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.
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
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
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
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
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
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."