Mamie Eisenhower Juvenile/Educational Biography
Mamie Geneva Doud Eisenhower
(November 14, 1896-November 1, 1979)
Mamie Doud Eisenhower was born November 14, 1896, in Boone, Iowa. She was the second of 5 children, 3 sisters and 1 younger brother. Only 4 of the siblings survived to adulthood; one sister died in 1918. Her father’s family had been in the United States for at least 10 generations; however, her maternal grandfather arrived in the United States from Sweden and settled in Boone.
The family was quite well-to-do. Mamie’s father John was a successful businessman who had made a fortune in the meatpacking industry. When Mamie was only 9 months old, her family moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Then, in 1902, the family relocated to the West, first in Pueblo, Colorado, then to Colorado Springs, and finally to Denver because of the frail health of Mamie’s older sister. Because Mamie’s mother hated the severe winters in Colorado, the family bought a second home in San Antonio, Texas. As a result, the family split their time between the 2 cities and Mamie attended both East Denver High School and The Mulholland School in San Antonio, Texas. From 1914-1915, Mamie attended Miss Wolcott’s School for Girls in Denver, a finishing school. Although an indifferent student, Mamie learned the value of money and developed budgeting and financial skills from her father. She had been raised in wealth but was conscientious about cost and could easily save money.
During the winter of 1915-1916, while the Douds were living in their San Antonio home, Mamie met young Dwight David Eisenhower (Ike). He was a recent graduate of West Point and a second Lieutenant in the United States Army, stationed at nearby Ft. Sam Houston. On Valentine’s Day, 1916, Ike gave her a miniature of his West Point class ring to seal their formal engagement. He had designed the ring himself. They were married July 1, 1916, in her parents’ home in Denver. Their first home was in the officers’ barracks at Ft. Sam Houston.
Ike slowly rose in rank, and each promotion led to a change of posting. Mamie estimated that she relocated her household 27 times during Ike’s 37 year military career, establishing homes in the Philippines, near Paris, the Panama Canal Zone, and stateside. She considered the White House as another posting because Ike had told her that his country would always come first. And although Mamie enjoyed the travel and made friends easily, nothing prepared her for the death from scarlet fever of their oldest son Doud Dwight (called Icky) in early January 1921, when he was barely 3. She lavished her love and care on their second son, John Sheldon Doud Eisenhower who was born the following year. This son became a decorated hero, military historian and writer, and later United States Ambassador to Belgium. His son David (Mamie’s grandson) later married Julie Nixon, daughter of President Richard Nixon and it is for David that Ike named the presidential retreat in Maryland (Camp David).
During World War II, Ike became Supreme Allied Commander of the European front and was promoted to five-star general. Mamie lived in Washington at the Wardman Park Hotel. She and Ike did not see each other for nearly 3 years. This was a very difficult time for Mamie. She stayed busy responding to letters, visiting with family and a handful of other Army wives, and volunteer activities for the Red Cross. It is clear that Ike’s devotion to his wife grew over the years, especially during this time.
After the war, Ike became president of Columbia University in New York City and then Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The presidential campaign of 1952 was tailor-made for a war hero with the conflict in Korea a major concern. Ike won handily and Mamie was the first First Lady to be kissed openly in public following the Inaugural ceremony.
As First Lady, Mamie reflected the values of most middle-aged middle class American women of the 1950s: family and home, entertaining to assist her husband, and her own personal appearance. During her tenure in the White House, the upkeep of both the public and private rooms was emphasized by Mamie. She was skilled in managing a large staff yet she treated them with respect, warmth, and care, even to ordering fancy decorated cakes to celebrate birthdays or any other event. She became well known for her coordinated outfits, hats, other accessories, and the color “Mamie pink” which was her signature color.
Mamie was not considered political in the way many modern First Ladies are; however, she took several critical stands. When the Easter Egg Roll was reinstated on the White House lawn, she made sure that black children were invited to join the fun, the first time this had ever occurred. She refused to entertain Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the White House because of his personal rudeness and her dislike of his tactics in the search for Communists in America. After Ike’s heart attack in September 1955, she joined the American Heart Association as local and national chairman of their fundraising drives, increasing their income by more than 70 percent. The final area of her interest was the care, financial difficulties, and living conditions of many widows of Army veterans who received minimal benefits from the government their late husbands had served. With her support and aided by Army wives around the world, Knollwood opened its doors on 16 lushly landscaped acres in 1962. Its purpose was to provide affordable, secure retirement housing and health care services for Army widows.
Two years after Ike’s heart attack, he suffered a mild stroke (November 25, 1957). Although he recovered quickly, Mamie again made her husband’s health her primary concern. In fact, in the late days of the 1960 presidential campaign she requested that the Nixon election committee refrain from asking for Ike’s help in vigorously campaigning. This may have contributed to Nixon’s defeat.
After leaving the White House, Ike and Mamie retired to the only home they owned, the farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, near the battlefield. Ike’s health continued to worsen and he was permanently hospitalized in 1968 at Walter Reed Army Hospital in the Washington area. Mamie moved in also to be with him. He died March 28, 1969. Earlier she had expressed her concern to the first lady, Lady Bird Johnson, about living alone as a presidential widow. President Johnson legislation giving lifetime Secret Service protection to widowed first ladies.
Following Ike’s death, Mamie remained as active as her health permitted. She traveled, frequently visited the White House after her grandson married Tricia Nixon, and lived at the beloved Gettysburg farm until her death November 1, 1979. She was buried beside Ike in a small chapel on the grounds of the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas.