The Trumans in Washington

For almost eighteen years, from 1935 to 1953, the Truman family made their home in Washington, D.C., far from their roots in Independence, Missouri.  Harry Truman worked hard to distinguish himself as a Senator. Bess adjusted to life in their cramped apartment. Margaret tried to fit in at her new private school.  For the Trumans, family was always a centering force.  Sometimes called “The Three Musketeers,” their bond carried them through the years of senatorial politics, a world war, and the presidency.

Truman called his decade in the Senate from 1935 to 1945 his “ten happiest years.”  Bess and Margaret enjoyed the capital’s cultural attractions while splitting their time with family and friends back home.  Senator Truman relished his work and the comradery of the Senate’s inner social circle.  Bess was his partner and sounding board.  He made a point of seeking her counsel, and she sometimes worked alongside him in the office. While apart, the family wrote letters revealing private jokes, insights and observations of the widening world around them.

By 1948
engineers had determined the White House was structurally unsafe for the family. Interior walls were overloaded. The second floor was caving in. Plumbing and wiring were unsound. Truman called a previous renovation done in Theodore Roosevelt’s time a “botch job.” The family moved out, and the challenging renovation project began.  Although plagued by budget overages, schedule delays, and supply challenges, the Truman family moved back into the house in March 1952.  Later the President proudly led a tour of the renovated White House in a live television special.


Key document: Harry Truman to Bess W. Truman, June 30, 1947

Key artifact

Mantle and fireset , 1902. This mantel was originally installed in the State Dining Room of the White House in 1902 by President Theodore Roosevelt.