Anyone who isn’t a long-time resident of Denison may not recognize the name of the person in this column. Others may be aware of the friendship that developed when Dwight David Eisenhower was a baby living in Denison 129 years ago.
Miss Jennie Jackson’s story began in the summer of 1890 when she was a young second grade teacher at Peabody Elementary School in Denison. She was living with her mother and uncle, James E. Gillespie who was an employee at the Katy Railroad shops. They were living at the corner of Lamar Avenue and Day Street. Across the avenue was a two-story frame house with a low picket fence around it that played an important part in Miss Jennie’s story.
A number of years ago after she retired from teaching, she told what she called “My Story” to a reporter with a Denison newspaper. She started her story telling how she once rocked General Eisenhower on her knee and more than a half century later she said a letter she wrote “proved of comfort and encouragement” to the world-famous son of Denison during World War II. Her story is just as she called it “My Story.”
Miss Jennie, as she was known back then, and her mother had spent a vacation in Missouri and when they came home a new family had moved into the house across the street from them. Miss Jennie said that the name of the new neighbors was Eisenhower and that the father was named David J. Eisenhower and he also worked at the Katy shops.
That fall Miss Jennie went to visit the young couple who had a baby boy who was about four weeks old. “It was in the evening,” Miss Jennie said after she had returned home from school. The mother, Ida, welcomed her and thanked her for her visit since “so few people had come to see us” and she had not been out much since she had been expecting a child.
The young teacher said she asked if she could hold the baby and she picked him up and rocked him in the rocking chair. The baby had red hair and dark eyes she noted. She said she kissed the baby on the forehead and made a wish that she could ride in a buggy owned by the youthful bachelor who besides caring for his patients, owned a drug store on Main Street.
Miss Jenny had seen Dr. D.H. Bailey’s buggy pulled by a pair of black horses, that had been tied to the picket fence in front of the Eisenhower home. She assumed that he had delivered the baby. Less than a month later, she said she did ride in the buggy and was the first of all the girls in Denison to do so.
When Dwight David Eisenhower was a few months old, she said the family moved from Denison and Miss Jennie lost contact with them.
Skip forward to 1941 when World War II began and to 1943 when the Eisenhower name was on the front pages of newspapers across the country. She said the name sounded familiar to her so she wrote a letter to Mrs. Eisenhower. The article did not note how she obtained Mrs. Eisenhower’s address.
She said that a few days later her letter was answered by Milton S. Eisenhower, president of Kansas State College in Manhattan, who was writing for his mother, then 82 years old.
The letter confirmed all of Miss Jennie’s beliefs that this was the baby she had rocked many years earlier.
The letter read: “It is true that my brother Dwight was born in Denison, Texas. Hence, most likely the lady you knew across the street was my mother. At that time in the family were my father, mother, the oldest brother, Arthur, the second brother, Edgar and Dwight, the baby.”
She now had the assurance that her belief the baby, now General Eisenhower, supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, was the baby she had held and rocked, she began to write letters to the general.
That was what she called the beginning of correspondence in which he expressed his appreciation for the “letters from his mother’s close friend that were a great comfort and carried great encouragement.”
She said her letters were simple and at first included pictures of the general’s birthplace and clippings about the general from the newspaper.
Miss Jennie, who taught American history for more than 25 years, wrote General Eisenhower about a few battles during the Civil War, “battles in which the Confederacy would have won if they had just pushed on.”
She admitted that she knew the general wasn’t going to lose the Battle of the Bulge, but she just wanted to let him know about the Civil War battles that in their own way resembled the fighting in Europe.
The general found time to write a quick reply to thank her for the letter and for her encouragement. In one of his replies, she said he replied, “It was nice of you to write and to send me the clipping of the picture of the house where I was born. I really enjoyed your account of Denison, which city must certainly feel for you a real gratitude for your half century of useful work in its behalf.” That letter was dated Dec. 2, 1943.
Miss Jennie said that there were times the general found it impossible to write a reply himself, but he always saw that it as done, usually by Lt. Col. James Stack, his aide.
“I wrote him just like he was a boy I had known and taught all his life.” She told the reporter. “I told him who we were, what we were doing in Denison and how much Denison was honored to have such a brilliant leader as one of its native sons.”
History records the rest of the story, but Miss Jennie’s proudest moment came in 1946 when General Eisenhower came to Denison to see his birthplace for the first time. Miss Jennie was able to greet and spend a little time with the man who would become President of the United States and to remember that fateful day when she first met him and he was only four weeks old.
Miss Jennie passed away two years after General Eisenhower’s visit. She had been bedfast with a broken hip when she died in 1948 at the age of 84. She was buried in Fairview Cemetery.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. She has been a longtime contributor to the Herald Democrat with her column. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.