SUSAN EISENHOWER, (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996), 392 + pp. $25.00 cloth (ISBN 0-374-21514-6).
Mamie Eisenhower always considered herself as just Mrs. Ike, never as Mrs. General Eisenhower, and never took advantage of her position. Her biography, while centered on her life as the wife of a low-ranked second lieutenant rising to the rank of five-star general, supreme commander during World War II, returning to become a university president, then on to the presidency of the United States, and finally retirement, is much more than that. It is a close, warm review of three-quarters of the twentieth century, covering wars, depressions, prosperity, successes, failures, and the daily joys and stresses of married life.
Susan Eisenhower shows her love and understanding of her grandparents and through the use of private correspondence, most unavailable until now, describes how Mamie, coming from a wealthy, socially prominent family, came to love Ike whose family was often close to poverty--truly a union of opposites.
It was not an easy life for Mamie, demanding at different times fortitude, a fight against loneliness, dutifully fulfilling social obligations, tolerating unpleasant abodes such as military assignments in Panama and the Philippines, and the courage to meet accusations and criticism based on untruths. Nevertheless, her public image, especially as first lady, was that of style, quality, social grace, and the virtues of her publicly acclaimed husband.
There was tragedy, never forgotten, in the death, through meningitis, of their three-year-old child. There were accusations of infidelity by Ike with his attractive, young female driver, Kay Summersby, exploited by the press, but denied by all close to the relationship and by Ms. Summersby even at the time of her death. Mamie, while undoubtedly disturbed by these repeated rumors, maintained her composure and dignity. Their son, John, always likened Kay's relationship to Ike as roughly that of Mary Richards to Lou Grant on the popular Mary Tyler Moore television show.
To this day the first lady is often subjected to human interest stones, generally of an unpleasant nature. In performing her public duties, Mamie was occasionally seen as being wobbly on her feet. With suppressed glee but with prominent space, she was accused of being an alcoholic, when actually she suffered from Memere's syndrome, a serious inner ear disorder which causes vertigo, dizziness, and unsteadiness on her feet. Her...