Truman, Bess W. Papers

Dates: 1849-1983

Wife of Harry S. Truman, 1919-1972; First Lady of the United States, 1945-1953

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.

[Administrative Information | Biographical Sketch | Collection Description | Series Descriptions | Folder Title List]


Size: 52 linear feet, 11 linear inches (about 103,500 pages).
Access: Open.
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

[ Top of the page | Administrative Information | Biographical Sketch | Collection Description | Series Descriptions | Folder Title List ]


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