Mamie Doud was only nineteen when she married recent West Point graduate Lt. Dwight Eisenhower.
Young Army Bride
Mamie’s parents, John and Elivera Doud were not happy about their daughter’s marriage. They adored Dwight David Eisenhower, and would consider Ike their “son” for the rest of their lives, but they believed their rather spoiled daughter was much too young – and that her privileged upbringing might not be adaptable to army life. They suggested that the youngsters wait.
But Ike was a professional soldier, and his duty was to go where he was deployed. While he and Mamie had agreed to wait for a year, Ike’s orders were sending him east. Mamie lived in Denver, Colorado. Waiting, at least for them, was not an option.
According to Mamie Eisenhower (1896-1979) many years later, they moved twenty times in twenty years.
Young Army Wife
Mamie’s parents knew their daughter rather well, particularly the part about adapting to the rigors – and economies – of army living. Mamie’s domestic skills were skimpy. She did not cook or sew. A two-room officer’s bungalow required little upkeep. Her academic skills were not much better. She had been an indifferent student.
But Mamie seemed to shape up nicely to the exigencies of army life. She fit in easily among the cadre of young officers’ wives, and her broad grin matched that of her husband’s. They made friends easily, and were happy to take their turn hosting the pick-up parties that were fashionable on-base.
But the moving from place to place was another story. Sometimes they barely had time to unpack and get accustomed to their new environment when new orders arrived and they were off again. But with experience comes wisdom, and in the moving department, Mamie became a pro.
The Moving Plan
Very early in their married life, Mamie decided on a plan to make moving from place to place as simple as possible.
First. The colors of their rooms would always be the same. Their bedroom would be a mint green (to please Ike), and she would accent the room with her favorite color: pink. (It would be too much to ask for Ike to sleep in a pink bedroom, but he could accept a rose-pink spread or pillows.) The colors for their living room and dining room would also be consistent throughout their many moves. This way it would always look like “home.”
Second: Army wife Mamie saved and stored her packing crates and boxes – unless they completely fell apart from jostling or age. Each crate and box was specifically marked according to the items they carried. This way she knew what would fit and where it would go. And if it was not going to “fit” in the new quarters, the items were stored away till the next move. Sooner or later those trays or dishes or lamps or end tables would be needed again.
Perhaps the good thing about “military moves” are that Mrs. Army Wife does not have to do the actual packing and moving. The army was happy to do it for them. All Mamie had to do is organize the “stuff” and supervise the job. She learned to be superb.
Packing up to move is only half the problem; unpacking is the other half. Throughout the first quarter century of the Eisenhower’s marriage, through dozens of moves both in the USA and overseas, Mamie developed a consistent philosophy of unpacking. It was unorthodox, and would probably not be acceptable to modern wives today, but it suited Mamie perfectly.
The philosophy: Make it “home” ASAP. She would decide immediately where the big furniture was to be placed – usually in a similar arrangement from house to house. This way it would always have the same “feel” to it. The boxes and crates of “accessories” were all marked room-by-room, so they could be found quickly.
Ike did not have the luxury of having a few days off before reporting for duty; Mamie didn’t have the luxury of having him around to help move furniture or hang pictures – or even ask where he might like to have something put. He had to report; she had to make the house live-able.
Once the big furniture was in place, Mamie immediately hung her pictures and set out her knick-knacks. She would always have a lot of them. Most women today leave that accessorizing until much later in the moving process, but not Mamie.
If the ashtrays and vases were on the table; if the pictures were hung in the usual place they had hung before, i.e. living room pictures, bedroom pictures, dining room pictures; if the doilies were on the backs of the sofas or armchairs and the books were lined up on the shelves, the new quarters would look like home.
Unpacking the pots and pans, unpacking the dishes and glasses and silverware, even unpacking their clothes and personal belongings… all that could wait a day or two.
But when Ike came home that first night and opened the door, he knew immediately that he was “home.”
Brandon, Dorothy – Mamie Doud Eisenhower – Scribners 1954
Eisenhower, Susan – Mrs. Ike – Farrar Straus Giroux, 1996
Lester, David and Lester, Irene – Ike and Mamie – G.P. Putnam, 1981