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Innovation and Inspiration: The Campaign for Kansas University
University Archives & Manuscripts - Exhibits
First Ladies of K-State: Helen Eisenhower

Helen Elsie (Eakin) Eisenhower


Helen Elsie Eakin was born on August 14, 1904, the only daughter of Leroy and Mabel (Gillespie) Eakin. She is the only Manhattan native to be first lady. Her parents owned the Spot Cash clothing store at 328 Poyntz. The Eakin family were close friends of the Effie and William Jardine family. Helen graduated from Manhattan High School and attended Kansas State College for two years, where her brother Jack introduced her to his fraternity brother, Milton Eisenhower.

The Eakin family moved to Washington, D.C. in 1924, when William Jardine became U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. Helen graduated from George Washington University with a degree in literature. She and Milton were married in the presidential suite of the historic Mayflower Hotel, on October 12, 1927. Dwight Eisenhower served as best man. Helen and Mamie Eisenhower were already friends and the two couples even shared an apartment during a housing shortage.

During the time Milton served as Director of Information for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1928-1941, their two children, Milton, Jr. (Bud) and Ruth, were born.

Milton became president of K-State in 1943, and Helen settled in to make a home for her family. As a recent arrival to the college, she initiated the position of honorary president of the Social Club which has been held by each subsequent first lady. She was an active member of their Newcomer group, where she could relax and be herself.

She had learned needlework from her maternal grandmother, Elsie Ensign Gillespie, of St. George, Kansas, and made all the sweaters worn by Milton and the children, as well as, many gifts for family and friends. She also embroidered a K-State flag that hung in Anderson Hall for many years, though it no longer exists.

In 1947, the "Miss Helen Eakin" tulip won the Calvin Coolidge Gold Medal at the National Flower Show. It was developed by John Scheepers who met Helen before she was married. Varieties of this tulip can still be seen on campus. In 1948, she and Milton purchased a window in K-State's All-Faiths Chapel in honor of Milton's parents, David and Ida Stover Eisenhower.

The family moved to State College, PA, in 1950, when Milton became president of Pennsylvania State University. Helen was active in the planning of an All-Faiths Chapel, which was named for her following her death on July 11, 1954. She was buried at the foot of the bell tower in Center County Memorial Cemetery outside of State College, PA. Milton joined her there after his death on May 2, 1985.

Helen Eisenhower

Biographical information on the First Ladies was provided by:
Dr. Michaeline Chance-Reay, Assistant Professor, Women's Studies and COE, author of Land Grant Ladies: Kansas State University Presidential Wives