The wife of President Dwight D. "Ike" Eisenhower, Mamie Eisenhower (1896-1979) represented what was to 1950s America the ideal American wife: exuding quiet strength, finding satisfaction in domestic duties, supporting her husband unhesitatingly.
Mamie Eisenhower was the first lady of the United States at a time when home and family were considered to be of paramount importance. As first ladies often are, she was expected to serve as a role model for the American wife. Mamie Doud and Dwight D. "Ike" Eisenhower met in 1915 in San Antonio, Texas, where Eisenhower was a young army officer and high-school football coach and Mamie was wintering with her parents. They were married the next year. For Mamie, life as a military wife was initially harsh: the Douds were a close and socially prominent family, and life with Ike was relatively lean and lonely. Over the next several decades she dutifully followed her husband when she could, and raised the family herself when she could not. Her husband, meanwhile, became increasingly prominent as a military leader.
At the end of World War II Eisenhower was a national hero, and for his wife this meant a measure of celebrity to which she was unaccustomed as well as the opportunity to meet important world leaders. The general became president of Columbia University in 1948; throughout Ike's tenure at Columbia Mrs. Eisenhower was a gracious hostess to scores of famous visitors. When her husband decided to enter the presidential campaign in 1952, Mamie—a self-professed homebody—found that she would have to shed her aversion to public life: "there would be nothing he would ask during the campaign that I would not do," she recalled. As a campaign wife she subjected herself to daily appearances and interviews and answered thousands of letters.
Life in the White House
After Eisenhower won the presidency, Mrs. Eisenhower was able to return to a degree of domestic stability in the White House. By this time she was used to overseeing a staff, and she saw that the executive mansion was run efficiently. She also lent her services to charitable causes, and she made the White House more historic by leading a drive to recover authentic presidential antiques. She and her husband observed a division of labor ("Ike took care of the office—I ran the house") although the president valued his wife's insights into political personalities of the time.
For the eight years of the Eisenhower presidency Mamie Eisenhower represented the public ideal of the American wife: exuding quiet strength, finding satisfaction in domestic duties, supporting her husband unhesitatingly. Eisenhower observed of her: "I personally think that Mamie's biggest contribution was to make the White House livable, comfortable, and meaningful for the people who came in. She was always helpful and ready to do anything. She exuded hospitality. She saw that as one of her functions and performed it, no matter how tired she was." When Eisenhower left office in 1961, he and Mrs. Eisenhower were at last allowed something like a peaceful retirement, although Eisenhower kept busy in the role of elder statesman until his death in 1969. Mamie Eisenhower lived quietly after her husband's death until her own death in 1979.
Further Reading on Mamie Doud Eisenhower
Dorothy Brandon, Mamie Doud Eisenhower (New York: Scribners, 1954).
Steve Neal, The Eisenhowers: Reluctant Dynasty (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1978).