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...
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 First Ladies
Biographies & Portraits
Collection White House Women
While there has yet to be a female president, women have played an integral role in shaping the White House...
Collection Slavery in the President's Neighborhood
Many people think of the White House as a symbol of democracy, but it also embodies America’s complicated past an...
Collection The Presidents
Biographies & Portraits
Bio Sarah Polk
Born in 1803, Sarah Childress grew up on a plantation near Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Elder daughter of a Captain, she gained something...
Bio Betty Ford
In 25 years of political life, Betty Ford did not expect to become first lady. As wife of Representative Gerald R....
Bio Frances Cleveland
"I detest him so much that I don't even think his wife is beautiful," said one of President Grover Cleveland's...
Bio Lou Hoover
Admirably equipped to preside at the White House, Lou Henry Hoover had experience as wife of a man eminent in...
Bio Harriet Lane
Unique among first ladies, Harriet Lane acted as hostess for the only president who never married. James Buchanan was her...
Bio Abigail Adams
Inheriting New England's strongest traditions, Abigail Smith was born on November 11, 1744 at Weymouth, Massachusetts. On her mother's side she was...