Mrs. Ike

Katherine Whittemore reviews the biography "Mrs. Ike: Memories and Reflections on the Life of Mamie Eisenhower" by Susan Eisenhower.

Published December 3, 1996 8:00PM (EST)

He was one of six sons and rough around the edges. She was one of four daughters and -- as she admitted -- "spoiled rotten." They met in 1916, in San Antonio, Texas, where her Iowa family wintered, and he was stationed. He paid for her wedding ring with his poker earnings. Their early furniture consisted of orange crates, and she liked to claim she "could squeeze a dollar until the eagle screamed." They were married for 53 years, and weathered countless moves, years of separation, and many tragedies -- including the death of their first son, at age 3, of scarlet fever. In 1942, he wrote her this: "You are a thorobred, and, merely incidentally, I love the hell out of you."

Such were Dwight David Eisenhower and his bride, Mamie Doud Eisenhower. This is a sentimental book -- the author, Susan Eisenhower, is their granddaughter -- but an illuminating and moving one, too. Mamie urged Ike, in 1927, to accept a job writing a military guidebook to World I battlesites. Without his consequent deep knowledge of European terrain, who knows how World II might have gone? During the war, when they were apart for three years and he faced titanic pressures every day, he listened to a recording of her voice over and over, for comfort and inspiration.

Because this book is more about her than him, it can't help but sometimes seem trivial, compared to the monumental events in her husband's life. While Ike is plotting North African campaigns, we learn about, say, Mrs. Ike's system for packing their belongings. Mamie was a wife first and foremost, very much a Victorian lady. Indeed, she once cautioned her new daughter-in-law that "tired bedroom slippers and runover heels were a sure way to lose a husband."

Although Mamie once groused that "the only way to get along with [Ike] is to give him his own way constantly," he observed that she was capable of "giving me Hail Columbia," when necessary. They shared much adventure -- in their Panama years, Mamie had Ike kill bats with his ceremonial dress saber, and in Paris, the Eisenhowers threw so many parties, they dubbed a bridge near their house "Pont Mamie." Yet she never lost her no-nonsense charm. She wore her class ring and charm bracelet even at state functions. It's hard not to be fond of her. As the old slogan ran: "I Like Ike but I Love Mamie."

By Katharine Whittemore

Katharine Whittemore is the editor of American Movie Classics magazine.

MORE FROM Katharine Whittemore

Related Topics ------------------------------------------