Kay Summersby and Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight Eisenhower, known to all as “Ike” throughout his life, was a young army officer when he married Mamie Doud on July 1, 1916, as the United States was preparing to enter World War I. Following the war Ike followed the sometimes difficult career of a peacetime officer in a reduced Army, and the marriage was often faced with the lengthy forced separations of military life.
Mamie faithfully followed her husband to remote and less than comfortable posts in the Philippines, the Panama Canal Zone, and in the United States. When the United States entered the Second World War Ike expected to be assigned to George Marshall’s staff in Washington and the couple set up house in the capital. Instead, Ike was destined to shortly relocate to England and a separation which would last for most of the war.
Upon arrival in England Ike was assigned a chauffeur, a former ambulance driver in the British Mechanized Transport Corps named Kay Summersby. She would remain his personal driver and eventually private secretary for the duration of the war. Summersby was quartered in Ike’s home at Telegraph Cottage along with most of his staff. As Ike rose in rank throughout the war, Kay applied for and became a United States citizen with his assistance, enabling her to leave the British service and join the Women’s Army Corps of the US Army, eventually reaching the rank of Captain.
Besides driving the General and acting as his secretary, Summersby was his frequent dinner companion at formal affairs and working dinners, and her presence was commented on by luminaries such as Montgomery, Churchill, Patton, and others. Churchill would later write that the two were in love.
Whether Ike and Kay Summersby conducted an illicit affair depends on which of the many memoirs written by the participants or observers is given credence. Harry Truman reported in 1945 that Ike had written to ask his boss, General George C. Marshall, for permission to obtain a divorce in order to marry Kay; Truman expanded his statement by claiming that he had ordered the incriminating correspondence destroyed. Kay wrote memoirs claiming an affair which included two attempts at sexual intimacy, both of which were unsuccessful due to Ike’s impotence, which she blamed on his six-pack a day smoking habit. What is known is that Ike never brought his wife to England when many other American generals based there did.