Whistle-stopping in 1948, President Harry Truman often ended his campaign talk by introducing his wife as "the Boss" and his daughter, Margaret, as "the Boss's Boss," and they smiled and waved as the train picked up steam. The sight of that close-knit family gallantly fighting against such long odds had much to do with his surprise victory at the polls that November. Strong family ties in the southern tradition had always been important around Independence, Missouri, where a baby girl was born to Margaret ("Madge") Gates and David Wallace on February 13, 1885. Christened Elizabeth Virginia, she grew up as "Bess." Harry Truman, whose family moved to town in 1890, always kept his first impression of her -- "golden curls" and "the most beautiful blue eyes." A relative said, "there never was but one girl in the world" for him. They attended the same schools from fifth grade through high school. In recent years their daughter has written a vivid sketch of Bess as a girl: "a marvelous athlete--the best third baseman in Independence, a superb tennis player, a tireless ice skater--and she was pretty besides." She also had many "strong opinions....and no hesitation about stating them Missouri style--straight from the shoulder."
For Bess and Harry, World War I altered a deliberate courtship. He proposed and they became engaged before Lieutenant Truman left for the battlefields of France in 1918. They were married in June 1919; they lived in Mrs. Wallace's home, where Mary Margaret was born in 1924. When Harry Truman became active in politics, Mrs. Truman traveled with him and shared his platform appearances as the public had come to expect a candidate's wife to do. His election to the Senate in 1934 took the family to Washington. Reluctant to be a public figure herself, she always shared his thoughts and interests in private. When she joined his office staff as a secretary, he said, she earned "every cent I pay her." His wartime role as chairman of a special committee on defense spending earned him national recognition--and a place on the Democratic ticket as President Roosevelt's fourth-term running mate. Three months after their inauguration Roosevelt was dead. On April 12, 1945, Harry Truman took the President's oath of office--and Bess, who managed to look on with composure, was the new First Lady. In the White House, its lack of privacy was distasteful to her.
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Elizabeth Virginia Wallace Truman biography
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