The Influence of Religion on President Eisenhower's Upbringing

By Bergman, Gerald | Journal of American & Comparative Cultures, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview

The Influence of Religion on President Eisenhower's Upbringing


Bergman, Gerald, Journal of American & Comparative Cultures


Introduction

Dwight D. Eisenhower (October 14, 1890-March 28, 1969), the thirty-fourth President of the United States, served for two terms, from 1953 to 1961. In 1952, he received the largest number of votes until then for a presidential candidate (Miller, Piety 3) and in 1956 he topped his own record. Why he was so popular involved many factors, one of them being his personal appeal to the common people and their perception of his "spiritual values" (Miller, Piety 10). The story of the religious upbringing of Dwight Eisenhower is helpful in understanding both president Eisenhower as a person and his presidency.

The dominant religious influence in the Eisenhower home when the boys were young was early Watchtower theology and beliefs. Both parents were deeply involved and highly committed to the Watchtower theology throughout most of their children's formative years. Ida took the lead religiously, and her husband, David Eisenhower, later became disillusioned with certain Watchtower teachings; nonetheless, while growing up this religion was a major influence, according to many sources including the Eisenhower family's published and unpublished writings (Davis 40). In the words of one of the major biographers of Eisenhower, Ida's religion, which came "dangerously close to intolerant dogma," had a "real but difficult to assess" influence "on the character development of her children" (Davis 40). Davis adds that "each boy was to retain all his life long a profound respect for the moral tenets that the parents derived, or thought they derived, from their religion" (49).

As adults, none of the Eisenhower boys were formally involved with the Watchtower, and even at times tried to skirt their Jehovah's Witness upbringing. The eldest Eisenhower boy, Arthur, even once stated that he could not accept the religious dogmas of his parents although he had "his mother's religion" in his heart (Kornitzer 64). They also openly rejected certain Watchtower medical conclusions and theology, especially its eschatology and millennial teachings. Although as adults none of Mrs. Eisenhower's boys were what she and other Witnesses referred to as "in the truth," she was always hopeful that they would someday again embrace the religion in which they were raised. Nonetheless, their Watchtower upbringing in many ways influenced them throughout their lives. Even in later life, Dwight preferred "the informal church service" with "vigorous singing and vigorous preaching" like he grew up with (Dodd, Early Career 233). Furthermore, Dwight's mother, Ida was relatively supportive of her boys during most of their careers, at times stating that she was proud of them and their accomplishments, even those achievements that violated her Watchtower faith.

Eisenhower Family Background

Dwight and his five brothers, Arthur (b. 1886), Roy (b. 1892), Earl (b. 1898), Edgar, and Milton (b. 1899) were raised in Abilene, Kansas. His parents, David and Ida Eisenhower, owned a modest two-story white wood sided frame house on South 4th Street in Abilene, Kansas. The Eisenhower family was never well off financially and Ida, a frugal hard-working woman, planted a large garden on their three-acre lot to raise much of the family's produce needs. Their small farm included cows, chickens, a smokehouse, fruit trees, and a large vegetable garden (Neal).

The values of Dwight "Ike" Eisenhower's parents and their home environment were reflected in the enormous success of all of their children. The most dominant influence in the Eisenhower home was likely religion, primarily the Watchtower (known as Bible Students until 1931) and, to a much lesser extent, the River Brethren (Bergman, Jehovah's Witnesses; Dodd letter). Both parents were very active in the Watchtower during most of the Eisenhower children's formative years. Eisenhower's mother, Ida Eisenhower, stated that she became involved with the Watchtower in 1895 when she was thirty-four and Dwight was only five years old (Cole 190). …

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