A charm bracelet that tells a First Lady’s story
As Christie’s presents a selection of jewels and watches formerly from the Dwight D. and Mamie Eisenhower Collection, we take a closer look at one particularly poignant charm bracelet worn by the popular First Lady
Everyone who grew up in America during the 1950s will recall Dwight D. Eisenhower’s famous campaign slogan, ‘I Like Ike’. But there was someone else the American public was anxious to see in the White House — Mamie Eisenhower. Buttons were also created that read, ‘I Like Mamie’ and ‘Mamie for First Lady’.
Mamie Eisenhower’s cheerful smile and positive energy, along with her designer clothes and famous bangs, which were styled by Elizabeth Arden in Paris, were among her trademarks as First Lady. Her style was personalised with accessories such as pearl chokers and button earrings, glittery pins, fitted hats, mink stoles, full-length fur coats, and charm bracelets, such as this one that commemorates important milestones in her life. A selection of Mamie Eisenhower’s jewellery is offered in Magnificent Jewels on 6 December and in Christie’s Jewels Online from 29 November to 7 December.
1915: Dwight meets Mamie
In October 1915, 18-year-old Mamie Geneva Doud, the daughter of a wealthy father who had made his fortune in the meat-packing business, met Second Lieutenant Dwight Eisenhower, who was on his first tour of duty, in San Antonio.
Mamie had enjoyed a privileged upbringing that was split between Colorado and Texas. After graduating, she attended Miss Woolcott's private finishing school where she was taught languages and the social graces required by young, wealthy girls of her time.
1916: Dwight proposes
On Valentine’s Day in 1916, Dwight presented Mamie with a miniature of his West Point class ring as a formal engagement proposal. Four and a half months later, on 1 July, the couple were married at the Doud home in Denver.
Mamie assumed the role of army wife, following the typical pattern of multiple moves across the United States and abroad. She once estimated that throughout Dwight’s 37 years of service and their 53 years of marriage, she unpacked her household on at least 28 occasions.
Their first child, Doud Dwight, was born in 1917, but died only a few years later of scarlet fever. Their second child, John, was born in 1922. Despite the many moves, Mamie succeeded in creating comfortable homes wherever they lived, and volunteered when she could.
Displaying impressive initiative and leadership qualities, Eisenhower excelled in his early Army career, rising through the ranks to become Chief of Staff and eventually a Five-Star General.
On 6 June 1944, and by then the Supreme Commander of Allied Expeditionary Forces in the Second World War, it was Eisenhower who gave the order that began Operation Overlord, the mass invasion of Europe that began with D-Day.
The Allies had a window of only four days of decent weather in which an invasion would be possible. When bad weather arrived two days before, Eisenhower considered postponing Operation Overlord, but with 156,000 men poised to cross the English Channel to attack the German forces defending Normandy, time was of the essence.
After a favourable weather report on 5 June, General Eisenhower addressed his men on the morning of the invasion. ‘The eyes of the world are upon you,’ he told them. ‘The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.’
1945: The German surrender
During the Second World War, Mamie went nearly three years without seeing her husband, as he commanded the troops in Europe. In May 1945, her husband was based at his temporary HQ, a small redbrick schoolhouse in Reims, northeast France.
On 6 May 1945, General Alfred Jodl, chief of staff at the Wehrmacht, arrived at the building. He was representing Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz, who had assumed leadership of Germany following the April 1945 suicide of Adolf Hitler. In the early hours of the following morning, Jodl was one of the signatories on the document that signalled the final surrender by the Nazis. For reasons of protocol, General Eisenhower remained in another room when the document was signed.
The message informing the War Office in London that the war in Europe was over was sent only after General Eisenhower had rejected a series of drafts proposed by his staff, opting instead for simple wording: ‘The mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 0241, local time, May 7th, 1945.’
1952: Eisenhower wins Presidency
Having shown the world his leadership skills as commanding general of the victorious Allied forces in Europe, and after brief stints as President of Columbia University and then as Commander of NATO, Eisenhower ran for the presidency. Mamie was by his side throughout his campaign, which ended in a landslide victory in November 1952.
At her husband’s inauguration, Mamie Eisenhower wore a pink silk and rhinestone ball gown by Nettie Rosenstein, which is now in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The dress set the tone for her reign as First Lady: the New York Dress Institute named her as one of the 12 best-dressed women in America every year she spent in the White House.
1953: Mamie and Dwight move into the White House
On 20 January 1953, Mamie Eisenhower assumed the duty of First Lady. She had played an important role during the election campaign, and had even appeared in a televised presidential message in 1952.
She proved to be popular with the American public, which identified with her as a ‘girl next door’. In January 1953 Time magazine opined, ‘Mamie Eisenhower is fondly expected to touch off a social renaissance and to lend a new warmth to the affairs of the presidency.’
When the Eisenhowers left the White House in 1961, they moved to their farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where they enjoyed a peaceful life until President Eisenhower’s death in 1969. Mamie continued to live on the farm, devoting her days to friends and family, until she passed away in 1979.
Dwight D. and Mamie Eisenhower are buried next to each other in a small chapel on the grounds of the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas.