Kenneth (kensmind) wrote in potus_geeks,

Presidents Behaving Badly: Dwight Eisenhower and Kay Summersby

Before he was President of the United States for two terms, Dwight D. Eisenhower was one of his nation’s most successful military leaders. He is most famous for serving as Supreme Commander of the Allied invasion of Europe during World War II. His military service meant long periods of separation from his wife, Mamie, and it was during his time in Europe that Eisenhower developed a relationship with his attractive secretary and driver Kay Summersby. While there is disagreement about how intimate the two were, it was serious enough for Eisenhower to consider divorcing his wife, and it stirred up gossip about all the way back in Washington.

Kay Summersby was a member of the British Mechanized Transport Corps during World War II. Born in 1908, she served as Eisenhower's chauffeur and later as his secretary. They spent a great deal of time together until the war ended, when Eisenhower returned to the United States. Summersby (her name at birth was Kathleen Helen MacCarthy-Morrogh) was born in Ballydehob, County Cork, Ireland. As a young woman, she moved to London where she worked as a film studio extra and eventually became a fashion model. In 1936 she married British Army officer Gordon Thomas Summersby and she kept his surname when they divorced several years later. She later became engaged to marry US Army officer Lieutenant Colonel Richard Arnold, but he was killed during the North Africa campaign.

Summersby joined the British Mechanized Transport Corps (MTC) in 1939. She drove an ambulance throughout the London Blitz in 1940 and 1941, and was reported to be an excellent driver. When the United States joined the Allies after the German declaration of war in December 1941, Summersby was one of many MTC drivers assigned as chauffeurs to high-ranking American military officers. She was assigned to drive Eisenhower when he arrived in London in May 1942. She chauffeured Eisenhower and later became his secretary until November 1945, based at his home Telegraph Cottage in Warren Road, Coombe, Kingston upon Thames. During this time Eisenhower was promoted to a five-star General of the Army and Commander of the European Theatre. With his help, Kay Summersby became a US citizen and a commissioned officer in the US Women's Army Corps (WACs), ultimately leaving the service as a captain in 1947.

Historians differ in their opinions as to whether Summersby had a sexual relationship with Eisenhower during the war. In 1948 Summersby wrote her first memoir, entitled "Eisenhower Was My Boss", with journalist Frank Kearns. In the book she made no mention of any affair. However in her 1975 autobiography, entitled "Past Forgetting: My Love Affair with Dwight D. Eisenhower" she was quite clear that her romance with Eisehnower was an intimate relationship. Past Forgetting was ghostwritten by Barbara Wyden while Summersby was dying of cancer. She decided to publish the book after Eisenhower had died in 1969. In this book, Summersby claims that her omission of the affair with Eisenhower in her 1948 book was due to her concern for Eisenhower's privacy. But she said, shortly before her death: "The General is dead. I am dying. When I wrote Eisenhower Was My Boss in 1948, I omitted many things, changed some details, glossed over others to disguise as best I could the intimacy that had grown between General Eisenhower and me. It was better that way."

But according to Summersby in the second book, there really wasn't much of a sexual relationship between the two, in part because she claims that Eisenhower suffered from erectile dysfunction. She claims that there were two unsuccessful attempts to have intercourse, but that on both occasions Eisenhower was unable to perform. Summersby claimed that the affair mostly consisted of "stolen kisses" during walks or while the two were flying together. She says that the often held hands, and went horseback riding or golfing together. She kept a note from rather strange note from Eisenhower that asked, "How about lunch, tea & dinner today? If yes: Who else do you want, if any? At which time? How are you?"

In Eisenhower's memoir of the war, entitled "Crusade in Europe", he briefly mentioned Summersby among a list of aides. Surviving members of Eisenhower's staff denied that there was ever an affair between the couple. Eisenhower's son John, a noted historian who briefly served as his father's aide, described Summersby as "the Mary Tyler Moore of headquarters. She was perky and she was cute. Whether she had any designs on the Old Man and the extent to which he succumbed, I just don't know".

According to author Merle Miller, President Harry S. Truman said that in 1945 Eisenhower asked permission from General George Marshall to divorce his wife to marry Summersby, but permission was refused. Truman also allegedly said he had the correspondence between Marshall and Eisenhower retrieved from the Army archives and destroyed. Truman's critics claim that Truman was not being truthful about Eisenhower because of animosity between the two men that intensified during the Eisenhower presidency.

One of Eisenhower's more thorough biographers, Jean Edward Smith, wrote, "Whether he and Kay were intimate remains a matter of conjecture. But there is no question they were in love". In addition to Miller, Smith also relies on source information from Garrett Mattingly, who as a naval officer in Washington censored outgoing cables, Mattingly told a similar story to his Columbia University faculty colleagues in the early 1950s. Smith cited several other people who believed in or were told of the existence of an affair. A further source is General Omar Bradley, who claimed in his autobiography that Eisenhower and Summersby were in love. Bradley wrote: "Their close relationship is quite accurately portrayed, so far as my personal knowledge extends, in Kay's second book, Past Forgetting".

After the war was over, Summersby moved to the United States. She married the Wall Street stockbroker Reginald H. Morgan in 1952, but was soon divorced again. She died at her home in Southampton, Long Island, from cancer, on January 20, 1975.
Tags: dwight d. eisenhower, harry s. truman, presidential sex scandals

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