Whistle-stopping in 1948, President Truman often ended his talk by introducing his wife as "the Boss" and his daughter, Margaret, as "the Boss's Boss," and they smiled and waved as the train picked up steam. The sight of that close-knit family fighting against such long odds had much to do with his surprise victory at the polls that November.
Strong family ties had always been important around Independence, Missouri, where Elizabeth Virginia Wallace was born on February 13, 1885. Harry Truman always kept his first impression of "Bess," her "golden curls" and "the most beautiful blue eyes." They attended the same schools from fifth grade through high school.
For Bess and Harry, World War I altered a deliberate courtship. They became engaged before Lieutenant Truman left for the battlefields of France in 1918. They were married in June 1919, and lived in Mrs. Wallace's home, where Mary Margaret was born in 1924. When Harry became active in politics, Bess shared his platform appearances. His election to the Senate in 1934 took the family to Washington. When she joined his office staff as a secretary, he said, she earned "every cent I pay her." Reluctant to be a public figure herself, she always shared his thoughts and interests in private.
Three months after Truman's inauguration as vice-president, President Roosevelt was dead. On April 12, 1945, when her husband took the president's oath of office, Bess, who managed to look on with composure, became the new first lady.
The lack of privacy in the White House was distasteful to her. As her husband put it later, she was "not especially interested" in the "formalities and pomp or the artificiality which inevitably surround the family of the President." Though she conscientiously fulfilled the social obligations of her position, she did only what was necessary. While the Executive Mansion was rebuilt during the second term, the Trumans lived in neighboring Blair House and kept social life to a minimum.
They returned to Independence in 1953. After her husband's death in 1972, Bess Truman continued to live in the family home. There she enjoyed visits from Margaret and her husband, Clifton Daniel, and their four sons. She died in 1982 and was buried beside her husband in the courtyard of the Harry S. Truman Library.
You Might Also Like
Collection Animal Ambassadors
Animals, whether pampered household pets, working livestock, birds, squirrels, or strays, have long been a major part of White House...
Podcast Entertaining at the White House
From diplomatic dinners to holiday gatherings, the White House has always played a central role in the nation’s official en...
Collection Women and the White House
While there has yet to be a female president, women have played an integral role in shaping the White House...
Podcast Fearless Leadership: A Conversation with Jean Case
Fearless leaders have walked the halls of White House for centuries. In this episode, White House Historical Association President Stewart...
Collection The First Ladies
Biographies & Portraits
Collection Cherry Blossoms
Since the first cherry blossom planting in 1912 by First Lady Helen Herron Taft, Washingtonians have celebrated the scenic beauty and...
Collection The Presidents
Biographies & Portraits
Reading Lists & Bibliography
General White House Bibliography:Aikman, Lonnelle. The Living White House. Washington, D.C.: The White House Historical Association, 1996. Cunliffe, Marcus....
White House History Table of Contents
NUMBERS 1 THROUGH 6 (COLLECTION I) WHITE HOUSE HISTORY • NUMBER 1 1 — Foreword by Melvin M. Payne 5 — President Kennedy’s Rose Garden by Rachel Lambert...
About Our Authors
WILLIAM ADAIR is a frame historian, conservator, and gilder in Washington, D.C. (WHH #54) WILLIAM G. ALLMAN served more than...
Articles & Publications
Since joining the White House Historical Association in 2014, Stewart McLaurin has had been published a number of times. Topics range...
20202020 Communicator AwardsWhite House History Quarterly 55: Presidents and Sports, Award of Excellence, Copy/WritingWhite House History Quarterly 52: Mid Century Fashion, Award...