The Private Life of a Presidential Wife: Bess Truman Letters to Husband Harry Revealed to Public

On July 7, 1925, Bess wrote to Harry: "Nellie Noland has had her hair cut and she looks perfectly fine. Ethel is going to do it this week. ... I am crazier than ever to get mine off. Why won't you agree enthusiastically? My hair grows so fast, I could soon put it up again if it looked very badly. Please! I'm much more conspicuous having long hair than I will be with it short."

Two days later, Harry wrote back: "Say, if you want your hair bobbed so badly, go on and get it done. I want you to be happy regardless of what I think about it. I am very sure you'll be just as beautiful with it off and I'll not say anything to make you sorry for doing it. I can still see you as the finest on earth so go and have it done. I've never been right sure you weren't kidding me anyway. You usually do as you like about things and that's what I want you to do."

While the letters between them discuss rather ordinary matters, presidential historian Robert Dallek said they are a "rich window" into their lives.

"These letters are very important on two counts," he said. "They can give you an idea of the private life the president had, a greater, fuller sense of what his personality was, and the influence his spouse may or may not have had on him."

"Secondly, the year the president would write about public issues and policy questions, it just enriches the record of the historian to let him know what was going on in his mind. In general, they tell you a great deal about their personality."

Harry Truman had a "moral compass that was much stronger than many presidents that came after him," Dallek said.

These letters and his loyalty to his wife, he said, illustrate that "without question."

Cokie Roberts, political analyst, commentator and author of several books on influential women in U.S. history, said first ladies often say much about a president's own values.

Bess Truman, she said, was a smart woman with a good sense of humor, who didn't like to spend a lot of time in Washington and kept the president grounded.

Born Feb. 13, 1885 as Elizabeth Virginia Wallace, she was the oldest of four children born to David Willock Wallace and Madge Gates Wallace. Her father held several public offices in Missouri, including county treasurer, and deputy surveyor in the Kansas City office of the United States Bureau of Customs.

Bess had a reputation as a tomboy while growing up. After graduating from Independence High School in 1901, she later studied language and literature at Barstow, a girl's finishing school in Kansas City, Mo. After graduating, she helped her widowed mother run the household.

As a senator's wife, Bess read the Congressional Record, edited Harry's speeches and served as a confidante and political adviser. She provided her husband with so much help, Harry placed her on his Senate office's payroll. Bess had advised her husband on his Senate reelection campaign in 1940, grandson Daniel said.

The Enigma of the First Ladies

She became "second lady" when Harry was elected vice president to Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945.

When Bess Truman became first lady in 1945, after Roosevelt's sudden death left her husband as president, she personally directed White House social events, served as honorary president of the Girl Scouts, the Women's National Democratic Club and the Washington Animal Rescue League, as well as the honorary chairman of the American Red Cross and many other organizations.

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