The Faiths of the Postwar Presidents: From Truman to Obama

By David L. Holmes | Go to book overview

Dwight D. Eisenhower
1890–1969 PRESIDENT FROM 1953 TO 1961

As a general and as a president, Dwight David Eisenhower worked to keep the religious side of his childhood private. He and his brothers succeeded so well that some of what biographers have written about the family’s religious heritage is either inaccurate or incomplete.

Eisenhower did not join a church until he was sixty-three years old. His religious background in the River Brethren, in the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and in the nondenominational Protestantism of the United States Army seems to explain the delay. Four decades after his death, these aspects of his religious upbringing still remain little known.1

Born in Denison, Texas, Eisenhower grew up in a small frame house in Abilene, Kansas. The center of Kansas Populist politics, Abilene was the terminus not only of the Chisholm Trail but also of a major railroad line. On both of his parents’ sides, Eisenhower was of German American descent.2 He was the third of seven sons, one of whom died in infancy. He had no sisters.

Dwight Eisenhower’s father, David, came from a well-to-do abolitionist farming family. In the nineteenth century only a small percentage of Americans went to college, but David attended Lane University in Lecompton, Kansas. A small church college with the somewhat grandiose name of “university,” it was established by the United Brethren in Christ, a German American denomination. In the twentieth century it merged with the much larger Methodist Church to form the United Methodist Church. After a brief period of study, he left Lane to marry another student, Ida Stover. David’s father gave the newly married couple 160 acres of farmland and several thousand dollars—a large sum at the time—to run it, but they chose instead to operate a general store in nearby Hope, Kansas.

In many ways, life proved a disappointment for Eisenhower’s father. Family legend asserts that David and his wife lost their store in 1888 because of an unreliable partner and a greedy lawyer.3 In reality, the store closed because a

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