Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

A Family Perspective: Letters from Harry to Bess Truman
Jesse McClain
US History
Time Frame:
Depending on the number of slides used and the depth of discussion, the lesson(s) can range from one day to five lessons.
Cold War

Grade Levels:
7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:
  • Lecture and analysis of Primary Documents


It will be beneficial for students to learn more about the Cold War by studying Harry's personal feelings through his letters and diary entries

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:

National American History Standards

Standard 1 (B) Identify in historical narratives the temporal structure of a historical narrative or story. Standard 3 (D)  Identify in historical narratives the temporal structure of a historical narrative or story. Standard 3 (D)  Consider multiple perspectives. Standard 3 (J) Hypothesize the influence of the past. Standard 3 (B) Compare and contrast differing sets of ideas, values, personalities, behaviors, and institutions. Standard 4 (A) Identify problems and issues in the past.


6. Relationships of the individual and groups to institutions and cultural traditions

7. The use of tools of social science inquiry (such as surveys, statistics, maps, documents)


Benchmark 3: The student uses a working knowledge and understanding of individuals, groups, ideas, developments, and turning points in the era of the Cold War (1945-1990).

2.(A) analyzes the origins of the Cold War (e.g., establishment of the Soviet Bloc, Mao’s victory in China, Marshall Plan, Berlin Blockade, Iron Curtain).

3. (A) evaluates the foreign policies of Truman and Eisenhower during the Cold War (e.g., establishment of the United Nations, containment, NATO, Truman Doctrine, Berlin Blockade, Korean War, Iron Curtain, U-2 incident).

Benchmark 5: The student engages in historical thinking skills.

1. (A) analyzes a theme in United States history to explain patterns of continuity and change over time.

2. (A) develops historical questions on a specific topic in United States history and analyzes the evidence in primary source documents to speculate on the answers.

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

Ferrell, Robert H.  Dear Bess. W.W. Norton Co., New York, 1983. Ferrell, Robert H. Off the Record. Harper and Row, New York. 1980. Truman Presidential Library. www.trumanlibrary.org

PowerPoint Slides: A Family Perspective: Letters from Harry to Bess Truman

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

 Letter excerpts found on slides in this presentation or complete letters found in sources identified on the bibliography slide.

Technology Required:

PowerPoint Program Pencils/Pens

Full description of activity or assignment.

The teacher should prepare students with the definition and origin of the term Cold War. The teacher should identify and discuss the presidency of Harry S. Truman in relation to WWII and today. If time permits, an examination of the man, Harry S. Truman would benefit. After a discussion of the Cold War and Harry S. Truman, students will examine the personal letters the President wrote to his wife Bess to glean insight and interpret meaning to the event being discussed in the letter. Students can hypothesize and argue as well as interpret if the excerpt encourages them to dig deeper. The amount of letters available in the sources listed in the bibliography are limitless and one could choose any event from Truman’s presidency to investigate. Students could seek out the letters from other prominent individuals from this period and compare their thoughts and feelings to those of Harry S. Truman.