Truman, Bess (Elizabeth Virginia)

(1885-1982)
   The future first lady was born Elizabeth Wallace in Independence, Missouri. She first met Harry S. Truman at the age of five, and they met again 16 years later. They got engaged in 1917 and married in 1919. After two still births and several miscarriages, Bess gave birth to a daughter, Mary Margaret, who was her only child.
   Bess was not particularly active in her husband’s political life, but during World War II she worked in the Red Cross and the United Service Organizations and also as a secretary in her husband’s office. When Harry became president in 1945, Bess assumed the role of first lady. She has been described as “the least active first lady in the 20th century,” but she did reinstitute the White House social season after the war and was a hard-working hostess at numerous official functions. She also took on formal roles as president of the Girl Scouts, Red Cross, and other organizations. However, unlike her predecessor, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bess avoided publicity and only gave one press conference. She was unassuming and unpretentious, and she continued to visit the same beauty parlor while in the White House. As President Truman’s published correspondence later made clear, Bess was also his trusted presidential adviser and confidante. After leaving the White House, she achieved her ambition and retired with her husband to an ordinary house in Independence.

Historical Dictionary of the Roosevelt–Truman Era . . 2015.

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