For Immediate Release: May 24, 2000
Contacts: Edeen Martin
816-268-8218
Truman Library and Museum

Barkley & Evergreen Public Relations
816-842-1500

 

HARRY S. TRUMAN'S THEME BOOKS FROM
HIGH SCHOOL MADE AVAILABLE TO PUBLIC FOR RESEARCH
- Historic materials opened to public on May 30,2000 -

(Independence, Mo.) - May is the month when graduation is on the minds of thousands of high school students across Kansas City and across the nation. Tuesday, May 30, 2000, marks the 99th anniversary of Harry S. Truman's graduation from high school, and to commemorate this, the Truman Library will open for research, for the first time, copies of three of Truman's high school theme books.

Martha Ann Swoyer, Harry S. Truman's niece - the daughter of his brother, J. Vivian Truman - has generously allowed the Truman Library to copy these theme books and to make them available for research. Swoyer has also agreed to loan the theme books to the Library so they can be put on exhibit in the museum.

 

The theme books are titled, "English note Book, First year…1899," "English Note Book, Third Year…1900-1901," and "General History Note Book, Apr. 1901." They comprise more than 100 pages of writing, and represent work Truman did during his first and third (senior) years of high school, when he was 15 and 17 years old, respectively.

 

"Everyone interested in Harry S. Truman owes a debt of gratitude to Mrs. Swoyer," Larry Hackman, director of the Truman Library said, "and to Truman's sister and mother before her, for preserving Truman's high school theme books for posterity. They help to remind us that Truman came from a time very different from our own, and that the President who did so much to shape the second half of the twentieth century was in many ways a man of the nineteenth century."

In his first-year English book, in an upright and correct schoolboy hand, Truman writes essays on Benjamin Franklin, James Fenimore Cooper, John Greenleaf Whittier, and William Cullen Bryant, and on such subjects as "An Outdoor Scene," "An Old Roman," and "Courage." Truman writes that Franklin was "truthful and honest … thrifty and economical." He is both admiring and critical of Cooper, whose Leatherstocking Tales and Sea Tales are "interesting," but "his sentences are too long," and the Sea Tales "have too many words in them."

In his essay on Whittier, the young Truman - who would one day as President of the United States desegregate the armed forces, highlight modern civil rights issues and endorse government actions to address them - seems to express admiration for the antislavery theme in the poet's work.

Truman's essay on "Courage" suggests an admiration for self-sacrificing acts of kindness and compassion rather than for military heroism. "A true heart[,] a strong mind and a great deal of courage and I think a man will get through the world," the young Truman concluded.

Truman's third-year English book carries a dedication: "To one of my dearest teachers, Miss M. D. Brown, who taught me what I know of the English Language." It includes several essays on characters from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. In his essay on Portia, Truman opens with the quotation "'Frailty they name is woman,'" and then he asks, "Why? Why is a woman frail? Is it because she used to stay indoors and do nothing? or because she is dependent? Look over the pages of history," Truman insists, "and find how many a man or nation would have fallen if it hadn't been for a woman. Look how many would have stood if it hadn't been for a woman in the case."

The last essay in the third-year theme book, titled "Nineteen," is much different than anything else in Truman's theme books. It is the only essay written in pencil, and it is in a handwriting that seems to have grown away from schoolboy correctness. It is full of thoughts on life that are disillusioned and ironical. Some of the schoolboy idealism is still evident, as in "Do right for right's sake, not for reward." But a different attitude is evident in such writings as these: "The majority of men are good because of the hangman;" "Love everyone as far as you can;" and "If a man would be great in modern politics he must support his party even if they are all thieves and saloon keepers."

The Truman Library and Museum, one of ten Presidential Libraries administered by the National Archives and Records Administration, is located at U.S. Highway 24 and Delaware in Independence, Mo. It houses more than 15 million pages of documents, including President Truman's own papers relating to his life and Presidency.

The research room is open from 8:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., Monday through Friday; the museum is open from Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended hours to 9 p.m. on Thursdays, and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. The museum is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.


For information about Truman's theme books, please contact Ray Geselbracht at 816-268-8212 or visit the Truman Library Web site at www.trumanlibrary.org.

The Harry S. Truman Library is one of ten Presidential Libraries administered by the National Archives and Records Administration.

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