History of Scots Descent
Elizabeth Virginia Wallace Truman
[Harry S Truman]
|Biography: Whistle-stopping in 1948, President Harry Truman
often ended his campaign 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 gallantly fighting against such long
odds had much to do with his surprise victory at the polls that November.
Strong family ties in the southern tradition had always been important around
Independence, Missouri, where a baby girl was born to Margaret ("Madge") Gates
and David Wallace on February 13, 1885. 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.
In recent years their daughter has written a vivid sketch of Bess as a girl: "a
marvelous athlete--the best third baseman in Independence, a superb tennis player, a
tireless ice skater--and she was
pretty besides." She also had many "strong opinions....and no hesitation about
stating them Missouri style--straight from the shoulder."
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 in June 1919; they lived in Mrs. Wallace's home, where Mary Margaret was born
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. Reluctant to be a public
figure herself, she always shared his thoughts and interests in private. When she joined
his office staff as a secretary, he said, she earned "every cent I pay her." His
wartime role as chairman of a special committee on defense spending earned him national
recognition--and a place on the Democratic ticket as President Roosevelt's fourth-term
running mate. Three months after their inauguration Roosevelt was dead. 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.
In the White House, its lack of privacy was distasteful to her. 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.
They returned to Independence in 1953. After her husband's death in 1972, Mrs. 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.
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