Mamie Doud was only nineteen when she married Second Lt. Dwight D. Eisenhower, recently graduated from West Point.
The Eisenhower Bride and Groom
While Mama and Papa Doud adored Ike, and would consider him their “son” for the rest of their long lives, they were not thrilled at the marriage. Mamie, they believed, was much too young. She was also somewhat pampered and spoiled, and the Douds were concerned that she would not adapt well to the restrictions of army life. Mamie came from well-to-do stock, with all the luxuries that upper middle class money could buy. Second Lieutenants do not earn fortunes.
They needn’t have worried. While Mamie was noticeably deficient in the housewife-arts, and would never master sewing, knitting or cooking, she did have some hitherto unknown gifts that would enable her to be a superb military spouse.
The Talents of Mamie
Like Ike, Mamie had a wall-to-wall smile that invited friendships from the start. They were delighted to mingle with the other junior officers at card parties and pot-luck suppers and whatever activities were popular. They were just as happy to take their turn as hosts, and for the next twenty-five years of their marriage, wherever they were deployed, their quarters became “Club Eisenhower.” Senior officers also took notice of the capable young lieutenant Dwight D. Eisenhower and his cute little slip-of-a-thing wife.
Another hidden talent was her ability to pack and move at practically no notice. Ditto unpack and move in within the day. Mamie Eisenhower claimed that they moved twenty times in twenty years, so she had mega-experience. She kept the crates and boxes in storage, each neatly marked for its contents. Then, when it came time to “unpack,” and the large furniture was in place, Mamie immediately hung the pictures and placed ashtrays and knick-knacks in their usual places, so when Ike came home that evening, it really was home. Clothing, kitchen goods and all the closet-and-cupboard items could wait till later.
The Great General
All that changed with World War II, and Ike was promoted over more than a hundred officers with seniority. The “General” who planned and implemented the monumental D-Day Invasion of Europe was now the Great General with five stars on his shoulders, and his choice of future plans.
Shortly after the War, Ike wrote Crusade in Europe, about his wartime efforts, and it was a huge best-seller. Money was no object now. They could afford a house.
In 1948, Ike “retired” from active duty, and accepted a position as President of Columbia University, in New York City. It came with a house.
But Ike and Mamie wanted their own digs. They were both past fifty and had never owned a house.
Ike & Mamie Rediscover Gettysburg
Early in their marriage, the young Eisenhowers had been deployed in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and had loved the area, with its beautiful rolling hills, quiet seclusion and deep historic significance. They found an old farm, with dilapidated buildings, cows, chickens and 189 acres, for only $40,000 (about $400,000 today.) They bought it, even though they knew it would require a lot of work. They did not know that it would be years before they could move in and enjoy it.
In 1951, Ike was “recruited” again as the Supreme Commander of NATO, the mutual European defense organization formed after the War. It came with a house, too. The Eisenhowers’ Gettysburg farm would have to wait.
Then, despite saying “no” several times, General Eisenhower was “recruited” again – this time as Republican Candidate for President in 1952. He won easily. The new job also came with a house, and a nice one at that.
Ike and Mamie Rebuild The Farm
The responsibilities of the Presidency and the First Ladyhood did not prevent the Eisenhowers from tackling the job of making their own “farm” habitable, and suitable for the President of the United States.
Buildings had to be torn down and new ones erected, to Mrs. Ike’s specification. She had become accustomed to being the General’s Wife, and could be picky. They knew that some of their houseguests would be world leaders and heads of state. Fixing up the Gettysburg farm cost Ike more than $2,000,000 (in today’s money), and it would take the better part of his first term in office.
It would not be until late 1955 that the Eisenhowers could actually use their new home – at least part time. But once it was habitable, Ike and Mamie enjoyed their farm as few other First Families did. It was a “c’mon down” place.
The Comfy Eisenhowers
Ike and Mamie had their own style, and it was apple pie American! Their furnishings were not elaborate. Many of their “treasures” were trinkets from old friends. Or souvenirs and gifts from the powerful and famous leaders of the world. After all, General Eisenhower (the title he preferred, like Washington and Grant) was probably the most famous man in the world.
Their special retreat was the sunroom, where they could play cards or watch television, something they both loved to do. It is said that after all the high falutin’ banquets and dinners of the grand stage, they were delighted to have soup and sandwiches on tray-tables in their sunroom, and watch the Ed Sullivan Show.
Ike willed the Gettysburg farm to the country, with the proviso that he could live there for the remainder of his life; it was amended to include the same provision for Mamie. It was her first house, and her last house. She lived there until her death in 1978.
Eisenhower, David & Eisenhower, Julie Nixon – Going Home to Glory – Simon and Schuster, 2010
Eisenhower, Susan – Mrs. Ike – Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996
Lester, David and Lester, Irene – Ike and Mamie – G.P. Putnam, 1981