The Dear Bess and Dear Harry Letters



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Welcome to the Dear Bess, Dear Harry podcast and videocast for July 12, 2023, brought to you by Harry S Truman National Historic Site, a unit of the National Park Service.

Today we would like to share with you what is perhaps the greatest of the Dear Bess letters, written on this date in 1911. For a little context…a few days earlier, Harry Truman, in a letter to Miss Bess Wallace, had essentially proposed marriage, asking her if she would consider wearing a solitaire diamond on her left hand. To Truman’s worry, he only received silence from Miss Wallace in Independence. Truman was worried that he had hurt or lost Miss Wallace. It had been, after all, just a few months since Harry Truman and Bess Wallace had begun courting.

Miss Wallace turned him down. We don’t know if it was by letter or by phone. None of Miss Wallace’s letters from this period to Harry Truman survive. But this response to Miss Wallace is a true gem. We thought you’d like to hear it.

Grandview, Mo.

July 12, 1911 Dear Bessie:

You know that you turned me down so easy that I am almost happy anyway. I never was fool enough to think that a girl like you could ever care for a fellow like me but I couldn't help telling you how I felt. I have always wanted you to have some fine, rich, good-looking man, but I knew that if ever I got the chance I'd tell you how I felt even if I didn't even get to say another word to you. What makes me feel real good is that you were good enough to answer me seriously and not make fun of me anyway. You know when a fellow tells a girl all his heart and she makes a joke of it I suppose it would be the awfulest feeling in the world. You see I never had any desire to say such things to anyone else. All my girl friends think I am a cheerful idiot and a confirmed old bach. They really don't know the reason nor ever will. I have been so afraid you were not even going to let me be your good friend. To be even in that class is something.

You may think I'll get over it as all boys do. I guess I am something of a freak myself. I really never had any desire to make love to a girl just for the fun of it, and you have always been the reason. I have never met a girl in my life that you were not the first to be compared with her, to see wherein she was lacking and she always was.

Please don't think I am talking nonsense or bosh, for if ever I told the truth I am telling it now and I'll never tell such things to anyone else or bother you with them again. I have always been more idealist than practical anyway, so I really never expected any reward for loving you. I shall always hope though.

As I said before I am more than glad to be your good friend for that is more than I expected. So when I come down there Saturday (which I'll do if I don't hear from you) I'll not put on any hangdog airs but will try to be the same old Harry.

You need not be afraid of bumping the proprieties with me. You couldn't. So send your package along. My new book has come and it is a dandy. A Hindu myth and really fine I think. I sent you Mollie Make Believe by Nellie this time. I hope you got it.

I was at the stockyards yesterday and a fellow offered to buy a bank down here in the south part of the county if I'd run it. I don't know if I could be a banker or not. You know a man has to be real stingy and save every one-cent stamp he can. Then sometimes he has to take advantage of adverse conditions and sell a good man out. That is one reason I like being a farmer. Even if you do have to work like a coon you know that you are not grinding the life out of someone else to live yourself. Still if this man makes the call loud enough, as the preacher said, I may take it. I can stay at home and help run the farm anyway. Don't you know of some way to make it rain? We need it so badly that if it does not come it will be a real calamity. They say it rains on the just and the unjust alike but it is certainly passing some of us this year. Twenty miles south they have had plenty.

I hope you will continue your good letters as I really enjoy them and will try to answer them to the best of my ability, and although I may sometimes remind you of how I feel toward you I'll try and not bore you to death with it.

Very sincerely,


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5 minutes, 55 seconds

One of the most powerful letters that Harry Truman wrote to Miss Bess Wallace, after Miss Wallace had turned down his proposal of a few days before. He opens his heart to her. Please note that in this letter, Truman uses a phrase that may have been a slur, and a word unacceptable to today's readers and listeners. We include it for completeness.

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6 minutes, 12 seconds

A charming letter from former President Harry S Truman to his wife on their 38th wedding anniversary. It's also one of the last known Dear Bess letters. Many of us can relate to the ups and downs Truman reflects upon.


Last updated: January 29, 2024

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