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Growing Up to Be President: Dwight D. Eisenhower

By Kate Kelly,

Did the families of our presidents ever suspect that one day their sons would grow up to be president?  Was there an educational path to political success, or was there a common ingredient in the backgrounds of those who eventually became the leader of our country?

To all questions, the answer is ‘no’.  The men (and thus far it has only been men) who have become President of the United States came from varied backgrounds and the educational preparation for the job ranged from a few months of schooling to advanced academic degrees.

While each man’s experience was certainly shaped by the era in which he lived, the fact that people with such diverse backgrounds have governed our country speaks well for our future; there will undoubtedly be more diversity to come.

To consider how very different their experiences were, let’s take a look at three few of the more famous presidents:  Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Dwight D. Eisenhower  (1890-1969)

Served as president from 1953-1961

Dwight D. Eisenhower came to national prominence and was elected to the presidency in 1953 because of his esteemed military career.  During World War II, he served well and honorably as the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe.  No one would have predicted this future for Eisenhower, as he came from a Mennonite family that did not support the military. They believed pacifism was the way to solve world problems.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was the third born son out of seven brothers.  When he was only a year old his family moved to Abilene, Kansas.  The family was quite poor and relied on their garden for most of what they ate, and the boys were expected to help with chores such as feeding the chickens, gathering eggs, and milking the cow and bringing in firewood.

Most children in the early twentieth century needed some way to add to family income.  Eisenhower found that he could make money for the family by selling some of the family’s unneeded vegetables to other residents of Abilene.

Eisenhower was a good athlete and hoped to go to college but it was clear that the family couldn’t afford it.  He learned that if he qualified, he could get a free education at the naval or military academy. However family obligations to an older brother took precedent, and Ike went to work at the local creamery, where his father was employed, in order to help put his older brother Edgar through law school.

In making that decision, Ike became too old to apply to the Naval Academy where there were strict age requirements for those who attended.  However, he eventually received an appointment to West Point.  His mother was saddened by his acceptance to West Point, because she didn’t believe in war or fighting, but she didn’t interfere, and Ike believed strongly that an education was worth it.  And he proved to be so smart and capable that he rose to be Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force.

Both Democrats and Republicans sought him for their party. He eventually accepted the nomination to be president from the Republican party.

Join us tomorrow for Growing Up to Be President: Teddy Roosevelt

These stories of a few of our presidents are just a few of the little-known stories available at Kate Kelly’s website   In February (Black History Month) and March (Women’s History Month), Kate will be profiling many leaders from backgrounds that up until recently could not have led to the White House.  To be added to either list, please visit the website.

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