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Dwight D. Eisenhower marries “his Mamie”

On this day in 1916, a 25-year-old Army lieutenant named Dwight D. Eisenhower marries 19-year-old Mamie Geneva Doud at her parents home in Denver, Colorado. He would go on to become the nation’s 34th president.

Dwight and Mamie had a short courtship. They met in 1915 while he was stationed near San Antonio, Texas, where her parents were wintering away from the Colorado snow and cold. She was bright, thrifty and a talented pianist. He was a West Point graduate on a career military track–he would eventually become the supreme Allied commander of the European Front in World War II and the leader of the invasion of Normandy in June 1944. During the war, Mamie and “Ike,” as he was called, were apart for three years. Rumors abounded during that time that Eisenhower was having an affair with his Jeep driver, Kay Summersby. Eisenhower never publicly admitted to an inappropriate relationship with Summersby, but a book of tellingly intimate correspondence between Kay and Ike was published after his death in 1969. Mamie remained silent on the matter until her death.

After the war, Eisenhower served as president of Columbia University from 1948 to 1950 and Mamie set up house in New York. When he returned to military service as commander of NATO in December 1959, Mamie gamely moved to Paris with him. It would not be the only move of their marriage: according to the National First Ladies Library, the couple lived in 33 homes during Eisenhower’s 37-year military career. Mamie also toured the country extensively with him in support of his presidential campaign in 1952, during which, at each stop, he would introduce her to the crowd as “my Mamie.” By the time Mamie moved into the White House as first lady in 1953, she had plenty of experience adapting to new situations.

During Ike’s presidency, Mamie played the part of the consummate 1950s wife and hostess. Eisenhower deferred to her plans to redecorate the White House and gave her full rein in organizing White House social functions. Mamie exerted her influence quietly but clearly: in 1953, for example, she refused to send the controversial Senator Joseph McCarthy an invitation to the annual vice president’s dinner.

During his tenure in the White House, Eisenhower suffered three health-related episodes that took him out of commission for weeks at a time: a heart attack in September 1955, a gallstone operation in 1956 and a mild stroke in November 1957. At each of these times, Mamie acted as a buffer between her husband and the daily demands of the presidency. While she did not make decisions for him, she screened visitors, managed his healthcare and diet, answered his mail and attended public functions in his absence.

Dwight called Mamie “my invaluable, my indispensable, but publicly inarticulate lifelong partner. She is a very shrewd observer. I got it into my head that I’d better listen when she talked about someone brought in close to me.”

After leaving the White House, Mamie and Dwight traveled and remained active in public life and in the Republican Party. Their grandson, David, married President Richard Nixon’s daughter Julie in 1968. The next year, Eisenhower died of heart failure at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C. with Mamie at his side. She passed away in 1979 at the age of 82.

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