Elizabeth Virginia Wallace Truman
February 13, 1885, in Independence, Missouri
October 18, 1982, in Independence, Missouri
Bess Truman served as first lady throughout her husband Harry Truman’s two terms in the years 1945-1953. Bess was 60 years old when she became first lady.
Bess chose not to follow directly in Eleanor Roosevelt’s footsteps as first lady and rather sought to fashion her role in her own way out of the limelight. In her most significant departure from Eleanor’s role, Bess declined to speak in public. So, instead of meeting with reporters for press conferences, Bess provided written answers to reporters’ questions. Though she did not give speeches, Bess did advise her husband throughout his political career and even worked as a paid member of his staff when he was a senator. Both she and her husband were not only devoted to each other, but also to their daughter Margaret, who was a student at George Washington University by the time the Trumans entered the White House. Though Margaret did not live full time at the White House, staffers often referred to the extremely close family as “the three musketeers.”
Regarding her role as a political wife, Bess once remarked, “A woman’s place in public is to sit beside her husband, be silent and be sure his hat is on straight.”
Margaret Truman noted about her mother’s reluctance to speak to the press, “Mother considered a press conference on a par with a visit to a cage of cobras.”