Mrs. Harry S Truman, wife of the 33rd president of the United States was born on February 13, 1885, at 117 West Ruby Street in Independence.
The oldest child of David Wallace and Madge Gates Wallace, she was christened Elizabeth Virginia, but throughout her life was to be called Bess. Her father held several public offices, including Jackson County treasurer, and was deputy surveyor in the Kansas City office of the United States Bureau of Customs at the time of his death in 1903.
After her father died, her mother, Bess and three brothers moved into the house of her maternal grandfather, George Porterfield Gates, the co-founder of the successful Waggoner-Gates Milling Company. The Gates house, located at 219 North Delaware, would continue to be Bess Wallace’s home for the remainder of her life.
An only daughter, Bess Wallace acquired quite a reputation as a tomboy. One classmate remarked, “She was the only girl that I ever knew who could whistle through her teeth and bat the ball as far as any boy.” She graduated in the same class with Harry S Truman from Independence High School in 1901 and later studied language and literature at Barstow, a girl’s finishing school in Kansas City. After completing school, Bess Wallace stayed at home with her mother and helped run the household.
In 1917, Miss Wallace became engaged to Truman, whom she had known since childhood. In his memoirs, President Truman recalled that when his family moved to Independence in 1890, his mother took him to Sunday school at the First Presbyterian Church.
“I became interested in one particular girl; she had golden curls and the most beautiful blue eyes. We went to Sunday school, public schools from the fifth grade through high school, graduated in the same class, and marched down life’s road together. She still has those beautiful blue eyes and golden curls of yesteryear.”
The Trumans were married in Independence, on June 28, 1919, in Mrs. Truman’s church, Trinity Episcopal on North Liberty Street. Only the previous month, Harry had received his discharge from the Army after serving overseas in World War I. Their only child, Mary Margaret, was born on February 17, 1924.
In 1934, the family moved to Washington, D.C., when Truman was elected U.S. senator from Missouri. During the next 10 years while Truman served as senator, Bess and Margaret stayed in Washington from January through June, while Congress was in session, then returned to Independence during the remainder of the year.
When Truman became president on April 12, 1945, after serving only 82 days as vice president, Mrs. Truman was elevated to the first lady, and was considered one of the hardest working of all the White House hostesses.
Mrs. Truman was once asked by a reporter what she wanted to do when her husband was no longer president, and she replied “Return to Independence.” For her, Independence was first and foremost home.
Following Truman’s second term in office, the couple wasted no time in returning to 219 N. Delaware.
After Truman’s death on Dec. 26, 1972, Bess continued to live in the family home where she received visits from close friends and relatives as well as distinguished visitors from all over the world who came to pay their respects.
Bess Truman died herself at her home on Oct. 18, 1982, at the age of 97. Funeral services were held on Oct. 21 at the same church where she and Harry were married, Trinity Episcopal. The invited guests included Nancy Reagan, and former first ladies Rosalynn Carter and Betty Ford. Mrs. Truman is buried beside her husband in the courtyard of the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum.
Ref: Bess W. Truman by Margaret Truman, Macmillan Publishing, 1986
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