"It’s hard to imagine a meeting more uncomfortable than that of Mrs. Kennedy and Mrs. Eisenhower, though. When Jackie’s formal invitation to the White House finally arrived, the date was set for Dec. 9 — as she was still recovering from her Caesarean section just two weeks earlier. Her Secret Service agent Clint Hill called White House Chief Usher J.B. West to ask for a wheelchair and a staffer to push it, according to the memoirs of both men.
“Oh, dear,” Mamie replied when West delivered the request. “I wanted to take her around alone.” She suggested that a wheelchair simply be placed nearby, to be offered only if Jackie specifically asked for it.
"Exhausted and pale, Jackie arrived alone at noon. West led her through the imposing Diplomatic Reception Room and into an elevator to the second-floor residence, where Mamie was standing regally in the hallway.
“Mrs. Kennedy,” West said, introducing the new first lady. Mamie extended a cool hand but never stepped forward, forcing Jackie to walk slowly to her.
“I turned and left them, and waited in my office for a call for the wheelchair,” West remembered. “A call that never came.”
After some time, two buzzers rang in the Usher’s Office, the signal that Mamie and Jackie were coming down in the elevator. The tour had lasted an hour and 10 minutes, as Mamie showed Jackie through 30 rooms. As Jackie quietly made her way to her car, “I saw pain darken her face,” West said."
Ever the politician, she told reporters how kind Mamie had been to have a wheelchair at the ready but that she had chosen to walk.
Two months later, when Jackie was comfortably installed as the new first lady, she asked West: “Did you know that my doctor ordered a wheelchair the day I first went around the White House?”
West told her that Mamie had asked him to have it placed behind a closet door next to the elevator in case she needed it. But Mamie had never mentioned it to her guest. Jackie could only laugh, admitting, “I was too scared of Mrs. Eisenhower to ask.”