Mamie’s “Lovely Pink Gown”

In 1963, former University President Dwight D. Eisenhower was invited back to Columbia to receive the Alexander Hamilton Medal. For the dinner event held at Low Library, Mamie Eisenhower chose to wear the pink gown she posed in 1950 for her Columbia portrait. This gown is currently held at the University Archives.

The Eisenhowers with the Alexander Hamilton Award, 1963. Photo by Manny Warman. Scan 4825. Office of Public Affairs Photographs, University Archives.

Since 1947, the Columbia College Alumni Association chooses to honor one medal recipient “for distinguished service and accomplishment in any field of human endeavor.” As University President, Eisenhower himself presided over the event as the medal was conferred on V.K. Wellington Koo (CC 1908, PhD 1912), William J. “Wild Bill” Donovan (CC 1905, Law 1908), and Columbia College Dean Emeritus Harry J. Carman (PhD 1919). In 1963, the alumni chose president emeritus Eisenhower as the year’s honoree.

Daniel Reidy (CC 1929), the then-president of the alumni association, accompanied Mrs. Eisenhower on the way to the dinner at Low Library. He recalled how Mrs. Eisenhower asked to go by the President’s House at 60 Morningside Drive. She mentioned that, when they first moved there in 1948, that was the first time the Eisenhowers had not lived in military housing. Mrs. Eisenhower then revealed to Reidy that the gown she had chosen to wear for this evening in 1963 was the dress in which she had posed for her Columbia portrait in 1950. She asked whether Columbia would have any interest in her “Columbia” gown. [[1]]

Reidy relayed Mrs. Eisenhower’s question to President Grayson Kirk, who quickly thanked Mrs. Eisenhower for the offer of her “lovely pink gown.” The University would be “delighted to have it for our historic collection.” President Kirk pointed out that while there were no “facilities at the present for its permanent display,” he knew that “future generations of Columbia people would be pleased to have it available.” [[2]] The pink dress and Mrs. Eisenhower’s gown from the 1948 inauguration ball arrived at the President’s House in October 1967.

Portrait of Mamie Eisenhower by Thomas Edgar Stevens, 1950s. Art Properties, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library.

The University Archives does not actively collect ball gowns but President Kirk was correct: we are certainly delighted to have Mrs. Eisenhower’s two beautiful dresses in our collections. And much like in 1963, we still do not have facilities to display them. These gowns are now part of the Academic costumes and textiles collection and are available for research consultation. Mrs. Eisenhower’s portrait by Thomas Edgar Stevens, the same artist commissioned for her First Lady portrait, is part of the Art Properties collection at the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library. The portrait is part of the on-campus loan program, and as such, it is currently on display at a private office and, unfortunately, not available for public viewing.

[[1]] Daniel J. Reidy to Dr. Grayson Kirk, November 27, 1963. Central Files (Box 243, folder 22), University Archives.

[[2]] President Grayson Kirk to Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower, December 3, 1963. Central Files (Box 93, folder 17), University Archives.