Elizabeth Virginia Wallace Truman (February 13, 1885 – October 18, 1982), widely known as Bess Truman, was the wife of Harry S. Truman and First Lady of the United States from 1945 to 1953.
Elizabeth Virginia Wallace was born to David Willock Wallace and his wife (the former Margaret Elizabeth Gates) in Independence, Missouri
and was known as Bessie during her childhood. Harry Truman, whose family moved to town in 1890, always kept his first impression of when he saw her at Sunday school: "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.
After graduating from William Chrisman High School (then known as Independence High School) she studied at Miss Barstow's Finishing School for Girls in Kansas City, Missouri. In 1903 her father committed suicide and she returned to Independence to be with her mother.
Marriage and family
The First World War
altered the Trumans' steady courtship. Lieutenant Truman proposed and they were engaged before he left for France in 1918. They were married on June 28, 1919 and lived in her mother's home. There were two stillborn children and several miscarriages
before daughter Mary Margaret
was born in 1924.
As Harry Truman became active in politics Bess Truman traveled with him, sharing his platform appearances as the public had come to expect of a candidate's wife. His election to the Senate in 1934 took the family to Washington, D.C.. He was elected Vice President in 1944. Upon F.D.R.'s death on April 12, 1945 Harry Truman took the presidential oath of office. Bess Truman kept her composure and became the new First Lady.
First Lady of the United States
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 steadfastly fulfilled the social obligations of her position, she did only what she thought was necessary. When the White House was rebuilt during Truman's second term, the family lived in Blair House
and kept their social life to a minimum. In most years of her husband's presidency Mrs. Truman did not live in Washington other than during the social season
when her presence was expected.
The contrast with Truman's predecessor Eleanor Roosevelt was marked. Unlike her, 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 and the written replies were mostly monosyllabic along with many no comments. Truman's response 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.
Later life and death
In 1953 the Trumans went back to Independence and the family home at 219 North Delaware Street, where the former president worked on building his library and writing his memoirs. Following a 1959 mastectomy
Truman thought she was going to die (her husband was quoted as saying the tumor
was the size of a basketball
, but it was benign
Her husband died in 1972 and Truman continued to live quietly, enjoying visits from Margaret and her husband Clifton Daniel along with their four sons. Truman agreed to be the honorary chairman for the reelection campaign of Sen. Thomas Eagleton (D-Missouri).
She died in 1982 from congestive heart failure and was buried beside her husband in the courtyard of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Aged 97 years at her death she remains the longest lived First Lady in United States history. The only close relative of a US president to live longer than Bess Truman was John F. Kennedy's mother Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, who died aged 104 in 1995.