U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower Personal Life

About the U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, personal life and marriage, history and biography.

34th President


Personal Life: Eisenhower was serving at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio when he met Mamie Doud, the 18-year-old daughter of a well-to-do midwestern meat packer, who was wintering with her family in Texas. Ike was immediately struck by this "vivacious and attractive girl, smaller than average, saucy in the look about her face and in her whole attitude." Mamie had already won many suitors and established herself as the belle of San Antonio, but the sharp, blue-eyed West Pointer impressed her as "the spiffiest looking man I'd ever talked to in my whole life." A courtship followed, though Lieutenant Eisenhower's salary of $141.67 a month permitted few lavish entertainments. For dinner, the young couple usually went to a Mexican restaurant called the Original, where they feasted on chili and enchiladas at $1.25 for both of them. They were engaged on Valentine's Day, 1916, when Ike gave Mamie a gold and amethyst replica of his West Point class ring. They were married five moths later, when Ike was 25, and after a brief honeymoon in Colorado, they set up housekeeping at the drab, cramped officers' quarters at Fort Sam Houston. A son born a year later died at the age of three, leaving Mamie crushed. Though another son, John, was born in 1922, Mamie never recovered her health, and over the years suffered from numerous ailments.

One of her conditions that was successfully diagnosed was Meniere's disease, a disorder of the inner ear which often left her dizzy and unbalanced. In later years, this condition helped promote rumors that Mamie had adjusted to the difficult lot of an army wife by developing an addiction to alcohol. In the years before the Eisenhowers entered the White House, they lived in 30 different homes. Mamie once declared, rather poignantly, "I'd like to be a homebody, but I'm really just a movebody." When Eisenhower was away in Europe during W.W. II, gossips reported that he fell in love with Kay Summersby, an attractive young English fashion model who was his driver and personal assistant. In 1976, in a candid memoir, Past Forgetting (written just before her death), Kay Summersby confirmed her love affair with Eisenhower. However, she said the affair was largely platonic. Eisenhower attempted to have intercourse with her twice, but failed. The first time they undressed and failed to consummate their union, Eisenhower apologized and blamed it on his tiredness. The next time he failed, Summersby told him, "Wait. You're too excited. It will be all right." And Ike replied, "No. It won't. It's too late. I can't."

Harry Truman claimed that in the last weeks of the war, Ike wrote to Washington asking to be relieved of command so that he could come home, divorce Mamie, and marry the younger woman. According to the story, General Marshall, Eisenhower's immediate superior, wrote such a blistering response to this suggestion that the whole idea had to be abandoned. This entire account, however, remains open to question, since no evidence for it exists; Truman said that he personally destroyed the incriminating letters in order to protect Mamie's feelings and Ike's reputation. In 1977 the Eisenhower family again denied the divorce story, releasing copies of Ike's old letters to Mamie, which reiterated his love for her.

During the White House years, Mamie developed several hobbies to occupy herself while her husband attended to golf and statesmanship. These included autograph collecting, playing the electric organ (a gift from her mother), canasta, and Scrabble. Mamie also enjoyed reading murder mysteries, while Ike's favorite books were Zane Grey's western adventure novels. In the evening, the President and First Lady often watched TV together, eating dinner brought to them on trays while they enjoyed their favorite programs.

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