By The Librarian
The mother of US President Eisenhower
Did Ida Eisenhower Die a Jehovah's Witness?
When researching Eisenhower's religion "Since so little original documentation exists, most historians have relied on interviews with persons who knew David and Ida" (Branigar 1994:1). Of the large amount of information available, one has to determine which conclusions were historically accurate--sometimes no easy task. One of the most reliable sources is Gladys Dodd's thesis because she used scores of personal interviews with the family, many of whom she was personally acquainted with, to study the religious background of the Eisenhower family in the late 1950s. Unfortunately, some Watchtower sources are questionable.
Dr. Holt, the director of the Dwight D. Eisenhower library in Abilene, Kansas indicates that the Watchtower may be involved in passing documents off as real which are evidently forgeries (1999). Specifically, interviews with family members has led J. Earl Endacott, a former Eisenhower library curator, to conclude that it was a 1944 incident which led to the dismissal of Ida's nurse, Mrs. Engle, who was then an active Jehovah's Witness.
The source of this information was Mrs. Robinson, who became Ida's nurse after Engle's dismissal. She claimed that Engle and another Witness conned Ida to write her name several times on a blank sheet of paper under the pretense of giving her "practice." According to Mrs. Robinson, the most legible signature was then physically cut from the sheet and pasted on the bottom of the letter to Mr. Boeckel which was not written by Mrs. Eisenhower but by Engle. Endacott concluded Engle had "more loyalty to the Witnesses" than to the Eisenhower's to whom she was distantly related. Later "in one of her lucid moments Ida told Mrs. Robinson what had happened and gave the sheet with the cut out name to her. When the Eisenhower foundation took over the home, Mrs. Robinson told me the story and gave me the sheet which I still have" (Endacott, N.D.).
This letter she allegedly wrote was to a Richard Boeckel, a young man who had become a Jehovah's Witness while still in the army (Boeckel, 1980). In August of 1944 Boeckel attended a Watchtower assembly in Denver where he met Lotta Thayer, Ida's neighbor from Abilene. In his conversations with her, Boeckel explained the difficulty of being a Witness in a military environment. Thayer then reportedly told him that her neighbor was General Eisenhower's mother, and added that "she's one of Jehovah's Witnesses" and asked Boeckel if he would like her to write to him (Knorr, 1980:24-29). Boeckel wrote Ida, and part of the letter Ida allegedly wrote back to him stated,
To encourage Boeckel to accept Watchtower doctrines, the letter mentioned several current events which the Watchtower then taught was evidence that Armageddon would occur very soon, concluding that "Surely this portends that very soon the glorious Theocracy, the long promised kingdom of Jehovah...will rule the entire earth and pour out manifold blessings upon all peoples who are of good will towards Him. All others will be removed [killed at Armageddon]. Again, may I urge your ever faithfulness to these 'Higher Powers' and to the New World now so very near." The letter dated August 20, 1944, evidently had the taped signature "Ida Eisenhower" affixed to it and closed with "Respectfully yours in hope of and as a fighter for the New World" (Cole, 1955:191).
This Ida Eisenhower letter, Endacott concluded, was "not in the words of Ida, who at the time could hardly write her own name" and evidentially she was not always mentally alert although her physical health was good. Her memory started to fail soon after her husband died and was at times so poor that she could not even remember her own son's names (Eisenhower, 1974:188). Furthermore, this letter is very well written quite in contrast to the letter she wrote in her own hand dated 1943 (see Cole 1955). When the Eisenhower sons found out about this event (evidentially a reporter published the letter putatively written by Ida Eisenhower to Mr. Boeckel) and other similar incidences, they wrote to Engle exploiting Ida (Kornitzer 1955). The letter was evidentially ignored by Engle and then Milton was given the task of dismissing her. At this time, Milton hired non-Witness Mrs. Robinson to help take care of Ida.
It would appear that Richard Boeckel would immediately be suspicious when he received the letter with Mrs. Eisenhower's signature obviously taped on it. He should have confirmed that the letter was genuine before he made claims about receiving a letter from Ida Eisenhower. His story and a photo reproduction of the letter was published in Marley Cole's book Jehovah's Witnesses and other sources, and Boeckel repeated the claims about the letter in his life story published in the October 15, 1980 Watchtower. At the minimum, the Watchtower Society, Mr. Boeckel, and Marley Cole have unethically presented a letter as genuine evidentially without verification. If Mrs. Eisenhower's letter is verified to be valid, the allegations that her letter is a forgery should be squashed. So far the Watchtower has not answered several inquiries about this matter. The Eisenhower museum has agreed to pay for a handwriting expert to examine the letter, but all attempts to obtain the cooperation of the Watchtower have so-far failed.
Merle Miller related an experience involving Boeckel and this letter which reveals the irony of Eisenhower's mother's faith:
Suspicion that the letter was a forgery is also supported by a Watchtower teaching called The Theocratic Warfare Doctrine. The Theocratic Warfare doctrine essentially teaches that it is appropriate to withhold the truth from "people who are not entitled to it" to further the Watchtower's interests (Reed, 1992; Franz, 1971:1060-1061). Reed defines Theocratic War Strategy as the approval to lie "to outsiders when deemed necessary" and also to deceive outsiders to advance the Watchtower's interests (Reed, 1995:40). In the words of Kotwall the Watchtower teaches that "to lie and deceive in the interest of their religion is Scripturally approved" (Kotwall, 1997:1). Jehovah's Witnesses do not always lie outright, but they often lie according to the court's definition--not telling "the whole truth and nothing but the truth," which means the court requires the whole story, not half-truths or deception (Bergman 1998). In the words of Raines, theocratic warfare in practice means "deceiving" to protect and advance the interests of "God's people" especially God's "organization the Watchtower" (Raines, 1996:20).
Nonetheless, I found no evidence that either parent was not a devoted Watchtower adherent when the Eisenhower boys were raised. If Mrs. Eisenhower's allegiance to the Watchtower waned as she got older, this would not affect the fact that her boys were raised as Witnesses, but would help us to better understand Ida Eisenhower.
In conclusion, Ida probably did not resign from the Witnesses and still saw herself as one. The reasons for concluding Ida Eisenhower mailed other letters at about the same time that she allegedly mentioned her Witness commitment to Boeckel include a handwritten letter to fellow Witness Mrs. H. I. Lawson of Long Island, N.Y., in 1943 (Cole, 1955). Although this letter could be a forgery as well, no one has voiced this concern yet.
New York Times, Sept. 12, 1946, p. 7. In addition, a front page Wichita Beacon (April 1943) article about Ida's Watchtower assembly attendance gave no indication that she was then disenchanted with Jehovah's Witnesses. The article stated that "the 82 year old mother of Americas famous military leader. . . was the center of attraction at the meeting Sunday, and her name was heard in just about every conversation, speech and discussion. The program's subject was 'how to become a good Jehovah's Witness." No evidence exists that only a year later she rejected Watchtower teachings or had resigned. These facts do not prove the letter is not a forgery, nor do they demonstrate the commonly alleged view that she became a Witness only in her later years when she was becoming senile, as often implied by many authors.
History of Bergman's perspective:
Eisenhower's family originally belonged to the local River Brethren sect of the Mennonites. However, when Ike was five years old, his parents became followers of the WatchTower Society, whose members later took the name Jehovah's Witnesses. The Eisenhower home served as the local WatchTower meeting Hall from 1896 to 1915, when Eisenhower's father stopped regularly associating due to the WatchTower's failed prophesies that Armageddon would occur in October 1914 and 1915. Ike's father received a WatchTower funeral when he died in the 1940s. Ike's mother continued as an active Jehovah's Witness until her death.
President Eisenhower and the Influence of the Jehovah's Witnesses.pdf
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