Ida Eisenhower, Mother of a Future President

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Learning how other mamas have lived with their families gives us mothers at least two types of lessons. Sometimes we learn new ideas to try with our own families, and sometimes we receive warnings about what to resist at all costs. We can always find mamas whom we believe do a better job than we do. We can also find mamas with characteristics we don’t respect. With prayer, teachings from God’s Word, wise discernment, humble hearts, and attentive observation, we learn from the strengths and weaknesses of others. President Dwight Eisenhower’s mother provides us with examples of strength.

Ida Elizabeth Stover was born in Virginia in 1862. After her mother died when Ida was four years old, her father sent his 11 children to live among relatives. Ida lived with her mother’s father until 1883, when she moved to Kansas. She soon enrolled in Lane College in Lecompton, Kansas. At Lane she met David Jacob Eisenhower, who had moved to Kansas five years before with his father, grandfather, and other family members. David and Ida were married in the Lane College chapel two years later.

Wedding Portrait of David and Ida Eisenhower
Courtesy Eisenhower Presidential Library

Marriage Certificate of David Jacob Eisenhower and Ida Elizabeth Stover Eisenhower

Marriage Certificate of David Jacob Eisenhower
and Ida Elizabeth Stover Eisenhower

David and Ida received both of these clocks as wedding presents.

Mantle clock

Wall clock

For a while, David and his brother Abraham Lincoln Eisenhower, who was a veterinarian, ran a store in Hope, Kansas. David and Ida’s first two sons were born in Hope. The store was not successful, so David moved his family to Denison, Texas, where he worked for the railroad and where his third son, Dwight, was born in 1890. In 1892, the family moved to Abilene, Kansas. In Abilene, Ida gave birth to four more sons. Ida and David lived in Abilene for the rest of their lives.

Six years after the family relocated to Abilene, David’s brother Abraham rented his homestead, consisting of a six-room house and a three-acre plot of land, to David and Ida. Along with the rental came an option to purchase the homestead. I don’t understand why the real estate transaction was handled as it was; but in 1899 the title of the land changed from Abraham Lincoln Eisenhower to Ida Stover Eisenhower for the sum of $1,000. In 1909 Ida sold the house to her husband David for $1.00.

Part of the understanding between the brothers was that if Abraham sold David the house, David would care for their father when the time came. That time came in 1900. Grandfather Jacob lived with his son and his family until his death in 1906.

Several years ago, Ray and I were blessed to visit the Eisenhower home in Abilene, where David and Ida reared six sons to adulthood. Their fifth son, Paul, died from diphtheria when he was ten months old.

Dwight Eisenhower's Boyhood Home
Dwight Eisenhower’s Boyhood Home

Ida believed in teaching her boys how to take care of themselves. She taught them how to darn socks and how to cook. On Sundays Ida got time off from cooking. Each week two sons left church early and went home to make Sunday lunch. As an adult, cooking became one of Dwight Eisenhower’s favorite hobbies.

 She looks well to the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness.
Proverbs 31:27

In Abilene, David worked twelve-hour shifts, often seven days a week, at the local creamery. Ida worked hard to feed herself and a total of eight men and boys: a husband, a father-in-law, and her six sons. The family grew a large garden, and Ida canned 600-700 quarts of vegetables each year. On display in the home is this dough box where she made nine loaves of bread every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday — 27 loaves a week — to feed her hungry family!

Ida Eisenhower’s dough box

Ida embroidered her sons’ names on this crazy quilt pillow.

Ida embroidered the names of her sons on this crazy quilt pillow.

Ida Eisenhower’s crazy quilt pillow

The small back parlor was the heart of David and Ida Eisenhower’s home. On one wall was Ida’s piano. Before she married, Ida inherited $1,000 dollars. She spent $600 of her inheritance for a custom-built piano. Before dropping out of college to marry David, Ida had intended to be a music teacher. She taught all of her boys how to play, with varying degrees of success. The youngest son, Milton, played well enough to earn his way through college with his piano-playing skills.

Ida’s piano

Dwight Eisenhower’s great-grandfather wove the coverlet that lay across the daybed on the wall opposite the piano. He raised the sheep, dyed the wool, and wove the coverlet.

Family heirloom coverlet

In the family’s back parlor, the Eisenhower parents and their six boys gathered for family activities. First were their nightly Bible readings, when the weather was too cold to read sitting out in the front yard. One brother read until he made a mistake, and then the Bible passed to another brother.

Eisenhower family Bible

Dwight Eisenhower once said that his parents made sure that each “had an upbringing at home and an education that equipped him to gain a respectable place in his own profession.” Arthur became a banker. Edgar was a lawyer. Dwight, as you know, was a five-star general and president of the United States. Roy was a pharmacist.  Earl was an electrical engineer. Milton, younger than Dwight by nine years, served in government for many years, was a member of Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, became a college president, and was a frequent advisor to his brother while his brother served as president.

Dwight Eisenhower left home in 1911 when he was almost 21 years old to enroll at West Point. When he graduated from West Point in 1915, his parents gave him this Bible.

Eisenhower’s military career took him to many different locations. The photo below shows the Eisenhower family in Abilene in 1926. Dwight Eisenhower was then serving as an officer at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Eisenhower Family, 1926

The Eisenhower sons recognized and appreciated the love and care that their parents had given them while they were growing up. As adults they founds ways to honor their parents in tangible ways. Dwight Eisenhower was a great fan of three presidents: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. He and his wife Mamie gave his mother these plates which commemorate President Washington.

A Gift from Ike and Mamie

Gift from Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower

When the Eisenhower boys were growing up, the entire family ate at a long farm table and sat on benches. David and Ida’s sons later bought their parents a dining room set, after which they could eat their meals sitting on real chairs.

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, Dwight Eisenhower was called to Washington, D.C. His father, David, died in 1942, just three months after the Japanese attack. In 1943, Dwight Eisenhower was made Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe with orders to command the Allied invasion of the continent.

American soldiers respected their commanding general so much that during the war, many went to his boyhood home in Abilene to show their respects to his mother. Ida served them lemonade on the front porch.

The Eisenhower sons bought their mother this 1936 Spartan Short Wave radio, which she kept tuned to Europe. On this radio, she was able to hear her son Ike’s voice, while he served as the Supreme Commander of Allied forces in Europe.

Ida’s radio

 Her children rise up and bless her . . .
Proverbs 31:28

Allied forces gained victory in Europe in May of 1945. General Eisenhower was able to visit his mother less than two months later. While on that first visit back in Abilene, he gave a speech in which he praised his hometown and his parents.

Because no man is really a man who has lost out of himself all of the boy, I want to speak first of the dreams of a barefoot boy. Frequently, they are to be of a street car conductor or he sees himself as the town policeman. Above all he may reach to a position of locomotive engineer, but always in his dreams is that day when he finally comes home. Comes home to a welcome from his own home town. Because today that dream of mine of 45 years or more ago has been realized beyond the wildest stretches of my own imagination, I come here, first, to thank you, to say the proudest thing I can claim is that I am from Abilene.

Through this world it has been my fortune or misfortune to wander at considerable distance; never has this town been outside my heart and memory. Here are some of my oldest and dearest friends. Here are men that helped me start my own career and helped my son start his. Here are people that are lifelong friends of my mother and my late father, the really two great individuals of the Eisenhower family. They raised six boys and they made sure that each had an upbringing at home and an education that equipped him to gain a respectable place in his own profession, and I think it’s fair to say they all have. They and their families are the products of the loving care, labor and work of my father and mother; just another average Abilene family.

Shortly after General Eisenhower’s visit in Abilene, the Japanese surrendered and World War II was finally completely over.

In 1945 Ida Eisenhower was named Kansas Mother of the Year.

Photo taken of Ida Eisenhower for her "Kansas Mother of the Year" Award. Courtesy Eisenhower Presidential Library.

Photo taken of Ida Eisenhower
for her “Kansas Mother of the Year” Award.
Courtesy Eisenhower Presidential Library.

During General Eisenhower’s first visit back to Abilene after the Allied victory in Europe, a reporter asked his mother, “Aren’t you proud of your son?”

“Which one?” she replied.

Ida was wise to love her sons without partiality. That is one of the many lessons we can learn from this one very famous mama.

Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain,
But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
Give her the product of her hands,
And let her works praise her in the gates.
Proverbs 31:30-31


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