Wednesday, January 30, 2013

"Ike Runs the Country, I Turn the Pork Chops"

During the 1952 presidential campaign, Dwight Eisenhower's wife Mamie was by his side every step of the way, delighting crowds with her quick wit and natural charm. Campaign songs were written about her and colorful buttons and posters proclaimed, “I LIKE IKE, BUT I LOVE MAMIE.”

Biographers say that one reason Mamie was so popular as First Lady was that she shared the country’s interests and middle-class values. She watched soap operas, played board games, and reportedly encouraged White House cooks to use boxed cake mixes and Jell-O.

Even her personal tastes reflected those of the nation. She was a fan of such hit shows as “I Love Lucy” and "The Milton Berle Show" and let it be known that she and Ike liked to take their dinner on trays while watching TV in the private family quarters at the White House. As First Lady, Mamie was proud of her role as a traditional housewife, and was famously quoted as saying, "Ike runs the country, the turn the pork chops."

But Mamie did occasionally break with tradition in her entertaining as First Lady. According to White House historians, she regularly decorated the State Dining Room each holiday season with Halloween skeletons, witches, jack-o-lanterns, St. Patrick's Day leprechauns and green ribbons.

The Eisenhowers also entertained more royalty and heads-of-state than most previous administrations. Among their guests were the emperor of Ethiopia; the presidents of Panama, Haiti, Turkey, Italy, and Ireland; the rulers of Greece, Nepal, and Denmark, as well as Nikita Khrushchev and Winston Churchill.

The highlight of the 1957 social season, however, was undoubtedly the round of festivities celebrating Elizabeth II’s first trip to Washington, D.C., shortly after she became Queen of England. In addition to hosting reciprocal state dinners and exchanging diplomatic gifts, the president later received a personal recipe from the queen for English Drop Scones.

Yet for all its glamour and excitement, the Queen’s visit came at a difficult time for Eisenhower. In September of 1957, racial tensions over desegregation had exploded in violence in Little Rock, Arkansas. Then came news in early October that the Soviet Union had orbited the first space satellite (Sputnick), causing many Americans to fear that the United States was losing both the "space race" and the Cold War.

Nevertheless, the Eisenhowers’ charismatic personalities and traditional middle-class values allowed them to maintain the affection of an overwhelming majority of Americans throughout the 1950s and into their retirement.

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2 comments:

  1. A visit to the Eisenhower family farm surely reinforces the notion of how down to the earth this first family lived. I've enjoyed reading your blog for quite some time. My travels often center around former presidential homes. The rich history of these interesting men is brought to life so well by your writing.

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  2. Hi Janice, I'm so glad you're enjoying the blog, and what a great way to plan your travels! I've always wanted to visit Mount Vernon and Monticello so maybe that'll be my next trip!

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