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Elizabeth Wallace, better known as Bess, was born to David and Madge Wallace on February 13, 1885, in Independence, Missouri.1 Bess was a bright young woman who excelled in sports. After graduating from Independence High School, she attended finishing school at the Barstow School in Kansas City.2 At the age of five, she met Harry S. Truman at Sunday school at the First Presbyterian Church, and the two attended school together until they eventually became engaged in 1917.3

After Harry Truman returned from serving in World War I, the two were married on June 28, 1919.4 They welcomed a daughter, Margaret, to their family in 1924 and continued to live in Independence.

In the 1920s, Harry Truman embarked on a career in local, and later national, politics that eventually brought the Trumans to Washington, D.C. Bess learned the ins and outs of campaigning, formed friendships with congressional wives, and advised her husband while traveling between Missouri and the nation’s capital. She even worked on her husband’s office staff, handling correspondence. Harry Truman aptly called her “The Boss,” as she expertly navigated life as a senator’s wife and later as second lady during Truman’s tenure as vice president.5

Following President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death on April 12, 1945, Harry Truman ascended to the presidency. Bess Truman was now first lady—a role she had never aspired to hold. Unlike her predecessor, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mrs. Truman preferred to stay out of the public eye. She canceled Mrs. Roosevelt’s regular women-only press conferences, though she paid special attention to correspondence from the public.6 Behind the scenes, Bess was an important political asset and sounding board for the president, discussing critical domestic and international issues together.

The Trumans also moved into a White House in desperate need of repair, leading to a massive, multi-year renovation which modernized the home for generations to come.7 Meanwhile, the family lived across the street in Blair House. Nevertheless, Mrs. Truman continued in her responsibilities as first lady, hosting events, traveling with the president, and managing their household. She also supported organizations including Girl Scouts of America, the Red Cross, and PEO Sisterhood.8

After leaving the White House, the Trumans returned to their home in Independence. Bess Truman passed away ten years after her husband on October 18, 1982; they are buried beside each other at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence.

Footnotes & Resources

  1. “Biographical Sketch of Mrs. Harry S. Truman,” Harry S. Truman Library and Museum,
  2. “Bess Truman: Childhood,” Harry S. Truman National Historic Site,
  3. “Dear Bess,” Harry S. Truman Library and Museum,
  4. Ibid.
  5. Margaret Truman, Bess W. Truman (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1986).
  6. Truman, 256-257.
  7. “President Truman’s Renovation,” White House Historical Association,
  8. Sara L. Sale, Bess Wallace Truman: Harry’s White House "Boss” (Topeka: University of Kansas Press, 2010, 50-54.