Eleanor McGovern

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Eleanor McGovern

Eleanor Fay Stegeberg McGovern (November 25, 1921 – January 25, 2007) was the wife of George McGovern, who served as a U.S. Senator from South Dakota from 1963–1981, and was the Democratic presidential nominee in 1972.[1]


Born in Woonsocket, South Dakota, she grew up on her family's farm. Her mother died when she was only 12, leaving her and her twin sister, Ila, responsible for the upkeep of the household and the raising of their younger sister. This instilled within her a longstanding sense of compassion for the hardships of others.[1] As a teenager, Eleanor was interested in political and social issues and joined debate teams, first at Woonsocket High School and later during her one year at Dakota Wesleyan University.[1]

During one high school debate, in her native Woonsocket, she first met George McGovern after she and Ila defeated McGovern and his partner. They met again and fell in love while both were at Dakota Wesleyan, and became engaged, but initially decided not to marry until World War II was over.[2] However, they did marry on October 31, 1943,[1] while on three-day leave in a ceremony at a small Methodist church in Woonsocket with George's father presiding.[3] Financial difficulties would force her to withdraw from college, but she soon found work as a legal secretary.[1] Eleanor McGovern followed him to number of training stops, before he was sent into combat overseas as a B-24 bomber pilot stationed in Italy. McGovern's flight crew recommended naming their plane the Dakota Queen for Eleanor.[4]

Together, the McGoverns would have five children: daughters Ann, Susan, Mary, Teresa, and son Steven.[1] Eleanor began to suffer from bouts of depression, but continued to assume the large share of household and child-rearing duties as her husband's political career rose.[5]

Eleanor was an active political wife; she campaigned for her ailing husband in his 1962 United States Senate race and may well have saved his chances of winning.[6] During the 1972 presidential election, when her husband won the Democratic nomination, she was featured on the cover of Time magazine along with First Lady Pat Nixon, wife of Republican President Richard Nixon. During the campaign, The Eleanor McGovern Cookbook: a Collection of South Dakota Family Favorites was published. George McGovern was defeated by Richard Nixon in 1972.

She published her own memoir, Uphill: A Personal Story, in 1974.

After her husband's defeat for the presidency, and later defeat for a fourth Senate term in 1980, Eleanor remained active, particularly in combating world hunger. She was also greatly concerned with issues related to child development, and with the fight against alcoholism, which was a contributing factor in the death of her daughter Teresa in 1994.[1]

Eleanor McGovern died on January 25, 2007, aged 85. She was buried in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Eleanor McGovern: 1921 - 2007". McGovern Center for Leadership and Public Service. 2008. Archived from the original on 2006-12-31. Retrieved 2008-07-18. 
  2. ^ Ambrose, Stephen, The Wild Blue : The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany 1944–45, Simon & Schuster, 2001. ISBN 0-7432-0339-9. p. 45.
  3. ^ Ambrose, The Wild Blue, pp. 65–66.
  4. ^ Ambrose, The Wild Blue, p. 153.
  5. ^ McGovern, George S., Terry: My Daughter's Life-And-Death Struggle With Alcoholism, New York: Villard, 1996. ISBN 0-679-44797-0. pp. 44–46, 49.
  6. ^ Anson, Robert Sam, McGovern: A Biography, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972. ISBN 0-03-091345-4, pp. ix, 125.
  7. ^ [1]
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Muriel Humphrey
Wife of the Democratic Presidential Nominee
Succeeded by
Rosalynn Carter