Oral History Interview with
Mary Jane Truman
Miss Truman lived with her brother, Harry S. Truman, until he was married at the age of 35. She remained with her mother until her mother, Martha Ellen Truman died. Miss Truman was a Grand Matron of the Missouri Eastern Star, also a pianist for the First Baptist Church of Grandview, Missouri for approximately 30 years where she was a member.
January 2, 1976
by Jerald L. Hill and William D. Stilley
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
This interview was conducted by William D. Stilley and Jerald L. Hill as part of a intern and independent study project at William Jewell College in March 1976, under the direction of the Political Science Department of William Jewell College. The reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
This transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of William D. Stilley and Jerald L. Hill.
Opened December, 1985
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
Mary Jane Truman
January 2, 1976
by Jerald L. Hill and William D. Stilley
HILL: What sort of a brother was the President to you?
TRUMAN: He was one of the finest brothers anybody could have. He was the oldest one of the three of us; he was older than Vivian and then I was the youngest. He rocked me to sleep until I was big enough to not be rocked. And Mamma said I used to come in and say, "Mamma, make Harry bye-o," instead of asking her, or telling her I was sleepy, it was Harry. It was always Harry.
As long as he lived he always seemed to think
that I was his special care, and no matter how busy he was he always had time to talk to me either on the phone, or to see me when I went over there for anything I did. He never was--I don't think I ever did see him especially disgusted with me, but maybe once. And that was when they started the Eastern Star chapter here. He had contacted the District Deputy Grand Matron, and she came out with a petition to have the different ones sign, and, of course, it landed in our house first. And she said she wanted me to sign the petition. I said, "Why, no, I'm not going to belong to the Eastern Star."
And Harry said, "Well, you are too." He said, "If you don't sign that, I'll sign it for you." Really he wasn't mad, he was just a little spunky. But he was thoroughly disgusted because he thought he had it all fixed for everybody to sign, and his own sister objected to sign.
HILL: Was he serious as a young man, or did he joke quite a bit?
TRUMAN: Well, I think he was just about average. He
loved fun and all that, but he had a serious side, too. He was a very good student. You see, he had diphtheria when he was about nine years old, and he had such a severe case that he ended up being paralyzed for about a year. So, that's when he started reading so much. He couldn't do anything else and he couldn't get up without help, and so he'd lie on the floor and put the books down on the floor in front of him and read the book that way. That was where he really started liking to read. He missed a whole year of school, because he was paralyzed for almost a year; and then he finished high school at seventeen, which wasn't too bad.
STILLEY: He took piano lessons. Did he enjoy this at the time he was taking lessons?
TRUMAN: Yes, he loved music. And he liked classical music; he didn't play ragtime. He played a few pieces, but he really liked good music. He and I always took from the same teacher for about five years. Each of us.
HILL: You continued to play the piano, didn't you, for the church?
TRUMAN: Yes, I played for the church. I played for the church for, oh, I guess thirty years, maybe. Mr. George, the funeral director--I'd go to church and play for funerals--said to me one day, "Miss Mary, I don't know how we'd ever get along without you." He said, "You're always on hand to play for us." And I did, I played for years. And I enjoyed--not enjoyed playing for the funerals, but I enjoyed playing for anyone that really wanted me to play. But I don't touch the piano anymore.
HILL: I read someplace that President Truman was disqualified from West Point when he applied because of his eyesight. Is that right?
TRUMAN: Well, he wasn't disqualified, he passed the examination, but he couldn't enter on account of his eyes. They wouldn't accept him at that time. I think since, if their vision can be corrected with glasses, they do accept some that wear glasses. But at that time he took the examination, he couldn't
see anything without his glasses; and so, he passed the examination, but he wasn't acceptable for that reason. But it was good experience for him.
HILL: Did this upset him,, was he pretty disappointed with this?
TRUMAN: Well, I think he was disappointed, but Harry wasn't the sort to show his disappointment. If anything happened he went on and made the best of it. He was that disposition.
HILL: You mentioned he was a good student in school and all this. He enjoyed reading?
TRUMAN: Yes. He very seldom sat down that he didn't have a magazine or a book or something. He always had to read, and read a lot.
HILL: What was his favorite subject that he liked to read?
HILL: Was that mainly what he read? Did he read fiction and this kind . . .
TRUMAN: Oh, he read everything; but he really liked good reading. He was a good student, even after he was out of school.
HILL: How long did you and President Truman live together before he was married?
TRUMAN: Well, let's see, he didn't marry until he was thirty-five and he was home all that time, except going places where he needed to go and all that. But he was home with Mamma and me at the time when he went into the First World War; and then he was married after he came home from the First World War.
HILL: And you lived out at the farm home?
HILL: Is the farm house still standing now?
TRUMAN: Yes. But that's not the original farm house. The old house burned. It was a pre-Civil War house,
and a much nicer house than this one was. It burned sometime in the 1890's and my grandmother came to Independence and lived with us. We were living in Independence then. So the house was built, and they didn't have the telephones and things that they do today, and she couldn't have it looked alter like she wanted. She wanted it rebuilt just like the old house was, but they didn't build it that way. It was a nice old pre Civil War house, and was partially finished when the war came. Then my grandfather bought the farm and the home place, and he had it finished after the Civil War. It was really a nice old pre. Civil War house. But this one was just kind of thrown together. It wasn't the same kind of a house that the old house was.
HILL: How long have you lived in this house here?
TRUMAN: Let me see, I don't know exactly. I was thinking the other day when it was I moved over here. It was in the 1950's but I don't remember. I was Worthy Grand Matron in 1951 of the State, and
I moved after I was Worthy Grand Matron, and I think it was either 1952 or '53 that I moved over here. This house used to be over on the schoolhouse yard, and it was moved over here; and then I bought it after they moved it over here.
HILL: Your brother, Vivian, did he stay at the farm house then, or did he leave at that time, too?
TRUMAN: Well, no, he built the house there north of the old house. That was my brother Vivian's house. He lived out here on what we used to call the "Good place," and was living on the Good place when Harry was in France, in the war. I ran the farm during the war.
HILL: Did you have any trouble running the farm?
TRUMAN: Oh, I had my troubles, but I think everybody felt sorry for me, so they all pitched in to help me. The neighbors were awfully nice, of course. Of course all the men of a certain age went to the war, and those that were left were either older men or too young to be very much help, you
know; it was hard to get. I did have a man and his wife that lived in a house on the farm. They were there all the time and then we had to hire other help to help them. Of course, we had quite a large crop of wheat and oats and corn; and then we had over two hundred acres in pasture, in pastured cattle. So, the original farm at that time was 600 acres. Then of course the road cut it all to pieces. Seventy-one went through and left, I believe 160 or 200 acres east of the highway, and then the part between the highway and Grandview Road, and then there was another 100 or something over between Grandview Road and the Frisco Railroad, over in there. There are a hundred acres west of the Frisco Railroad, and we kept that in pasture, kept cattle on that pasture. Wasn't good--oh, I guess it could have been farmed, but we never did farm it.
HILL: How long after President Truman came back from World War I did he get married?
TRUMAN: He came home in March and was married in June.
HILL: And then he moved to Independence from the farm?
TRUMAN: Yes, he went to Independence, and we had a sale then, and sold off all the farm machinery and the stock and everything. He wanted me to go ahead and I told him I wouldn't do it unless he'd stay and help me, because it wouldn't be the same as it was during the war, and it wouldn't have been. I'd never got the help that I did while he was gone; that was part of it.
STILLEY: According to the Hickman Mills School Board minutes, they say that a Harry S. Truman was appointed to the Board July 7, 1916, and that there was a Mr. Hornbuckle that was a member of the Board, was that your brother?
TRUMAN: Yes. Harry Truman, that was my brother.
STILLEY: He did serve on the Board?
TRUMAN: Yes, he