Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
She was born to Margaret ("Madge") Gates and David Wallace on February 13, 1885 in Independence, Missouri. Christened Elizabeth Virginia, she grew up as "Bess." Harry Truman, whose family moved to town in 1890, always kept his first impression of her -- "golden curls" and "the most beautiful blue eyes." A relative said, "there never was but one girl in the world" for him. They attended the same schools from fifth grade through high school.
For Bess and Harry, World War I altered a deliberate courtship. He proposed and they became engaged before Lieutenant Truman left for the battlefields of France in 1918. They were married on June 28, 1919; they lived in Mrs. Wallace's home, where their daughter Mary Margaret was born in 1924.
When Harry Truman became active in politics, Mrs. Truman traveled with him and shared his platform appearances as the public had come to expect a candidate's wife to do. His election to the Senate in 1934 took the family to Washington, DC. Upon Franklin D. Roosevelt's death on April 12, 1945, Harry Truman took the President's oath of office--and Bess, who managed to look on with composure, was the new First Lady.
Mrs. Truman found the White House's lack of privacy distasteful. As her husband put it later, she was "not especially interested" in the "formalities and pomp or the artificiality which, as we had learned..., 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 mansion was rebuilt during the second term, the Trumans lived in Blair House and kept social life to a minimum. In most years of her husband's presidency, Mrs. Truman was not present in Washington except for the social season when her duties were needed.
The comparison to Mrs. Truman's predecessor, Eleanor Roosevelt, was marked. Unlike Mrs. Roosevelt, Mrs. Truman held only one press conference after many requests from the mostly female press corps assigned to her. The press conference consisted of written questions in advance of which the replies (also on paper) were mostly monosyllabic accompanied by many "no comments." Her responses to whether she wanted her daughter, Margaret, to become President was "most definitely not." Her reply to what she wanted to do after her husband left office was "return to Independence" although she had briefly entertained the thought of living in Washington after 1953.
The Trumans did indeed return to Independence in 1953, resuming their residence in the family home at 219 North Delaware Street while the former president worked on building his library and writing his memoirs. After her husband's death in 1972, Mrs. Truman continued to live quietly, enjoying visits from Margaret and her husband, Clifton Daniel, and their four sons. She agreed to be the honorary chairman for the reelection campaign of Sen. Thomas Eagleton (D-Mo.). She died in 1982 and was buried beside her husband in the courtyard of the Harry S. Truman Library. At the time of her death at the age of 97 she was the longest lived First Lady of the United States, a record that still stands as of 2005.
- Original text based on White House biography
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