“But Their Distinctive Clothing Set Them Apart”: Dwight Eisenhower Remembers the River Brethren

We’ve blogged about U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s historic connection to the Brethren in Christ Church. He descended from a long line of Brethren in Christ ministers, was on the rolls of the Sunday school at the Abilene Brethren in Christ Church, and eventually christened a building named for his grandfather at the denominational college in Pennsylvania. His uncle Abe was a popular evangelist in the denomination.

Here’s some further recollections of Eisenhower’s time among the River Brethren, courtesy of the Eisenhower Presidential Library & Museum in Abilene:

Jacob and Rebecca Eisenhower and their children-including Dwight’s father, David-came to Dickinson County, Kansas, from the Susquehanna Valley of Pennsylvania in 1879. They were members of a well-organized, prosperous, religious group called the Brethren in Christ. A sect of the Mennonites, they called themselves the “Plain People.” In Dickinson County, they were more commonly known as the River Brethren. A devout, hard-working, self-sufficient group, they preferred to live in a close- knit community. They were respected throughout the county for their many fine qualities, but their distinctive clothing set them apart.

The men dressed in black and wore black felt hats. They grew heavy beards and wore their hair long and combed straight back. Women wore long black dresses, avoiding decoration of any kind. On their heads, women wore a covering called a “prayer veiling,” and, when outside the home, they put on a large black bonnet with a long, gathered skirting along the bottom.

Growing up, Dwight and his brothers attended Sunday School at the Church of the Brethren in Christ in Abilene. Grandfather Jacob and two of David’s brothers, Ira and Abe, were ministers. Ida had memorized countless Bible verses as a girl and used them to reinforce her lessons to her sons. Each meal began with a Bible lesson. In the evening after supper, the family gathered in the parlor for Bible reading. The boys took turns reading, reluctantly handing the Bible over to the next brother whenever a mistake was made. The River Brethren were stricter in the actual practice of their religious beliefs than some of the church-going citizens of Abilene; however, their beliefs were not inconsistent with those of the larger community at that time.

Although Dwight D. Eisenhower never joined the church of his youth, its influence was evident in his behavior and beliefs throughout his life.

You can read more here.

HT = The Pietist Schoolman

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About Devin Manzullo-Thomas

Father to Lucas. Husband to Katie. Prof and administrator at Messiah College. PhD student at Temple University. Member of Grantham BIC.
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