A Day in the Life of Ida Eisenhower

David Eisenhower and Ida Stover met at Lane University in Lecompton, Kansas in 1885. After their marriage later that year, David established a retail store in Hope, Kansas. When the business failed, the young couple found themselves deeply in debt. By this time, David and Ida had one son and Ida was expecting another baby. The only work David could find was as an engine wiper for the railroad in Denison, Texas. David was hired for $40 a month. Soon, Ida and their now two sons joined David in Denison, where they rented a house on Day Street for $8 per month. On October 14, 1890 their third son, Dwight, was born.

The birthplace of Dwight Eisenhower is a small, simple house—one in which David and Ida Eisenhower struggled to make ends meet. But Ida was a strong and determined woman who did what she could to make the house a home for her family. She once told an author, “We lived there but a short time, less than two years. We had two other little sons in our family then and I was kept busy as a young mother at home. There was no time to make the acquaintance of many people.”*

Today’s homes are filled with modern conveniences, such as air conditioning, gas or electric stoves and ovens, refrigerators with ice makers, dishwashers, washing machines, and hot water heaters. But in the early 1890s, few homes in the Eisenhower’s neighborhood even had running water. Ida had to carry her own water from the water well in the yard to the house. When Ida did the laundry, she probably made 40 round trips to the well. That’s quite impressive when you consider each bucket of water weighed more than 8 pounds! The 1891-1892 Denison City Directory lists seven laundries in town but only one laundress, Daisey Burton, lived just up the street at 610 South Lamar.

Each week when Ida did her baking, she had to use the cast iron coal-burning stove. The house had no fans or air conditioning, so the heat during baking hours would have been intense. Coal could have been delivered to the house for $3 per ton, but Ida and the children gathered much of what the family needed from along the railroad tracks where coal fell from the trains.

David worked at the MK&T railroad yard just a half-mile from the house. Three railroad tracks ran through the neighborhood, one almost through the front yard. With all the dirt and soot from the trains in the air, homes were in need of frequent cleaning, especially since window and door screens were still rare in the 1890s.

Most of us take it for granted that we can stop by the local grocery store (or even the gas station) if we need a gallon of milk or a dozen eggs. Ida had access to a small store nearby, but nothing could be truly refrigerated in those days, so she produced many of the family’s fresh staples. Vegetables grew in the large kitchen garden behind the house. Residential lots provided room for families to have gardens and smaller livestock. Eggs came from the chickens Ida kept, and she exchanged some of her chicken eggs with a neighbor to get cream for the family.

When the busy mother did have leisure time, she enjoyed reading in the parlor with her husband David. Knitting and needlework were among Ida’s other favorite pastimes, and she played the piano. Besides the necessities, she also grew her favorite flowers—irises—along the fence in front of the house.

The Eisenhowers lived in Denison for only about two years before they moved to Abilene, Kansas, where David went to work in a creamery operated by his brother-in-law. The family settled in a large house with surrounding acreage and four more sons were born into the family. David and Ida remained in Abilene until their deaths. One of Ida’s grandsons, John S.D. Eisenhower said, “I understand she was working in the garden the day she died.”** 

 

* Eisenhower, Man and Soldier, by Francis Trevelyan, Miller 1944. 
** Interview with John S.D. Eisenhower by Dr. Maclyn Burg, Oral Historian, on March 10, 1972 for Dwight D. Eisenhower Library.