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(1885-1982). Elizabeth “Bess” Virginia. The Life of a First Lady. Her Childhood. Elizabeth Virginia Wallace was born on February 13, 1885. Her family nicknamed her “Bessie,” which became just “Bess” as she matured.

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her childhood
Her Childhood
  • Elizabeth Virginia Wallace was born on February 13, 1885.
  • Her family nicknamed her “Bessie,” which became just “Bess” as she matured.
  • Bess lived in Independence, Missouri with her parents and three younger brothers.
the neighborhood tomboy
The Neighborhood Tomboy
  • Some people considered Bess a “tomboy” because she could hit a baseball as far as any boy in the area and was thought to be the best third baseman in Independence.
  • She enjoyed tennis, ice skating, and basketball. She could also whistle through her front teeth.
a vibrant young woman
A Vibrant Young Woman
  • Bess graduated from Independence High School in 1901 in the same class as her future husband, Harry Truman.
  • Though she did not attend college, she went to Barstow Finishing School, a preparatory school for ladies, for one year.
meeting her sweetheart
Meeting Her Sweetheart
  • Harry Truman first spotted Bess Wallace in Sunday school class when he was six years old.
  • After graduating from high school, Bess did not see Harry for nine years. It was only after they had renewed their friendship that their eight year courtship began.

Bess and Harry on a fishing trip in August of 1913.

harry s proposal
Harry’s Proposal
  • Harry traveled sixteen miles to see Bess.
  • He often wrote Bess letters and ate Sunday dinner with her family.
  • Harry proposed to Bess three times before she agreed to marry him.
  • They married in June of 1919 after Harry returned from service in World War I.
building a home life
Building a Home Life
  • The couple moved into Bess’s family home at 219 North Delaware, where they would live all their married life.
  • Their only child, Margaret, was born February 17, 1924.

Bess and Mary Margaret Truman

life in the spotlight
Life in the Spotlight
  • When Harry won election to the U.S. Senate in 1934, the family divided their time between Independence and Washington, D.C.
  • Bess became involved in organizations such as the Red Cross and the Senate Special Wives Club. She also worked as a clerk in Harry’s Senate office.

Truman family at the launching of the U.S.S. Missouri.

January 29, 1944

portrait of a first lady
Portrait of a First Lady
  • Bess was a senator’s wife until 1944 when Harry was elected Franklin D. Roosevelt’s vice president.
  • Bess became America’s First Lady on April 12, 1945 when Roosevelt died unexpectedly.
the roles she filled
The Roles She Filled
  • As First Lady, Bess was the official White House hostess. She made public appearances, answered mail, and helped to plan state dinners and receptions.
  • Bess graciously fulfilled her duties, but she preferred private life.

President Truman and Bess Truman at a baseball game.

November 26, 1948

on the campaign trail
On the Campaign Trail
  • Although Bess was not in favor of Harry seeking reelection in 1948, when Thomas Dewey was nominated by the Republican party, she support Truman’s decision to run.
  • She and Margaret often accompanied the President on his Whistle Stop campaign train, the Ferdinand Magellan.
  • When Harry’s term ended in 1953, Bess was very happy to return to Independence.
  • She and Harry spent their days together enjoying their common interests – reading, listening to music, traveling, and spending time with Margaret and her family.

Truman family, post-Presidency

November 18, 1953

their last days
Their Last Days
  • President Truman died December 26, 1972. Bess continued to live at the Delaware house until she died October 18, 1982 at age ninety-seven.
  • Husband and wife are buried in the Courtyard of the Truman Presidential Museum and Library.

Bess, Harry, and Margaret at groundbreaking for Library

May 8, 1955

bess truman trivia
Bess Truman Trivia
  • Bess loved baseball, bridge, and the colors blue and green.
  • She sometimes helped with the laundry and cleaning of the White House herself.
  • She was famous for her Ozark Pudding, a dish many wanted her recipe for.

Bess Truman loved to play bridge. Here she’s pictured with her Independence bridge club in 1946.

follow up questions
Follow-up Questions
  • What do you think is a First Lady’s most important job? Do you believe that she has too many responsibilities or too few as the wife of the President?
  • Bess preferred private life. Do you believe she was justified in often maintaining a distance from the public eye and the press?
  • What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about Bess Truman?