Bess Truman's papers contain private life, president's finances

Friday, February 13, 2009 | 11:26 a.m. CST; updated 1:21 p.m. CST, Friday, February 13, 2009

INDEPENDENCE — The Truman Presidential Library and Museum on Friday opened more than 24,000 pages of family papers detailing the private life of Bess Wallace Truman, the wife of President Harry Truman.

The library staff said there are no previously unknown bombshells in the papers, which were released as part of the observation of the 124th birthday anniversary of Bess Wallace Truman. The library obtained the papers after the death of the Trumans' daughter, Margaret Truman Daniel, in January 2008.

About 1,600 of the papers once belonged to Bess Wallace Truman's mother, Madge Gates Wallace. They apparently do not mention the 1903 suicide of Bess Wallace Truman's father, David Wallace.

The papers include ledgers detailing President Truman's personal finances while he was in office from 1945 to 1953. Those ledgers include notations involving occasional personal payments made by the president to his younger sister, Mary Jane Truman — payments that became a financial embarrassment for the 33rd president.

The notations, likely made by presidential secretary Rose Conway, are of interest because Truman was criticized for putting his wife and sister on the Senate payroll.

These personal payments to Mary Jane hint at an interesting Truman family dynamic, said Amy Williams, Truman Presidential Library deputy director.

"It was Mary Jane Truman who helped run the family farm in Grandview after Harry Truman went off to war," Williams said. "He was helping her out."

Experts on Truman have said that one reason he did not want to become Franklin Roosevelt's running mate in 1944was because he feared a media scandal over the payments to his wife.

When the payments did become public, Truman defended his wife's salary as payment for her time and expertise around his Senate office.

Bess Wallace Truman also was reluctant for her husband to become vice president because she feared the press would delve into her father's suicide. But the suicide did not become public.

"I would be surprised if there was anything in there about the suicide," Williams said. "One just didn't discuss that kind of thing back then."


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