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  • Family

    Truman's wedding invitationTruman was a dutiful son. Family always came first, and he was eager to earn his parents' approval. He was an equally dutiful husband. The letters he wrote to Bess throughout their courtship and marriage are a testament to his deep love for her. He was also a devoted father, watching out for his "Margie" and supporting her in everything she did. Truman felt that duties and responsibilities: military, civic, political, required sacrifice of family life, but nothing meant more to him than his family's happiness and he was happiest when he was with them.

    The First Campaign

    Harry Truman took notice of Bess Wallace the first time he saw her in Sunday school when he was six and she was five. They were school classmates. But it wasn't until 1910 that he wrote his first letter to her, beginning his courtship in earnest and starting one of the greatest collections of love letters ever. The courtship of Bess Wallace was Harry's first … and longest … campaign.

    Tennis Court-ing

    In 1911, Bess gently declined Harry's first offer of marriage. But he didn't give up. Bess was very athletic, and in an effort to win her over, he built a tennis court on the lawn of the Grandview farm. Bess was to visit on Labor Day to play tennis. Harry sent directions to come by buggy: "Start from 47th and Troost…Remember to go south every time the rock road goes south and you can't miss the place." Harry's plan was spoiled when rain kept Bess away. The tennis court never proved to be much of an attraction. During their nine-year courtship, Harry did most of the traveling.

    Queen of the Pantry

    Bess Wallace came from a prominent Independence family, the third generation owners of the Waggoner-Gates flour mill. Popular and privileged, young "Bessie" stood out, excelling in school and at sport. She always dressed in the latest style. When she was 18, her father committed suicide. She and her mother left town for a year before returning to her grandfather's large house in Independence. Harry and Bess moved into this Gates-Wallace house following their marriage. They made it their home for the rest of their lives.


    Harry and Bess were married on June 28, 1919. Their anniversaries were always reminders of their many happy years together. If he had to be separated from Bess on their anniversary, he would try to send her a special letter. These letters, a mixture of straightforwardness and sentiment, convey how much he loved Bess. The anniversary letters are just part of an amazing collection of letters Harry sent Bess during their courtship and marriage, more than 1,300 of which still exist. Most of Bess' letters have not survived.

    A Drawer for a Cradle

    Harry and Bess very much wanted to have a child. Bess suffered two miscarriages, making the arrival of Mary Margaret Truman in 1924 especially joyous. The Trumans did not have a crib for Margaret, so her first bed was a drawer from the family dresser. Margaret was a frail child who often required medical attention and was doted upon by her parents and extended family.

    Dear Margie

    Her father showered Margaret with attention, even when work kept him away from home. Messages to her were included in his letters to Bess. When she was eight, he wrote: "Have you practiced your music? I'm hoping you can play all those exercises without hesitation. If you can, I'll teach you to read bass notes when I get back. Kiss your mother, and mother you kiss my pretty girl for me - and write - write - write." As Margaret got older, Truman wrote separate
    letters to her, addressing them to his "Dear Margie…" (pronounced with a hard "g").

    The Three Musketeers

    Harry, Bess and MargaretHarry, Bess, and Margaret frequently appeared in public together. Some even dubbed the close-knit trio the "The Three Musketeers." Truman sometimes joked that the threesome would have made a good vaudeville act. He would play the piano, Margaret would sing, and Bess would manage the act. Ultimately, they were called on to perform as the First Family. Although Bess preferred staying behind the scenes, Truman was clearly pleased to share the Presidential limelight with "the two most important people in the world to me."

    Singing Career

    Like her father, Margaret expressed an interest in music at an early age. Truman supported her desire to become a professional singer but was disappointed that she did not want to become a pianist. While she majored in history at George Washington University, she also continued her training as a coloratura soprano. In 1947, against the advice of her singing teacher, who felt she needed additional training, Margaret made her radio singing debut on the Ford Motor Company's "Sunday Evening Hour."