Mamie Eisenhower’s family wintered in San Antonio, Texas, and it was there in October 1915 that she met Dwight Eisenhower, a young army lieutenant, and they were married only 7 months later. Although she did not change the job of first lady, Mamie Eisenhower was a favorite of many American women, who imitated her youthful style and what her husband called her “unaffected manner.”
Mamie Geneva Doud was born in Boone, Iowa, on November 14, 1896, to John Sheldon Doud and Elvira Mathilde (Carlson) Doud, the second daughter of four. John made his fortune in the meat packing industry and retired at age 36, moving the family to Colorado when Mamie was 7. There, her life was one of privilege with servants and large homes in Denver and San Antonio, Texas.
Soon after finishing school, Mamie Doud met a young second lieutenant, Dwight D. Eisenhower (Ike), at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. She immediately drew his attention, and on St. Valentine’s Day, 1916, he gave her a miniature of his West Point class ring to seal their engagement. The couple married at the Doud home in Denver, on July 1, 1916, when Mamie was just 19 years old.
Life as a Military Wife
Life radically transformed for Mamie Eisenhower as a military wife stationed in the United States, the Panama Canal Zone, France and the Philippines. In their 37 years of military duty, Mamie estimated she moved the entire household 27 times. Each move meant another step in her husband’s career and more responsibilities for her. Their first child, a boy named Doud Dwight, was born in 1917, but died of scarlet fever in 1921. Their second son and only child to survive adulthood, John, was born in 1922. He enjoyed a career in the U.S. Army and later became an author and ambassador to Belgium.
During World War II, Ike commanded troops in Europe and Mamie Eisenhower lived in Washington, D.C. At one point, she didn’t see her husband for three years, an experience which left her incredibly isolated. She lived at the Wardman Park Hotel and worked with other Army wives at the Red Cross canteen in Washington, D.C. During this time, she wrote to her husband nearly every day and worried about him. After the war, Ike served a brief stint as president of Columbia University and the couple purchased their first home, a farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In 1950, Eisenhower became supreme commander of NATO and the family moved again, this time to a little chateau outside Paris, France.
Life as First Lady
In 1952, Ike ran for the U.S. presidency and Mamie traveled with him on his campaign trips, presenting herself as a partner with her husband and appealing to both male and female voters. When the couple entered the White House, Mamie quickly took charge of the domestic staff, who dubbed her “Hostess in Chief.” At the same time, she took a personal interest in the White House domestic staff, often sending them birthday cards and gifts. The Eisenhowers entertained an unprecedented number of domestic and foreign leaders, and Mamie efficiently ran the household, even going so far as to collect grocery coupons from the paper.
Mamie Eisenhower was very much a woman of the 1950s and publicly kept the line between her life and that of her husband very separate. However, privately, she shared much with Ike, who learned to trust her judgment and opinions and appreciate that he could confide in her like no one else. She made sure the president had ample time for relaxation and took total charge of his care when he had health issues while in office.
Publicly, she kept her opinions to herself, but privately, she displayed strong convictions of her own. She disliked Senator Joseph McCarthy and made sure he was never invited to any White House social functions. In an era when more women were voting than ever before, but generally not actively involved in politics, she supported Ellen Harris, a Republican candidate running for a seat in Congress. She also accepted an honorary membership in the National Council of Negro Women, invited African-American children to participate in the annual Easter Egg Roll, and made sure the 4-H Club Camp for Negro Boys and Girls was included in special tours of the White House, all during the early stages of the Civil Rights Movement. Eisenhower was also the first honorary chair of the Girls Clubs of America, now known as Girls Inc.
After leaving the White House in 1961, the couple returned to their home in Gettysburg and enjoyed retirement until Ike died in 1969. Mamie Eisenhower continued to live on the farm, devoting her time to family and friends before her death on November 1, 1979. She is buried beside her husband in a small chapel on the grounds of the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas.