Who Was Bess Truman?
Bess Truman, wife of President Harry Truman, shunned the spotlight personally and devoted her life to her husband and his career, as well as her daughter, Margaret Truman Daniels, and her sons.
Elizabeth Virginia (Bess) Wallace was born in Independence, Missouri on February 13, 1885. The Truman family moved to that town five years later, and Harry and Bess attended grade school and high school together. These childhood friends became engaged during World War I before Lieutenant Harry Truman went to the battlefields of France. They married June 28, 1919, and settled down in Independence where their daughter Margaret was born in 1924.
When Harry Truman became interested in politics, she traveled with him and did everything a candidate's wife was expected to do at that time. He was elected to the Senate in 1934 and the family moved to Washington DC. His World War II role as chairman of a committee on national defense spending earned him national attention, and the vice presidency during Franklin Roosevelt's fourth term. While campaigning, Truman often introduced his wife as "The Boss" and their daughter, Margaret, as "The Boss's Boss." Three months after his inaguration as vice president, Roosevelt died and on April 12, 1945 Harry Truman became the 33rd President of the United States.
Despite her desire for privacy, Bess Truman did the entertaining required of her. The mourning period for Roosevelt and World War II did reduce the number of events the Trumans hosted. She told friends that she liked being waited on by servants in the White House, but not much else. In addition to the lack of privacy, she intensely disliked unfavorable comparisons to Eleanor Roosevelt. Her days were filled supervising the running of the White House, chatting with friends in Independence, spending time with Margaret, and listening to baseball games on the radio.
Bess Truman didn't want her husband to run for another term in 1948, but when Thomas Dewey became a candidate, she cheerfully agreed to campaign. She shared his joy when he beat the expert pollsters who predicted a Dewey landslide. During this administration, with the outbreak of the Korean War and domestic unrest due to McCarthyism, Truman had a stormy term and decided not to run again in 1952. They happily returned to Independence where she was surprised to see the streets lined with wellwishers. She happily put politics behind her, spending her days taking care of their home, following baseball games on radio and television, reading, and enjoying her family.
Harry Truman died in 1972 and his widow continued to live in the family home where she enjoyed visiting her daughter and grandsons. Bess Truman died on October 18, 1982. The New York Times headline on her obituary summed up her life in one sentence: "Bess Truman Is Dead at 97: Was President's Full Partner."She is buried next to her husband in the courtyard of the Harry S Truman Library in Independence.