Harry S. Truman and Elizabeth- June 28, 1919 Independence, Missouri

James A Garfield National Historic Site


[-] Alan: The late historian and author of Dear Bess, Professor Robert Ferrell, provided additional background to the beginnings of the romance between Bess and Harry. Dr. Ferrell wrote, “One day in 1890 the minister of the Presbyterian Church in Independence, Missouri, was walking along a quiet, shady street at the edge of town when he noticed some children he did not know. [He] asked for their names and invited the little Trumans to visit his Sunday school if their mother would permit them to come. Mrs. Martha Ellen Truman approved, the children enrolled, and Harry Truman soon glimpsed a little girl with golden curls named Elizabeth Virginia (Bess) Wallace. He fell in love, he afterward said, and never really liked another girl. Harry was six years old; Bess, five.”

Harry Truman and Bess Wallace knew each other throughout grade school and high school. After high school, Harry found himself employed as a timekeeper for a construction company, wrapping newspapers, taking accounting classes, working in a bank. In 1906, he and his family moved to the farm of his grandfather, in Grandview, Missouri. There, his father and Harry worked until 1917, when Harry entered the army for service during The Great War.

[-] Debbie: Though they kept in touch, Harry and Bess had little opportunity to develop a relationship after high school graduation in 1901. In 1910, the story goes, Harry was visiting his Aunt Ella and cousins, Ethel and Nellie Noland at 216 North Delaware Street. One evening, having come into the kitchen, Aunt Ella mentioned that a cake plate needed to be returned to 219 North Delaware, the home of Bess and her mother, Madge. According to Margaret Truman, he seized the cake plate “with something approaching the speed of light,” walked across the street, and rang the bell. Bess answered. The courtship began.

Harry and Bess were readers. They enjoyed now defunct magazines like Everybody’s and Adventure. Harry liked Mark Twain. Bess took pleasure in Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson.

[-] Alan: Grandview, Mo., December 31, 1910

My Dear Bessie: I am very glad you liked the book. I liked it so well myself I nearly kept it. I saw it advertised in Life and remembered that you were fond of Scott when we went to school Nothing would please me better than to come see you during the holidays or any other time for the matter of that, but Papa broke his leg the other day and I am chief nurse, next to my mother, besides being farm boss now. So you see I’ll be somewhat closely confined for some time to come. I hope you’ll let the invitation be a standing one, though and I shall avail myself of it at the very first opportunity. … A horse pulled a big beam over on [Dad] …in the barn. We were so glad he wasn’t killed we didn’t know what to do. If you see fit to let me hear from you sometimes, I shall certainly appreciate it. Farm life as an everyday affair is not generally exciting. Wishing you, and all of you, the very happiest New Year, I am Very sincerely, Harry S. Truman [-] Alan: In the Introduction to his book, Dear Harry, Love Bess, grandson Clifton Truman Daniel explains that on one evening “close to Christmas in 1955, Grandpa came home from his office in Kansas City and found my grandmother sitting in the living room burning stacks of her letters in the fireplace. “Bess!” he said in alarm, “What are you doing? Think of history!”

[-] Debbie: “Oh, I have,” she said, and tossed in another stack. Bess Truman’s destruction of her letters to Harry Truman during their courtship was almost entirely successful. But in the 1980s, 184 of Bess’s letters were discovered in books and at the backs of drawers in the Truman home in Missouri. Of those 184 letters, one is from the courtship period. Written in 1919, it is a response to Captain Harry Truman’s letter to her, written in France on

[-] Alan: February 18, 1919

Dear Bess, I wrote to you day before yesterday but I very much fear you won’t get it. The mail orderly doesn’t know whether he got it or not and can’t find it. I had just gotten some letters from you and naturally told you how glad I was. Also I told you that we are coming home right away. I know it officially now because General Pershing shook hands with me – and told me so. I also met the Prince of Wales, as did every other company and battery commander in the 35th Division. … My battery got to stand in front of the whole regiment. I don’t know if it was luck or if they looked the best. They looked pretty fine if I do say it – as I shouldn’t. The new Colonel gave me a good calling down because I gave Colonel Elliott a public sassing, and I guess I deserved it, but so did Colonel Elliott. The new Colonel is a regular and can’t see this National Guard lack of cringing when a Colonel or Lt. Colonel comes around. I have an awful habit of using a very sharp tongue when one of ‘em says something he has no business [saying] to me. It doesn’t work in play soldiering. You have to say yes sir and no sir and alright sir when you want to punch his head. Hence my urgent desire to get back to the farm. There’s one or two whom -- I want to meet -- when I get on my overalls -- and they’d better have on their armor. … Please get ready to march down the aisle with me just as soon as you decently can when I get back. … I have some army friends I’d like to ask and my own family and that’s all I care about, and the army friends can go hang if you don’t want ‘em. … I have enough money to buy a Ford, and we can set sail in that, and arrive in Happyland at once and quickly. Don’t fail to write just ’cause I’m starting home. Yours always, Harry [-] Debbie: March 16, 1919

Dear Harry, According to the Star’s latest information you are on your way to Le Mans and I’m wondering if any of these last letters will ever be delivered. It seems to take them long enough to get to you even when postal authorities know where you are exactly – and you begin to move again, what will happen to the letters? Was mighty glad to get your letter of Feb. 18. Hadn’t heard for such an age – was afraid you were sick! You may invite the entire 35th Division to our wedding if you want to. I guess it’s going to be yours as well as mine. I guess we might as well have the church full while we are at it. I rather think it will be anyway whether we invite them or not, judging from the few remarks I’ve heard. What an experience the review, etc. must have been. I’ll bet D Battery looked grand and no wonder they led the Division… Were you at all overcome at greeting the Prince of Wales? He doesn’t mean any more to me than the orneriest doughboy but I know I’d choke if I had to address him. It was splendid you got to shake hands with Pershing. … Hold on to the money for the car! We’ll surely need one. Most anything that will run on four wheels. I’ve been looking at used car bargains today. I’ll frankly admit that I’m scared to death of Fords. I’ve seen and heard of so many turning turtle this winter… Did you hear that Mr. Morgan said he was going to give you a suit! Pretty fine – eh? … Am glad you gave Colonel Elliot the calling down – in spite of Colonel Smith. I bet he needed it. It’s strange that such widely different things as war and picnics will so surely show a man up. I’ve liked lots of people ‘til I went on a picnic jaunt with them and you can say the same thing about several men ‘til you went on a war “jaunt” with them – eh? The dear ex-Colonel landed on Friday.

I must quit. Hope you have the chance to cable as you said. Loads of love, Devotedly, Bess

Mother sends her love. This certainly is some scratching but I’m sitting in the big chair under the light and it isn’t easy to write.


Harry S. Truman and Bess Wallace were married June 28, 1919, at Trinity Episcopal Church in Independence, Missouri. Before marrying in 1919 the couple knew each other through their grade school and high school years. When Harry returned from WW1 their courtship blossomed and the recordings are from that time.

Date Created


Copyright and Usage Info