Lou and Mamie Iowa natives served the nation as first ladies

Mamie Eisenhower signs an autograph on the platform of the 18-car campaign train that stopped briefly at Cedar Rapids' Union Station on Sept. 17, 1952.   Sentor Frank Carlson from Kansas, right, looks on.
Mamie Eisenhower signs an autograph on the platform of the 18-car campaign train that stopped briefly at Cedar Rapids' Union Station on Sept. 17, 1952. Sentor Frank Carlson from Kansas, right, looks on.

Two Iowa natives were first ladies.

Lou Henry Hoover was born March 29, 1874 in Waterloo. Mamie Doud Eisenhower was born 22 years later on Nov. 14, 1896 in Boone.

Lou Henry Hoover

Hoover came to the White House in 1929 for her husband, Herbert Clark Hoover’s, term as the 31st president, and Eisenhower arrived in 1953 when Dwight David Eisenhower began the first of two terms.

Hoover wanted to be a geologist. In her first year at Stanford, a senior was assigned to show her around the lab. Herbert Hoover, born in West Branch, was surprised to find his charge also was an Iowa native. They had grown up learning to hunt, fish and camp.

When Lou graduated in 1898, she was the first female graduate in geology from Stanford. Herbert was working as a mining engineer. As soon as he had a job that paid enough, he sent Lou a cable proposing marriage. Lou had converted to Herbert’s Quaker faith, but when they finally met up in Monterey in 1899, there was no Quaker meeting and no Protestant minister to marry them. They were married by a Catholic priest and sailed to China. The pair began a life of service that took them worldwide.

During their three years in China, Lou learned the language so well that often she would speak to her husband in Chinese when she wanted to avoid eavesdroppers. After 14 months in Tientsin, the pair found themselves in the midst of the Boxer Rebellion. Hoover estimated 60,000 shells were dropped in the compound where they lived. Lou volunteered to care for the wounded.

“She became expert in riding her bicycle close to walls of buildings to avoid stray bullets and shells, although one day she had a tire punctured by a bullet,” her husband related.

According to a 1921 story in The Gazette, Herbert had “trekked the African veld, ridden the Australian bush, crossed the Siberian steppes by droshky, suppressed riots of Chinese coolies, been wrecked on the China coast, and undergone scores of other adventures. And through it all, Mrs. Hoover has accompanied him.”

Lou joined the Girl Scout organization in 1917. She served as national vice president in 1921 and president in 1922.

“I was a Scout years ago, before the movement ever started, when my father took me hunting, fishing and hiking in the mountains. Then I was sorry that more girls could not have what I had,” she said. “When I learned of the movement I thought, here is what I always wanted other girls to have.” She also organized the National Amateur Athletic Federation’s Women’s Division.

The parents of two sons and grandparents of six, Lou and Herbert were nearly always together in the 45 years they were married.

Lou designed a house in California in 1919 with help from local architect and Stanford art professor Arthur B. Clark. The white stucco home housed the Hoovers and their guests in 1928 as they waited for results of the presidential election. When it was known that Herbert had been elected, John Philip Sousa and his band joined thousands of students and faculty to serenade the president-elect at the house.

When Herbert didn’t win re-election, the couple retired there. When Lou died in 1944, she was buried at Stanford and Herbert gave the house to the university. When Herbert died in 1964, Lou was disinterred and buried next to her husband at the Hoover Historical site in West Branch on a knoll known as the Overlook, surrounded by evergreens, her husband’s presidential library and the tiny house where he was born. Lou had spearheaded the rescue of that cottage in 1938.

Mamie Doud Eisenhower

Mamie Doud was the second of four daughters born to John Sheldon and Elivera Carlson Doud. The family left Boone when Mamie was 9 months old and set out for Cedar Rapids. When her family first arrived, her father was a buyer for Sinclair Packing Co. They lived at 1245 Third Ave. SE. By the time she entered kindergarten at the old Jackson School, Mamie lived across the street from it at 1049 Fourth Ave. SE.

Mamie got a telephone call from Santa while she lived in Cedar Rapids. In an early 1970s interview with Ladies’ Home Journal she told the story:

“In 1902, when I was 6 years old, I asked Santa Claus for a diamond ring as my Christmas present. We were living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and telephones were very new, but my father had one hanging on the wall. I remember it ringing, my father answering, and saying ‘Mamie, Santa Claus wants to talk to you.’

“They put a chair up for me so I could reach the phone, and the voice said, ‘Mamie, this is Santa Claus and I am at the corner. I will be down later and bring you your Christmas present.’ Santa was honest and I received my ring. I have always loved jewelry and as you can see this is what I wanted at an early age. The ring was a small diamond chip set in an engraved gold band. It is now in the Eisenhower Museum at Abilene, Kan.”

At age 7, Mamie had rheumatic fever, which damaged her heart valves. She admitted to being pampered as a child.

Family health concerns prompted the Douds to move to Denver in 1907 and winter in San Antonio, Texas. It was there, at age 19, that Mamie met Dwight Eisenhower, a 25-year-old West Point graduate stationed at Fort Sam Houston. They married on July 1, 1916.

Mamie returned to Cedar Rapids in 1912, when she was 16 and again on the Fourth of July, 1962, aboard her husband’s presidential campaign train. The Gazette ran a childhood photo of her attending a local picnic. Mamie was delighted with it and asked the paper for a copy.

Her last visit was in 1958, when she had been First Lady for six years. She arrived at Jackson School two days ahead of its 75th anniversary celebration, while the President was at the national cornpicking contest near Marion. Her visit with the children, teachers and a thousand onlookers was highlighted by the presentation to the school of a photograph of her kindergarten class, dated May 13, 1903.

Widowed in 1969, Mamie Eisenhower died Nov. 1, 1979, at the Gettysburg farm she had shared with her husband.

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