2015 Brendan Gill Lecture

David Eisenhower

David Eisenhower

“History is a spiritual thing,” began David Eisenhower, in his presentation at the 17th annual Brendan Gill Lecture, sponsored by the Bronxville Historical Conservancy. A near-capacity crowd attended the event held at Sarah Lawrence College on Friday, March 13, featuring the grandson of the 34th president of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Marilynn Hill, life co-chair of the organization, introduced Eisenhower, summarizing his life career and achievements and noting he is a much admired historian and educator. Eisenhower spent the next hour affirming why he and his work are held in such high regard.

At times lighthearted and personal, Eisenhower offered entertaining recollections of life with his grandfather. A chuckle spread throughout Reisinger Auditorium as he revealed that our former president’s name at birth was David Dwight – but he liked the sound of Dwight better, so when he went to West Point, he decided to make the switch.

Julie Nixon Eisenhower and David Eisenhower
Julie Nixon Eisenhower and David Eisenhower

With many opportunities to watch his grandfather work in the White House, in July of 1958, young Eisenhower decided that the president’s secretary should type his first short story, and with all the boldness of a 10-year old, asked her to do so. It was called “Janet Stays” and the first copy was sold to Richard Nixon for 15 cents. Nixon’s thank you note was addressed to “one of our very favorite authors.”

Of the time when he went to visit his girlfriend, Julie — now his wife — at Smith College: He introduced himself to the proctor: “Hello, I’m David Eisenhower and I am here to visit Julie Nixon.” The proctor replied, “and yeah, I’m Harry Truman.” Julie Nixon Eisenhower, who was present, joined in the audience’s laughter.

Although some of his remarks were playful, others were pointedly serious about his commitment to preserving history. “History illuminates. It shows us how we want to live and be remembered ourselves,” said the man who said he got his head start at becoming a historian by spending his boyhood in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Going Home to Glory: A Memoir of Life With Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961-1969, published in 2010, was the first time he and his wife, Julie, worked together on a book. The book is Eisenhower’s insider’s view of grandparents Ike and Mamie as they retired to their farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where David’s father, John, lived with his family. David Eisenhower was named after his grandfather (and his grandfather named the presidential retreat Camp David after his grandson.) Eisenhower was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in history in 1987 for his work Eisenhower: At War, 1943-1945—about the Allied leadership during World War II.

He said of his grandfather: “Eisenhower was not only a student of history – he understood it, he appreciated it, and he made it.”

“What Americans did in 1944 truly saved liberty and democracy in our time.”

A standing ovation followed that emotion-packed comment, along with a champagne reception where both David and Julie Eisenhower spoke one-on-one with those attending. Those who missed the evening can view the lecture on Bronxville’s government access channels 47 and 74.

About the author

The Bronxville Historical Conservancy was established in 1998 to further the understanding and appreciation of the history and current life of the Village of Bronxville, New York. The Conservancy furthers its mission through the presentation of programs, publications, lectures, and special events that foster an awareness of the Village’s architectural, artistic, and cultural heritage and lends its support for projects designed to strengthen and preserve those legacies.