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Examiner
  • Michael Devine: Old letters shed light on Truman family

  •  Nothing intrigues an archivist or historian more than the discovery of new documents. Recently, the Truman Library encountered an unexpected find, thanks to the alert and generous Flora K. Bloom, president of the Elliott Galleries in New York.

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  •  Nothing intrigues an archivist or historian more than the discovery of new documents. Recently, the Truman Library encountered an unexpected find, thanks to the alert and generous Flora K. Bloom, president of the Elliott Galleries in New York.
    Ms. Bloom had purchased a number of items from the estate sale of the late Margaret Truman Daniel. The only child of Harry and Bess Truman, Margaret Truman Daniel died in 2008. Her sons Clifton and Thomas donated all of the historical records of her family to the Truman Library. Along with an archivist from the Truman Library, the two sons had carefully sorted through their mother’s files prior to liquidation of her estate. However, one small cache of letters and artifacts “slipped through the cracks.” In a nondescript box purchased by Ms. Bloom at the sale, she found an unexpected treasure.
    Ms. Bloom’s purchase, which she donated to the Truman Library, consists of 176 letters along with news clippings, postcards, invitations, event programs and greeting cards. The entire collection consists of approximately 450 pages. Nearly all of these documents are dated from 1940 to 1961. However, one particularly fascinating item is a hand-written note written and signed by 8-year-old Bessie Wallace in 1893. This brief note to her Aunt Maud (Mrs. William Strather Wells of Platte City, Mo.) is the earliest example of Bess’s handwriting known to exist.
    This latest edition to the holdings of the Truman Library does not dramatically alter our understanding of our 33rd president. Nevertheless, the collection is of great value in that it further documents the close relationship between Harry and Bess and their only child. Of particular interest are the more than 40 hand-written letters and post cards from Bess to her daughter. Mrs. Truman burned most of her letters at some point in the 1950s, so her correspondence is rare and particularly enlightening concerning the day to day activities of the Truman family.
    Readers of this column will recall that materials received from the Margaret Truman estate years ago provided surprising information about Mr. Truman’s financial status during his presidency and upon leaving the White House for retirement in Independence. As president of the United States, Mr. Truman put aside about 20 percent of his significant $100,000 salary each year. Mr. Truman carefully planned to provide for himself and his family upon retirement; and his concern for his only child’s well being is further documented in a letter from Margaret to “Dear Daddy.” The four-page missive was received at the White House on August 15, 1946.
    “Thank you very much for the very nice letter,” Margaret wrote. “Thank you also for the big piece of green lettuce. I’ll use it sparingly.” On the outside of the envelope (addressed to “The President” and mailed from 219 North Delaware Street with an eight cent stamp), someone had written “$10,000.00.” Apparently, Daddy had provided his daughter with an extraordinarily generous gift upon her graduation with a bachelor’s degree from George Washington University. Indeed, an exceptionally generous gift – even by today’s standards.
    Page 2 of 2 - The newly discovered Margaret Truman Daniel materials will be opened to the public in the spring of 2014, following careful conservation and cataloging by the Truman Library staff.
    Michael Devine is director of the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence.
     
     
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