The Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum, and Boyhood Home
While the echoes of World War II were still dying away, 50 Americans decided the man who had been the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Dwight David Eisenhower, deserved a lasting monument to his life and his success in the victory over fascism. To achieve that dream, they created the Eisenhower Foundation. Nearly 70 years later, that Foundation is still working to preserve and promote the values of a man who rose from poverty to the presidency.
On November 4, 2014, Chair of the Eisenhower Foundation Board of Directors Ann Brownell Sloane spoke with HistoryNet in an exclusive interview about the history of the Foundation and its work with the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum, and Boyhood Home. She is the daughter of Herbert Brownell, the man who served as Eisenhower’s political campaign manager and his attorney general.
HistoryNet: The Eisenhower Foundation was formed in 1945, when World War was barely over and eight years before Dwight Eisenhower was elected President of the United States. How did this foundation come to be formed? Has its focus changed over the years?
Ann Brownell Sloane: The impetus, of course, was in 1945 when World War II had just ended. When General Eisenhower returned home that fall after the Allied victory in Europe, he was greeted with tremendous fervor by the American people. His friends and associates, particularly those in Kansas wanted to honor him. Ike came from the heart of America and the heart of America is very big. (Eisenhower was born in Texas but grew up in Abilene, Kansas.)
About 50 men and women, 40 from Kansas and 10 from New York, incorporated Eisenhower Foundation to honor the him and the men and women of the Armed Forces who had fought in World War II. After receiving tax-exempt status from the Federal Treasury Department in1948, these friends and supporters donated their vision, time and money to erect a museum and library. Two members of the group—J.C. Hall, a boyhood friend from Abilene who founded Hallmark Cards, and Harry Darby, US Senator from Kansas—led the effort to raise funds to obtain a substantial portion of land in Abilene, Kansas, where Ike spent his boyhood. The land included the family home near the Creamery where he and his father had worked, close to the railroad tracks and not far from the center of town. Eisenhower and his brothers donated the family home to the Foundation after their mother died.
A center was created that includes the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum, and Boyhood Home, along with a larger-than-life statue of Eisenhower, in his uniform as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, overlooking these buildings. Later, the Place of Meditation, designed by President Eisenhower, was built. He hoped visitors would use this area to reflect upon the ideals that made this a great nation and pledge themselves to continued loyalty to those ideals. The Place of Meditation also houses the remains of Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower and their son who died at the age of three. (Doud Dwight Eisenhower, affectionately known among the family as "Icky," died of scarlet fever in 1921.) It, too, was built by private funds raised through Eisenhower Foundation.
HN: The Foundation’s mission includes the words "to honor and champion the relevance today of the life and leadership of Dwight D. Eisenhower." Talk to us a bit about that relevance, please.
ABS: In short, values, character, hard work, discipline, restraint, intelligence, and understanding others; the general embraced and wove into his towering career, the West Point motto, “Duty, Honor, Country.”
You might divide Eisenhower’s life into two overlapping parts. During his childhood he developed his character traits and life-serving values, and as a young man, he engaged in the purposeful pursuit of becoming the best in his chosen profession. Then, in the full flower of his manhood, because of his self-driven and voracious appetite for learning, work and taking responsibility, he was recognized as a remarkably able and broadly skilled Army officer, a man whose peers instinctively followed him and his mentors coached and promoted him to their superiors. Eisenhower’s understanding of others, combined with penetrating intelligence, clear thinking, concise communication and superior writing skills underpinned his leadership qualities in the eyes of his superiors. They consistently selected him for skilled observation, strategic leadership, logistical feats and the team-building management of men at all levels and in diverse circumstances.
Dwight Eisenhower achieved so much in his life, creating the conditions during his presidency for “the peace, progress and prosperity” he had campaigned for in 1952, alerting us to the importance of the middle way in politics, in principled compromise, in budgets which balanced funding for our domestic needs and reined in the propensity of big corporations and the defense establishment to always lobby for more than reasonable funding . He said toward the end of his life in a speech at the Eisenhower Center, “The past speaks for itself. I am interested in the future.”
Through on-site and on the web educational programs and refurbishment of the interior and exhibits of the Museum, Eisenhower Foundation in close cooperation with the Library and Museum personnel, is seeking to tell the story of Dwight Eisenhower anew, using his own words, so that young people, indeed all visitors, can absorb from this story the point of preparing for and living a purposeful life.
That is my take on the relevance today of the life and leadership of Dwight David Eisenhower.
HN: How did you come to join the Eisenhower Foundation’s board of directors?
ABS: The short answer is that President Eisenhower’s granddaughter, Susan Eisenhower, phoned one day and asked me to join the board. I said I was interested. The following day, her brother David phoned and asked me to become a board member and, subject to election, I accepted and began as a board member in January 2012. I was elected Chair of the Board of Directors in October 2013.
My business for 30 years was to work with charitable foundations on matters of governance, management and administration, and program development.
I had visited the Eisenhower Library Museum and Boyhood home twice with my father, Herbert Brownell, who was President Eisenhower’s Attorney General for five years. [Click here to read a short article on Dwight Eisenhower and Herbert Brownell, written by Ann Brownell Sloane.] His public papers are deposited at the Library; he conducted research there and participated in symposia having to do with his time in President Eisenhower’s Administration. I knew Eisenhower Foundation staff and the Library Director. I had also participated in several programs at the Library.
There must have been a special place in my brain and heart just waiting to be asked to participate in the work of Eisenhower Foundation. However, at the time of Susan Eisenhower’s request, the idea did seem to come out of the blue. I grew up under the influence of Dwight Eisenhower, perhaps the greatest American of the 20th Century. I am immensely grateful for that.
HN: Eisenhower was one of my father’s heroes, and I got to take him to the Eisenhower Library, Museum and Boyhood Home many years ago. It was an impressive place then. What can visitors expect to find there today?
ABS: It was impressive when I first went there; it’s more impressive today. For one thing, the trees have grown that were small when I first visited. (Laughs.)
I find it an oasis of quiet and calmness, conducive to contemplation; visitors stroll alone or in small groups and school children gather with their teachers in the plaza and along the wide paths of the rectangular, well-kept grounds. The modest boyhood home containing most of the original furnishings is set among trees and grass, charming and evocative of another age in which a resourceful, pious mother and father brought up five strapping sons.
The Library and Museum—simple, dignified marble buildings—face each other across a wide stone-faced plaza. Halfway across the plaza and just off of it is a commanding statue of Ike in uniform. The Museum building opened in 1955. President Eisenhower broke ground in 1959 for the Library building. Both buildings were privately funded with donations made to Eisenhower Foundation.
Since 1955, federal law, amended in 1986, mandates that costs for Library staff, including the Museum curator, and basic maintenance are paid for by taxpayers for all presidential libraries. The Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home is now a nonpartisan federal institution, part of the Presidential Libraries network operated by the National Archives and Records Administration. Eisenhower Foundation continues to raises private funds for programs, however.
The Library’s architecture is monumental. The national treasure this library holds and preserves are the archives of Ike’s military career and his presidency. His associates were asked to deposit their papers there also, and many did. It is a feast for scholars and students and others wishing to do research. Public events are held there; films are shown; changing exhibits are displayed. President Eisenhower had an office for his exclusive use during his visits to the Library. Eisenhower Foundation has its offices there in leased space.
I recently experienced a delightful outdoor concert at which Tony Orlando performed on the steps and portico of the Library to benefit Eisenhower Foundation. Folks brought their lawn and camp chairs to view the performance from the plaza or sat underneath the shade trees that flank the Library entrance.
Honoring Ike on his birthday anniversary this year, our Foundation’s board of directors attended a special wreath-laying ceremony presented by representatives of the U.S. Armed Services. It took place inside the Place of Meditation and, as we emerged from the beautiful vault following the moving occasion, we saw in the distance the statue of Ike; a bird was perched on his shoulder. Closer by stood the boyhood home, where visitors gathered in conversation under the trees.
HN: There are a couple of special long-term exhibits currently running at the Museum. Would you tell us about those, please?
ABS: The title of the series is "World War II Remembered: Leaders, Battles & Heroes." Exhibits during the years 2013 through 2016 mark the 70th anniversaries of the Alliance and three major historic events of World War II: D-Day, VE Day and VJ Day. Official representatives of the Allied countries, family members of key World War II leaders, concerts, oral histories, a special VJ Day parade, related movies and more will fill out the program.
Currently commemorating the 70th Anniversary of D-Day, the Museum-wide exhibition explores the historical context of this greatest amphibious landing ever, which ignited the beginning of the end of Hitler’s Germany. Next will be VE day, commemorating victory in Europe in June of 2015, followed by VJ day, remembering victory over Japan, in August 2015.
At the end of this massive program in 2016, we hope we will have appropriately honored our World War II veterans, by ensuring that current and future generations will have a far better understanding as to why the anniversaries of D-Day, VE and VJ days are so important to US and world history.
HN: Thank you for taking time to talk with HistoryNet. Is there anything you’d like to add in closing?
AS: Thank you for the opportunity to tell the story of the Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home as well as of Eisenhower Foundation. I hope you will explore these subjects further on the web at EisenhowerFoundation.net and at Eisenhower.archives.gov.
Click here to tour the Eisenhower Presidential Library in a video produced for its 50th anniversary.