Happy Birthday, Bess

  • Young Bess Truman approx. age 13. Credit: W. T. Dole. Harry S. Truman Library & Museum.
    13 Feb

    Happy Birthday, Bess

    On this day in 1885, Elizabeth Virginia Wallace, better known as Bess, was born in Independence, Missouri. She became Mrs. Harry S. Truman, wife of the 33rd President of the United States.

    It has been said that if you wanted to stay on Harry Truman’s good side, you never offended his wife. Harry had been smitten with Bess since they attended school together. They graduated from Independence High School in 1901 in the same class.

    She was described as being sharp-minded and a great athlete. According to her daughter Margaret, Bess was “the best third baseman in Independence.”

    Bess studied language and literature at Barstow, a girl’s finishing school in Kansas City, Missouri. The Trumans were married in Independence in 1919, after Harry returned from serving in WWI. Thereafter, they were life partners, supporting each other through the thick and the thin.

    White House Chief Usher J.B. West in his memoir, Upstairs at the White House, describes First Lady Truman as having “keen intelligence, calm reasoning, and unswerving devotion to her husband.” Bess was the president’s “full partner in every sense of the word” wrote West.

    My father once mentioned his appreciation of Mrs. Truman’s candor and practicality. I regret that I didn’t ask him to expound further on his impressions of this First Lady. But, after reading the correspondences between my father and the Trumans, among which is this letter from Mrs. Truman thanking my father for acknowleding her birthday, his respect for her is obvious.

    Happy Birthday, Bess.

    RWY Collection


    West, J.B. with Mary Lynn Kotz, Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies,(New York: Coward,McCann& Geoghegan, 1973), 127.

    Biography Bess Truman, Truman Library, Accessed 2/13/2019 https://www.trumanlibrary.org/bwt-bio.htm