Having met while attending Lane University in Lecompton, Kansas, David and Ida Eisenhower married in 1885. They moved to Hope, Kansas, and established a dry goods store for their livelihood. David was the proprietor of the store while Ida settled into the routine of homemaker. David and Ida welcomed their firstborn son, Arthur, in an apartment above the store. While waiting on the birth of their second son, Edgar, David chose to leave the store and seek new employment. Relocating to Denison, Texas, in 1888, David began work as an engine wiper for the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad (the Katy) where pay for wipers ranged from $6.60 to $10.00 per week. The family rented the house on the northeast corner of Lamar and Day streets. On October 14, 1890, their third son, Dwight David Eisenhower, was born.
The birthplace of Dwight Eisenhower was 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 a reporter, “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 not time to make the acquaintance of many people.”*
Today’s homes are filled with modern conveniences, but in the early 1890’s few homes in the Eisenhower’s neighborhood even had running water. Since carrying water to a house was women’s work in 1890, Ida had to carry her own water from the water well in the yard to the house. It was typical for women to make 6-10 trips a day to a well or pump for their household needs. That’s quite impressive when you consider each bucket of water weighed more than eight pounds!
Each week when Ida did her baking, she used a 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. Passing in front of the house was a Katy line that ran southeast through Greenville and ended in Mineola. 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 1890’s.
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 grocery store on the northwest corner of Day and Crockett streets but nothing could be truly refrigerated in those days, so it was typical to have a garden and to eat seasonal fresh produce.
When the busy mother did have leisure time, she enjoyed her knitting and needlework while David liked to read the newspaper. Ida also owned a piano and loved to play and sing but sadly the piano did not make the move to Texas. Ida was also an avid gardener and enjoyed flowers such as the iris, but her favorite flower was the lily. John S.D. Eisenhower, one of Ida’s grandsons, said “I understand she was working in the garden the day she died.”**
The Eisenhower family lived in Denison for only a short while before they returned to Abilene, Kansas, where four more sons were born to David and Ida. David went to work for a creamery in March 1892, before transferring to a public utility where he spent the remainder of his career. The family rented a small home upon their initial return to Abilene but eventually moved into a modest home that sat on approximately three acres. This became the boyhood home that President Eisenhower referred to so often.
* 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.