I can’t be the only one who thinks these names sound like they belong to blues singers, right? I like to think that both Bess and Mamie had secret lives singing in dark clubs in DC in addition to being bad ass First Ladies. Does that fanfic exist? Can someone make a girl happy and write it up for me? Meanwhile, we can all read on about Mrs. Truman and Mrs. Eisenhower. Let’s go!
Harry S, Harry S—the S stands for S and his wife’s name was Bess! There’s a cheer for the Trumans.
Elizabeth “Bess” Wallace was born in Missouri in 1885 and helped manage the household for her mother after her father’s suicide. Bess met future hubby Harry in the fifth grade. CUTE! (Sorry for saying hubby.) Her mom was not a fan of Harry’s because he was of “humble origins”—is this sounding like a movie yet, or what? Despite (or because of?) her mom’s disapproval, Bess married Harry after he returned from serving in World War I and they had one daughter in 1924.
Although he was criticized for doing so, Harry hired Bess to work as an office clerk when he became Senator. Harry maintained that Bess was genuinely good at her work.
Bess was reluctant to be the wife even of a Vice President—so spending 8 years as First Lady to POTUS #33 was not her favorite. She canceled her first ever press conference (in which Eleanor Roosevelt was going to introduce her) and never scheduled another. Her true personality wasn’t glimpsed till later. She voluntarily signed a food rationing pledge to serve as a model for the rest of America during the war. When the White House was found to be structurally unsound, she maintained it should be renovated rather than building a new structure. During its renovation, she and Harry lived at the Lee-Blair House, which came under literal fire during an assassination attempt on the president.
No one was happier than Bess when Harry retired from politics. She survived breast cancer in the 1950s and died at age 97 in 1982: the longest lived of all the FLOTII.
Mamie “not a nickname” Doud married Ike “it’s a nickname” Eisenhower when she was only 19 years old. But where did she come from? Iowa, of course! Her family was English on her father’s side and Swedish on her mother’s side, but she grew up a Midwestern girl.
Thanks to Ike’s military career, Mamie and her hubs-a-doo lived in 33 different homes. (Sorry for saying hubs-a-doo.) I’m sure none of them were quite like the home they got when Ike became POTUS #34. HINT: It was big! And it was white! And it had a really obvious name!
Ike was not the healthiest puppy during his time as president, suffering both a heart attack and stroke in office. Guess who took over management of his schedule and correspondence? MAME THE DAME.
Mamie’s two major causes were fundraising for the American Heart Association and a retirement community for Army widows. But she was a land of contrasts when it came to views on women. On the one hand, she is said to have opposed women’s lib, believing a married woman’s place was in the home, and that women were superior to men in managing the household and banking. On the other hand, the only Democrat she ever supported was her friend Ellen Harris because “we women have to have a voice in things.”
One thing’s for damn sure: Mamie popularized the hell out of pink in the early 1960s—as well as a short haircut with bangs.
When Ike’s health failed again less than 10 years after leaving office, Mamie moved into Walter Reed Army Hospital to be with him in his last days. She outlived him by another ten years.
P.S., Mamie Eisenhower was the first First Lady to be kissed in public after the inauguration, setting a smooch precedent for all those presidential couples that followed. (You’re welcome, John and Jackie through Barack and Michelle.)
Hey hey hey more Meet the Contenders posts are coming! We have so many more Flotii to introduce you to! The tournament itself begins March 9th.