The papers of Bess W. Truman contain appointment books, address books, menus, correspondence, financial records, and legal documents relating to her personal life and activities as First Lady of the United States.
Size: 52 linear feet, 11 linear inches (about 103,500 pages).
Copyright: The donors gave their copyright interest in writings in these files to the United States Government. Documents created by U.S. Government officials in the course of their official duties are likewise in the public domain. Copyright interest in any other writings in these files is assumed to remain with the authors of the documents, or their heirs.
Processed by: Bill Carpenter, Amy Crossley, Jan Davis, Tammy Kelly Williams, Sharie Simon, and David Clark (2010-2017).
[ Top of the page | Administrative Information | Biographical Sketch | Collection Description | Series Descriptions | Folder Title List ]
1885 (February 13)
Born, Independence, Missouri
Graduated from Independence High School
Lived in Colorado Springs, Colorado, following the death of her father, David W. Wallace
Moved into her grandfather’s home at 219 N. Delaware Street
Attended Barstow School in Kansas City, Missouri
Became engaged to Harry S. Truman
1919 (June 28)
Married Harry S. Truman
1924 (February 17)
Gave birth to Mary Margaret Truman
1945 (April 12)
Became First Lady of the United States upon the swearing in of Harry S. Truman as President
1953 (January 20)
Returned to Independence, Missouri
1982 (October 18)
Died, Independence, Missouri
The Bess W. Truman Papers contain appointment books, menus, address books, correspondence and other items that document the life of Bess Wallace Truman.
The first series, the Appointment Books File, contains appointment books that primarily cover Mrs. Truman’s tenure as First Lady. The first book, from 1944, is kept in Mrs. Truman’s handwriting. Appointment books for the presidential years contain both the handwriting of Mrs. Truman and her secretary, Reathel Odum. Appointment books after 1953 are all in Mrs. Truman’s handwriting. For some of the years between 1945 and 1953, there are multiple appointment books. Folders that are labeled “personal” contain appointment books for Mrs. Truman when she was in Independence; she usually spent several months of the year at home in Independence. The appointments include both official functions and personal appointments. Official functions include teas, receptions, diplomatic dinners and parties. Personal appointments include visits to the doctor and dentist, appointments with her hairdresser, shopping trips, lunches with friends, and meetings with various groups she remained personally involved with, such as the USO (United Service Organization), the P.E.O. Sisterhood (Philanthropic Educational Organization), and a spanish class for the wives of Washington, D.C. diplomats. Also in this series are two small address books kept by Mrs. Truman, containing the addresses of some of her friends and associates.
The second series is the White House Menus File. This series contains lunch and dinner menus for the Truman family and any guests they entertained. Also included in this series are the shopping lists for official functions that the White House hosted, such as teas, receptions, and State Dinners; sometimes the menu for the event is included as well. The time period of August 17, 1950 through January 1, 1951 is missing entirely. Most of the menus indicate in writing the number of trays to bring or the number of people attending each meal. If the family dined anywhere other than the dining room, that is written on the menu as well, such as if they took their meal on the Sun Porch. Any special menu changes or requests are also written on the menus, such as a request by one of the household for a different dessert or side dish. This is especially noticeable with Mrs. Truman’s mother, Mrs. Madge Wallace. The menus tend to be repetitive and reflect the fairly simple tastes of the Trumans and the era in which they lived. They often ate molded salads, sandwiches, burgers, and meals made from leftovers. This entire series has been digitized and can be browsed on our website.
The third series is the Financial Affairs File. This series consists of bills, receipts, banking documents, insurance policies, trust statements, wills and other financial documents related to Harry and Bess Truman. The bills and receipts relate to purchases of food, clothing, and household items, as well as payments for home repairs, medical expenses, and automobile purchases and maintenance. The banking documents consist of canceled checks, checkbook registers, checkbook stubs, deposit slips and monthly statements for checking and savings accounts located at financial institutions such as the Bank of Independence, Riggs National Bank, Columbia National Bank, Commerce Trust Company, National Bank of Washington, City National Bank, First National Bank of Kansas City and Empire State Bank. The insurance documents include yearly policies that cover personal items, automobiles and the Truman residence. The trust statements were for trusts established by the Trumans for Vietta Garr, the Truman housekeeper, and for their four grandsons, Clifton Truman Daniel, William Wallace Daniel, Harrison Gates Daniel and Thomas Washington Daniel. The wills consists of drafts and various versions of the wills as they were written and updated throughout the years. Other financial documents include yearly income tax returns, leases for apartments in Washington, D.C. used by the Trumans during his Senate years, bank account balance sheets, and accounting ledgers.
The fourth series, the Correspondence File, 1889-1934, contains letters, notes, and other items compiled by Bess Truman before and during the early years of her marriage to Harry S. Truman. The earliest items of correspondence in this series are two letters from Frank Gates, Bess’s uncle, written to Bess when she was around four or five years old. Also included in this series is a Victory Loan Ledger that Bess used to keep track of Liberty bonds that she sold during World War I. This series also contains a card signed by Bess Truman when she was President of the Community Welfare League, a local organization providing service to the needy, which still exists today. The largest quantities of correspondence consist of letters from two of Bess’s best friends, Mary Paxton (later Keeley) and Arry Mayer (later Calhoun). The letters discuss their families, mutual acquaintances, romances, and World War I. This entire series has been digitized and can be browsed on our website.
The fifth series, the Correspondence File, 1935-1945, covers the period that Harry S. Truman served as Senator and Vice President. The vast majority of the correspondence dates from late 1944, just after Harry S. Truman’s nomination as Vice President and after the 1944 election victory by the Democrats. This correspondence, mostly from friends but also from the general public, congratulates Bess and Harry on Harry’s nomination. In addition to correspondence from her friends Mary Paxton Keeley and Arry Mayer Calhoun, Mrs. Truman corresponded frequently with Harriette (Mrs. Leighton) Shields, the wife of a political associate of Truman’s. There is also correspondence from Gunston Hall, the private school that Margaret Truman attended in Washington, D.C. for part of each year.
The sixth series, the Correspondence File, 1945-1953, covers the time that Harry S. Truman served as President. While there is still correspondence from many of Mrs. Truman’s close friends and family contained in this series, there is a great deal more from people of note, as well as an increased amount of letters from average citizens. Some of this material is likely material that should have been filed at the time in the White House Social Correspondence Files, such as autograph requests and requests for donations, recipes, and the like. Occasionally, there are draft replies to these letters written in Mrs. Truman’s hand. Topics covered in this series include: the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the ascension of Truman to the Presidency; the genealogy of Wallace/Gates families; Margaret Truman’s concert debut and other concerts that followed; the 1948 election; the assassination attempt upon President Truman; and the death of Mrs. Truman’s mother, Madge Gates Wallace. Also included are occasional official notes to Margaret Truman. Mrs. Truman also corresponded with some of the wives of men prominent in her husband’s administration, including Alice (Mrs. Dean) Acheson, Selma (Mrs. Harold) Burton, Ann (Mrs. Oscar) Chapman, Katherine (Mrs. George) Marshall, and Mrs. Perle Mesta. Mrs. Truman also received letters from former First Ladies, including Frances Cleveland Preston, Edith Wilson, Grace Coolidge, and Eleanor Roosevelt. Also of note in this series are a handwritten letter from the actress Olivia de Havilland, and two handwritten notes from the actress Jeanette MacDonald.
The seventh series, the Correspondence File, 1953-1982, covers the time from when Mrs. Truman left the White House to her death. While this series does contain correspondence from regular citizens who wrote to the former First Lady, most of the correspondence is from close friends and associates. Generally, this series contains the incoming correspondence; sometimes carbon copies of the outgoing correspondence are attached as well. There are occasional notes on the correspondence in Mrs. Truman’s handwriting. Topics covered in this series include: requests for recipes; birthday, Mother’s Day, and other holiday greetings; sympathy wishes during the various hospitalizations of Harry S. Truman and Bess W. Truman; congratulations upon the marriage of Margaret Truman; compliments on appearances of Margaret Truman in various public venues; genealogy information and requests; autograph and picture requests; invitations to events; requests for donations to charities, fund drives, exhibits, etc.; political matters; the death of Harry S. Truman; and personal letters regarding friends, family, and acquaintances. Notable correspondents include: Presidents and/or First Ladies from Dwight Eisenhower through Ronald Reagan; Dean and Alice Acheson; Ann (Mrs. Oscar) Chapman; Tom and Mary Clark; Clark and Marny Clifford; Elvah Daniel (Margaret Truman’s mother-in-law); Mary Margaret (Mrs. J. Roger) DeWitt; Nell (Mrs. Jesse) Donaldson; Thomas Eagleton; India Edwards; Fanny Finch; Bertha (Mrs. Julien) Friant; Andy and Georgia Neese Clark Gray; Edith Helm; Mary Paxton Keeley; Jane Lingo; Katie Louchheim; George and Katherine Marshall; Naomi Nover; Margaret (Mrs. Robert) Patterson; Matthew Ridgway; John Snyder; Harry Vaughan; and Guri Lie Zeckendorf. Other notable items include several notes from the singer Hildegarde and a note from Angela Lansbury.
The eighth series, the Family Correspondence File, contains correspondence, cards, newspaper clippings, notes, postcards, and telegrams from members of both Harry S. Truman’s family as well as Bess Wallace Truman’s family. Correspondents from President Truman’s family include Myra Colgan Hornbuckle, Mary Ethel and Nellie Noland, Mary Colgan Romine, and Grace Truman Summer (first cousins); John C. Truman and Martha Ann Truman (nephew and niece); J. Vivian Truman (brother); Martha Ellen and Mary Jane Truman (mother and sister); Louis W. Truman (first cousin once removed); and others. Most of the letters from Truman relatives are actually addressed to Harry, rather than Bess. All of the letters tend to mention information about the health, welfare, and significant events of various family members. Other specific topics include: Kansas City, Grandview, Missouri, and national politics; Tom Pendergast and the Jackson Democratic Club; Franklin D. Roosevelt and his plan to expand the size of the Supreme Court in 1937; Truman’s first speech in the Senate; Lloyd Stark, Maurice Milligan and the 1940 Senate primary and general election; the Truman Committee; the Vice Presidential nomination and the 1944 election; the ascension to the Presidency; the death of Martha Ellen Truman; Margaret Truman’s singing career and concerts; the 1948 election and 1949 Inaugural; the renovation of the White House; the Korean War and Douglas MacArthur; the 1950 assassination attempt upon President Truman; books written about Harry S. Truman; the 1952 election; Masonic and Order of the Eastern Star issues and politics; farm and land matters; and genealogy matters. Included among these items is an 1868 letter from the Jackson County Probate Clerk to Solomon Young, Harry S. Truman’s maternal grandfather, regarding sales of land. Correspondents from Bess Wallace Truman’s family include: David Wallace and Marian Wallace (nephew and niece); Fred and Christine Wallace, George and May Wallace, and Frank and Natalie Wallace (brothers and sisters-in-law); Madge Gates Wallace (mother); Virginia Willock Wallace (paternal grandmother); and Elizabeth Emery Gates (maternal grandmother). Nearly all of these letters are written to Bess. Topics in these letters include: news of family, friends and acquaintances in Independence; Waggoner-Gates Milling Company business; repairs and renovations of the family home at 219 North Delaware Street; Mrs. Truman’s bridge club; activities of David, Marian, and Margo Wallace; the 1944 Democratic National Convention and Truman’s nomination as Vice-President; the 1945 Inaugural; death of Franklin D. Roosevelt and ascension of Truman to the Presidency; Truman’s trip to Fulton, Missouri with Winston Churchill in 1946; the Trumans’ trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1947; the 1948 election and 1949 Inaugural; and Margaret Truman and her singing career. Included among these letters is a letter from 1849 to a Sarah Wallace (an undetermined relative). In addition to the correspondence from Madge Gates Wallace to Bess W. Truman, this series contains the letters that Bess wrote to Madge. Among the topics that Bess mentions in these letters to her mother are: Margaret Truman and her schooling and activities; Kansas City and Missouri politics; family and extended family matters; social functions in Washington, D.C., including the visit of the King and Queen of England in 1939; World War II, rationing, and civil defense preparedness; Harry S. Truman’s Senate office and business; and the Trumans’ 1947 trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The ninth series, the Correspondence File, 1973-1982, contains correspondence, notes, newspaper clippings, telegrams, and printed materials and covers the time span from Harry S. Truman’s death to Bess Truman’s death. This series is different from the previous post-presidential correspondence series in that nearly all of this correspondence was answered by staff at the Harry S. Truman Library as a courtesy to Mrs. Truman. Mr. Truman’s former secretary, Rose Conway, stayed for a few years after his death, and her name appears on Mrs. Truman’s correspondence sporadically through about 1976. After that, nearly all of Mrs. Truman’s mail was handled by Mary Jo Colle, and her name usually appears at the bottom of the carbon copies of replies. Mrs. Truman likely saw much of this correspondence, as her handwriting sometimes appears on the correspondence, providing suggested responses. Topics covered in this series include: questions about Harry S. Truman and life in the White House (usually not answered); general compliments regarding Mr. and Mrs. Truman, Margaret Truman Daniel, and the Harry S. Truman Library; get well, sympathy, birthday, and holiday cards; requests for donations to charities, fund drives and exhibits; requests for autographs and pictures (Mrs. Truman stopped signing autographs around 1979-1980); requests for use of excerpts of Mr. Truman’s Memoirs or other intellectual property, which were forwarded to Mrs. Truman’s attorney; requests for meetings (always denied); Truman and Wallace genealogy questions; invitations (usually declined, if any reply is included); and recipe requests. Most of the correspondence in this series is from non-noteworthy people and people who were not personally acquainted with Mrs. Truman. A few correspondents of note include Missouri Governor Christopher Bond; Reva Beck Bosone; Lynda Johnson Robb (a single note requesting an interview for Ladies Home Journal magazine, which was denied); and Mr. and Mrs. Ike Skelton.
The tenth series, the Outgoing Correspondence File, 1953-1982, contains carbon copies of replies sent to people who sent letters to Mrs. Truman. Some of this material is duplicated in the Correspondence File, 1973-1982.
The eleventh series, the Greetings File, 1945-1982, contains cards, notes, newspaper clippings, photographs, telegrams, and some printed materials received by Bess W. Truman. The vast majority of the material consists of greeting cards people sent to Mrs. Truman for various holidays, including Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Valentine’s Day, and her birthday. This series also contains get-well cards sent to Mrs. Truman during her various illnesses and hospitalizations. Average people with no connection to Mrs. Truman sent most of the cards and notes. However, some notable correspondents do turn up, including Alice (Mrs. Dean) Acheson, President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter, Nell (Mrs. Jesse) Donaldson, President and Mrs. Gerald Ford, Mary Paxton Keeley, and Mr. and Mrs Ike Skelton. Some cards contain handwritten notes from Mrs. Truman regarding what the response should be, or notes from one of the secretaries who handled her correspondence (Rose Conway or Mary Jo Colle). Cards received by Mrs. Truman could receive one of several responses: a handwritten response from Mrs. Truman; a typewritten response with a stamped signature; a recognition card without any kind of signature; a recognition card with a stamped signature; or a recognition card with a handwritten signature. Many (often marked with a question mark) did not receive any acknowledgement. As Mrs. Truman aged, it is doubtful she even saw many of the cards that she received. A sampling of cards received by Mrs. Truman is in each folder; the entire folder is available upon request.
The twelfth series is the Harry S. Truman Correspondence File. This series consists of 188 letters and telegrams from Bess W. Truman to Harry S. Truman from 1919 through 1943. Bess wrote many of these letters to Harry while he served at Army Reserve camp in the summers and during her absences from Washington, D. C. while he served as a United States Senator. The letters kept Harry informed of family happenings, the weather in Independence, and Independence, Kansas City, Jackson County, and Missouri politics. Bess also filled her letters with questions about events happening in Washington, D.C. and admonishments to Harry to keep himself healthy and not work himself too hard. The letters from 1936 to 1943 reflect the challenges they faced managing two households – one in Independence and one in Washington, D. C. The people referred to most frequently in the letters are members of Bess and Harry’s families: Margaret Truman, Madge Wallace, George and May Wallace, Frank and Natalie Wallace, Fred and Christine Wallace, Nellie and Mary Ethel Noland, Mary Jane Truman, and Martha Ellen Truman. This entire series is digitized and is available, with transcripts, on our website.
The thirteenth series is the Margaret Truman Correspondence File. This series consists of about 100 letters, notes, and telegrams from Bess W. Truman to Margaret Truman from 1930 through 1977. Approximately half of these letters date from the family’s time in the White House. The letters served to help coordinate family schedules when they split their time between their home in Independence and the White House. The letters also kept Margaret updated on events involving friends and family in both cities. There are also some letters to Margaret written during her parents’ trips to Europe in 1956 and 1958. The people most frequently referred to in the letters include: Annette Wright, Drucie Snyder, Madge Wallace (Margaret’s grandmother), George and May Wallace, Frank and Natalie Wallace, Fred and Christine Wallace, Perle Mesta, and Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Strickler.
The fourteenth series is the Harry S. Truman Death File. This series contains sympathy cards, letters, telegrams, and newspaper clippings that people sent to Mrs. Truman upon the death of her husband. Average people with no connection to Mrs. Truman sent the vast majority of these cards and notes. This series also contains sympathy cards sent by heads of state, governors, Senators and Congressmen, colleagues of Mr. Truman, veteran’s organizations, Masonic Lodges, labor unions, and friends of Mr. and Mrs. Truman. Notable correspondents include Lyndon Johnson, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Golda Meir, Richard Nixon, and Strom Thurmond, among many others. A sampling of cards received by Mrs. Truman is in each folder; the entire folder is available upon request.
The fifteenth series is the Resolutions Honoring Harry S. Truman File. This series contains correspondence and copies of resolutions passed by state, county, city, and municipality legislatures honoring Harry S. Truman after his death. Some other organizations, such as school boards, charitable organizations, and private companies also passed resolutions which are also included here.
The sixteenth series is the Outgoing Correspondence File, 1973-1974. This series contains carbon copies of letters that Mrs. Truman sent out to people and groups who sent condolences to her upon the death of Mr. Truman.
The seventeenth series is the White House Social Functions File. This series contains scrapbooks of events hosted by the White House. In the scrapbooks are guest lists, seating charts, drafts of invitations and admittance cards, newspaper clippings, and other materials related to White House social events. Some, but not all, of this material is duplicated in the White House Social Office Files of the Harry S. Truman Papers.
The last series is the Subject File. This series contains material related to Wallace and Gates genealogy, including copies of applications for membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution; Society Daughters of Colonial Wars; National Society of United States Daughters of 1812; Huguenot Society; and United Daughters of the Confederacy. It also contains copies of recipes given out by Mrs. Truman, as well as recipes and cookbooks she collected. Also in this series are documents related to Mrs. Truman’s schooling; Margaret Truman; Mrs. Truman’s work as part of the St. Agnes Guild of Trinity Episcopal Church in Independence, Missouri; memorabilia; and printed materials.
Related collections include the Harry S. Truman Papers: White House Chief Usher Files and the White House Social Office Files; the Harry S. Truman Papers Pertaining to Family, Business and Personal Affairs (Harry’s letters to Bess); the Harry S. Truman Papers as U.S. Senator and Vice President; the Harry S. Truman Papers: President's Secretary's Files; the Harry S. Truman Post-Presidential Papers; the papers of Alonzo Fields, Mary Paxton Keeley, Linda King, Mag Noel, Mary Ethel Noland, Reathel Odum, Thelma Pallette Seibel, Grace Truman Summer, David Wallace, Frank and Natalie Wallace, Fred Wallace, Madge Gates Wallace, and Mary Wallace; the Bess Truman Collection; and the Records of the Community Services League.