three years and it was a difficult time. She had no secretarial staff yet was the subject of thousands of letters and press inquiries. Her private life was confined to her family and a handful of other Army wives and she volunteered as a waitress at an Army canteen in Washington, once serving coffee to an unwitting First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. She also suffered from depression and other anxieties, fearing for her husband's well-being but also sometimes uncertain what to make of both printed and whispered suggestions that he was having a love affair with his Army jeep driver and aide, Kay Summersby. History has not supported the story. The Eisenhowers wrote each other often, and Ike’s devotion to his wife continued to grow over the years.
After the war, Eisenhower served as President of Columbia University, then as Commander of NATO; Mamie Eisenhower thus also established homes in New York City and on the outskirts of Paris, respectively.
Presidential Campaign and Inauguration:
The 1952 marked the first presidential campaign in which the spouses of a presidential ticket were consciously marketed to women voters as part of a larger effort. Thus along with the Republican effort to enlist housewives as supporters and party volunteer workers by translating political issues into those most women of the era could relate to such as grocery bills or having their sons, husbands sent to the Korean War front, there were also "Mamie for First Lady," "We Want Mamie," and "I Like Mamie Too" buttons (the last one a play on the popular "I Like Ike" slogan). Mamie Eisenhower was an energetic and enthusiastic figure on her husband's 77-stop train tour of the nation, the candidate often finishing a speech by asking a crowd, "How'd you like to meet my Mamie?" a cue for her to appear and wave. On the whistlestop, she even willingly restaged a scene of waving to reporters and photographers in her bathrobe and slippers. Behind the scenes, she often listened to him rehearse his speeches and sometimes gave suggestions to edit them in a way that spoke more directly to the common citizen, in simple and direct language. She also maintained a degree of control over who came onto the campaign train, into their personal car to meet the candidate. During their layovers in hotels, when the campaign manager assigned her rooms that were apart from her husband's suite, she overruled him. In both the 1952 and the 1956 presidential campaigns of her husband, Mamie Eisenhower also made brief appearances on television commercials and live broadcasts with him.
was the first president's wife known to be kissed openly in public by her husband following his Inaugural ceremony. She encouraged her husband to compose an Inaugural prayer which he recited at the ceremony and also strongly approved the decision to invite African-American opera singer Marian Anderson to sing at the ceremony. She also arranged for the accommodations of her African-American maids to stay in Washington, still segregated at the time, and attend all the Inaugural events.
20 January, 1953 – 20 January, 1961
56 years old
viewed her role as First Lady without complication as being simply the wife of the president and the hostess of the White House. Indeed, few First Ladies seemed to better reflect the general role, priorities and values of most middle-aged middle class American women during her White House tenure than did MamieEisenhower in the 1950's: family, home, entertaining, and personal appearance.
With her experience as a high-ranking military spouse, Mamie Eisenhower knew well how to manage a large staff, demanding nothing short of excellence from them yet expressing personal, familial warmth for them. She was famous for not only ordering that the mansion's carpets and rugs be kept meticulously clean and clear of even shoe marks but for also ordering up fancily-decorated cakes for practically every occasion, including the birthdays of the domestic staff member. With her favorite color of pink showing up frequently in her public wardrobe and in the décor of the private quarters of the White House, she helped to make it a popular color for textiles of the early 1950's, one paint company even offering "First Lady Pink" among its pallet. Also copied were her famous bangs, a short hairstyle she adopted in the 1920's at a time when she rekindled her marriage; for sentimental reasons she would not change the look, despite even public letters advising her to do so. Always coordinating her accessories, she was voted onto the nation's best-dressed list for clothing and hats. In the mansion, she spent much time on overseeing flower arrangements using her preferred gladiolas. For holidays like Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day and Halloween, she decorated the state rooms with paper decorations and had seasonal music piped in. Even her personal tastes reflected the majority of the nation: she was an avid television fan of the comedy series "I Love Lucy" and the "Milton Berle Show" and watched them from a porthole television set cut into the wall of the upstairs hall of the private quarters.
The Eisenhowers entertained a record number of heads of state in post-war era but even the President's wish to use the rooms of the mansion had to first be approved by the First Lady who kept the schedule for its use. With her personal preference for light popular music, she hosted the first White House performance of musical theater music, with selections from hit shows then on Broadway. It was in the context of her role as hostess that Mamie Eisenhower became a more political symbol in several instances. During the 1953 annual Vice President's dinner to which the entire U.S. Senate was traditionally invited, Mamie Eisenhower did not permit an invitation to be sent to the controversial Republican Senator JosephMcCarthy of Wisconsin, then famous for his hearings on un-American activities. It proved to be a useful way for the President to distance himself from McCarthy without entirely alienating the more conservative wing of his party. Mamie Eisenhower also presided over a dinner and reception at which full protocol honors were accorded to the president of Haiti when he visited as the first world leader of African heritage to come to the White House.
Perhaps her most dramatic role as First Lady occurred in the hours and days following the September 24, 1955 heart attack suffered by the President at her mother's home in Denver. Mamie Eisenhower immediately contacted the White House physician and cooperated in helping to keep her husband warm before he was transported to Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in a hastily created presidential suite there. For several weeks while he recuperated, Mamie Eisenhower took full charge of the administrative flow of work to the President, reviewing the requests for visitors and meetings, limiting his schedule according to medical advice and strictly managing his diet. She also assumed not only her mail but the President's, responding to citizens and world leaders alike. She played a similar role following his June 9, 1956, emergency ileitis operation, although it was not as dangerous a condition as the heart attack had been. In the days that followed his November 25, 1957, mild stroke, from which he rapidly recovered, Mamie Eisenhower refused to permit the President to attend a state dinner that was scheduled that evening and successfully insisted that Vice President Richard Nixon take his place.
was not known to voice objections to any of her husband's major presidential decisions. In the case of his sending federal troops to ensure the integration of Little RockHigh School in 1957, she was privately quite defensive of what she viewed as the rightness of his action. After three decades in the non-partisan military, Mamie Eisenhower began her tenure as First Lady without either the intense loyalty to political party or a strong interest in the Washington power hierarchy. She maintained many friendships with Democrats and was apt to admire a political figure, such as Democrat Averell Harriman, without regard to partisanship. One of the few instances during her eight years as First Lady when she campaigned for a candidate other than her husband was on behalf of an old friend from Denver, Ellen Harris, then running as a Republican for a seat in Congress. She expressed the view that "We women have to have a voice in things."
Despite her strict view that married women should not pursue careers outside of the home, Mamie Eisenhower did not equate this with docility. From her own personal experiences, she believed adamantly that women were superior to men when it came to real estate, savings, investment and purchasing decisions, never underestimating the importance of women's economic power. "Your independence," she wrote in "If I Were a Bride Today," an article that appeared in Today's Woman magazine, "depend[s] on you…[the only way] to avoid debt…is for the husband to give his wife the paycheck and let her be responsible for it…If he sets up charge accounts and pays the bills…things are almost certain to get out of hand…" She herself practiced this in the White House. She encouraged the kitchen staff to use boxed cake-mixes and Jell-O for both efficiency and lower cost. Often she scanned the daily newspapers to see what bulk food staples were on sale and prompted the housekeeper to make such purchases for not only her own family but for state entertaining.
Eisenhower held a press conference on March 11, 1953, just weeks after becoming First Lady but documentation shows that President Eisenhower's advisors opposed even the slightest suggestion of the First Lady having official responsibilities beyond that of hostess and James Hagerty, his press secretary, cancelled any prospect of further press conferences. He also halted an effort for her to support public television, fearing it might raise questions of government sponsoring propaganda. The President's Chief of Staff Sherman Adams prevented an effort to streamline and formalize her relationship with women's clubs across the country. Although she voiced her objection to the West Wing seeking to control her public life, Mamie Eisenhower ultimately acquiesced.
One way in which Mamie Eisenhower kept an unfettered line to the public was through her extensive correspondence. She believed strongly that each person that took the time to write to her deserved a personal response and she signed tens of thousands of letters during her tenure. On occasion she exercised some small political influence when she passed on inquiries that she supported for military housing, enlistment deferments, transfers, pensions, and civil service employment, and even suggestions such as a tattoo of blood type for servicemen, to Administration officials. Another venue were her frequent statements of public support to military or defense-related crises and issues of her era such as support for the United Nations because women "knew well the anxiety and anguish that war brings," and increasing blood donations for gamma globulin to prevent "the crippling and deformity that so often follows a polio attack." In her Civil Defense statement, the First Lady noted that "any housewife may be tomorrow's heroine….It is difficult in the midst of our present day lives, filled with so many home and community activities, to believe that an atomic attack could happen here. It can happen. We must be prepared…"
Part of her large commitment to entertaining was also serving as the President's ceremonial stand-in. In the post-war era, the President had less time for the ceremonial appearances many of his predecessors had acceded to; in Eisenhower's case, the First Lady began to assume many of the group and association appearances previously made by a President. Many large women's groups requested a meeting with the popular Mamie Eisenhower and she expended great time and effort to do so, often spending several hours a day during the tourist season, either shaking hands or waving and speaking from some stairs to delegations that snaked their way through the state rooms.
In later years, Eisenhower would concede that he often consulted Mamie Eisenhower's view on issues he was facing, calling her "my invaluable, my indispensable, but publicly inarticulate lifelong partner." During an economic conference, he told participants, "Let me try this out on Mamie. She's a pretty darn good judge of things." He further observed, "She is a very shrewd observer. I frequently asked her impression of someone, and found her intuition good. Women who know the same individual as a man do give a different slant. I got it into my head that I'd better listen when she talked about someone brought in close to me." In later years, even Jim Hagerty would concede that Mamie Eisenhower could "argue with him [the President] plenty of times about his policies…" Although she only visited the Oval Office on four occasions, the First Lady learned the names, faces and backgrounds of the support staff that served the President, as well as the Cabinet members and often sought them out with praise after she'd heard of their accomplishments from the President: it helped to lift morale. Other times she would contact the wives of such officials to praise them.
Although she never sought to address a specific social issue, it is a popular fallacy that Mamie Eisenhower undertook no public initiative. Towards the end of her tenure, she committed herself to two causes. Following the President's heart attack, Mamie Eisenhower became increasingly aware of the prevalence of heart disease. She assumed both local and national chairmanship of The American Heart Association's fundraising drives to widen its scientific research and public awareness. (Although she herself was a cigarette smoker, there was not yet any scientific findings released tying smoking and heart disease.) It was not an unsubstantial role that she played: the AHA president praised her years of sponsorship which proved it's "most fruitful" with a 70 percent increase in income and jump in the volunteer force to 750,000. Mamie Eisenhower, he wrote, "made possible many dramatic advances in the research….as well as in our supporting programs of education and community service."
Through many of her old friendships with spouses of retired military personnel, she also became aware of the financial difficulties they endured. She helped to raise funds and broke ground for what was then called the "Army Distaff Home," to provide affordable, secure retirement housing and health care services for Army widows who, at the time, received minimal benefits from the government. Aided by thousands of Army wives around the world, the 16 acre facility in Washington, D.C. was financed, lushly landscaped and opened its doors in 1962 with the name "Knollwood."
It was also in her last years in the White House that she encountered her first public criticism. Columnist Drew Pearson pointed out that she violated the Railroad Act by accepting gratis train travel to "Maine Chance," a Phoenix, Arizona spa run by her friend, the beautician Elizabeth Arden. Mamie Eisenhower suffered from an inner ear condition called Meniere’s disease, which caused her to suffer bouts of severe dizziness. When she appeared unsteady because of these episodes, rumors that she was an alcoholic were printed in the 7 June 1959 issue of the tabloid National Enquirer. She was also criticized for shopping in a chain store by the National Federation of Independent Business and endured press scrutiny when she inadvertently crossed a picket line at the Bonwit Teller department store, having been incorrectly told that the dispute only involved the shoe concession.
According to the memoirs of Richard Nixon, Mamie Eisenhower also played an unwitting role in the 1960 election when she telephoned his wife Pat Nixon. The First Lady was worried about the President's potential health risk if he carried through on his promise to vigorously campaign for his Vice President in the last crucial weeks before the election. Pat Nixon passed on the request to her husband. The Nixon campaign did not request that President Eisenhower schedule campaign event appearances. Nixon subsequently lost by a razor-thin margin.
The Eisenhowers retired to their Gettysburg, Pennsylvania farm which they had purchased in 1950.
was relieved to begin a retirement with her husband in healthy condition. They traveled through Europe and enjoyed an active social life, often visiting Georgia and California in the winter months where the former president played golf. Mamie Eisenhower warily agreed to serve as a co-chairman with incumbent First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy to raise funds for a National Cultural Center in 1962, and she accepted the Kennedys' invitation to attend a state dinner for the Japanese Prime Minister. During that visit, she inspected some of the historic restoration work that her successor had conducted in the mansion but expressed little enthusiasm for it.
During the Kennedy Administration, Mamie Eisenhower successfully persuaded her husband to intercede with Republican Senator Everett Dirksen to approach President Kennedy on behalf of his former Chief of Staff Sherman Adams, who was suicidal as he faced federal charges of income-tax evasion. The two Republicans promised to support Kennedy in whatever legislation he wished if he would put the Adams case in the "deep freeze." As it turned out, Kennedy sought and obtained the support of Eisenhower and Dirksen for his historic 1963 Testy Ban Treaty.
While attending the funeral of the assassinated president in 1963, Mamie Eisenhower encouraged her husband to accept an overture by former President Harry Truman to renew their acquaintance. For many years afterwards, when she made an annual drive from Pennsylvania to Kansas, she stopped to telephone Bess Truman in Missouri. When an oral history of Truman later claimed that Eisenhower had an affair with Kay Summersby and a television dramatization of the alleged affair aired, Mamie Eisenhower expressed her confidence to friends and family of the falsehood of the claim but did not attack either the late former president or the television network. Her husband's wartime love letters to her were subsequently published.
's heart condition rapidly worsened six years after he left the White House and by 1968 he was permanently hospitalized. During this time, in conversation with incumbent First Lady and friend Lady Bird Johnson, Mamie Eisenhower expressed her fears of living alone and unprotected as a presidential widow. Mrs. Johnson spoke to her husband about it, and President Johnson signed legislation that offered lifetime Secret Service protection to presidential widows. During his last few months, Mamie Eisenhower moved into Walter Reed Army Hospital to be with him, where he died in April of 1969.
Often expressing loneliness for her late husband, Mamie Eisenhower kept herself as active as her health permitted. She made an annual drive to visit his grave in Kansas, and to see her elderly uncle Joel Carlson in Iowa. She also spent many of her winters in Palm Desert, California. When she dedicated a hospital wing there dedicated to President Eisenhower, Mamie Eisenhower delivered another public speech. Likewise, she spoke at the first commencement of Eisenhower College in Seneca Falls, New York, an institution she strongly supported with financial gifts and heading up fundraiser events. She also lent her name to her community's institutions such as Gettysburg College and an historic preservation drive which sold old bricks from the town square as a fundraiser.
Throughout her post-White House years, Mamie Eisenhower maintained a close friendship with the family of her husband's former vice president; in 1968, when Eisenhower was spontaneously asked by a group of reporters who see viewed as a viable Republican candidate for the presidency, it was Mamie Eisenhower who interrupted to suggest Richard Nixon. With the 1968 marriage of her grandson David to the daughter of President Richard Nixon, Mamie Eisenhower was considered a member of the First Family and frequently made overnight stays at the White House and Camp David. In 1972, she taped a television campaign advertisement endorsing Nixon's re-election, and recalled his loyalty to Ike. During the Watergate scandal, she remained a loyal friend to Pat Nixon, although she did not express her views on the President's ultimate decision to resign in 1974. Mamie Eisenhower felt it unpatriotic to question the authority of the White House and supported the Vietnam War policy under LBJ and Nixon, while conceding that it was an unusually difficult struggle for U.S. troops. She was adamant in her opposition to the so-termed "Women's Lib" movement or use of the term "Ms." as a way of addressing women; she stated that she had no idea what women wished to become liberated from, and was startled when a woman Secret Service agent was assigned by rotation to protect her.
In widowhood, Mamie Eisenhower became staunchly partisan. Although she warmly welcomed President and Mrs.Carter to her Gettysburg home in the summer of 1979, she publicly supported the gubernatorial candidacy of Republican Richard Thornburg in her state. Despite a warm and long friendship with Dr.Loyal Davis and his wife Edie, the parents-in-law of Ronald Reagan, Mamie Eisenhower suggested that she intended to support the Republican presidential candidate George H.W.Bush just months before the 1980 presidential primaries began. In her last year, Mamie Eisenhower applied for a suite at Knollwood (see above) so she could be around friends and closer to family members. Since entry was possible only when an opening occurred and there was widespread public misunderstanding of her application she withdrew it, a matter she explained in her last interview, with reporter Barbara Walters that aired several days after her death.
82 years old
1 November, 1979
Place of Meditation Dwight D. Eisenhower Center
*MamieEisenhower's funeral was attended by Rosalynn Carter and Pat Nixon.