Mamie Eisenhower’s bangs and sparkling blue eyes were as much trademarks of an administration as the president’s famous grin. Her outgoing manner, her trademark style, and her obvious pride in husband and home made her a very popular first lady.
Born in Boone, Iowa, Mamie Geneva Doud moved with her family to Colorado when she was seven. Her father retired from business, and Mamie and her three sisters grew up in a large house in Denver. During winters the family made long visits to relatives in the milder climate of San Antonio, Texas.
There, in 1915, at Fort Sam Houston, Mamie met Dwight D. Eisenhower, a young second lieutenant on his first tour of duty. She drew his attention instantly, he recalled: “a vivacious and attractive girl, smaller than average, saucy in the look about her face and in her whole attitude.” On St.Valentine’s Day in 1916 he gave her a miniature of his West Point class ring to seal a formal engagement; they were married at the Doud home in Denver on July 1.
For years Mamie Eisenhower’s life followed the pattern of other army wives: a succession of posts in the United States, in the Panama Canal Zone; duty in France, in the Philippines. She once estimated that in 37 years she had unpacked her household at least 27 times. Each move meant another step up the career ladder for her husband, with increasing responsibilities for her.
Their first son Doud Dwight or “Icky,” who was born in 1917, died of scarlet fever in 1921. A second child, John, was born in 1922 in Denver. Like his father he had a career in the Army; later he became an author and served as ambassador to Belgium.
During World War II, while promotion and fame came to “Ike,” his wife lived in Washington. After he became president of Columbia University in 1948, the Eisenhowers purchased a farm at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It was the first home they had ever owned. His duties as commander of North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces—and hers as his hostess at a chateau near Paris—delayed work on their dream home, finally completed in 1955. They celebrated with a housewarming picnic for the staff from their last temporary quarters: the White House.
When Eisenhower had campaigned for president, his wife cheerfully shared his travels; when he was inaugurated in 1953, the American people warmly welcomed her as first lady. Diplomacy—and air travel—in the postwar world brought changes in their official hospitality. The Eisenhowers entertained an unprecedented number of heads of state and leaders of foreign governments, and Mamie’s evident enjoyment of her role endeared her to her guests and to the public.
In 1961 the Eisenhowers returned to Gettysburg for eight years of contented retirement together. After her husband’s death in 1969, Mamie continued to live on the farm, devoting more of her time to her family and friends. Mamie Eisenhower died on November 1, 1979. She is buried beside her husband in a small chapel on the grounds of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, Kansas.
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