Grandson unveils First Lady Truman letters at National Archives

Thursday, October 15, 2009 | 3:24 p.m. CDT; updated 4:05 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 15, 2009

KANSAS CITY — Bess Truman, the wife of President Harry Truman, was generally known as a reserved and intensely private woman. But letters she wrote to her husband show her humorous and deeply devoted side.

Historians say Bess Truman, in an effort to protect her privacy, burned more than 1,300 letters she wrote to Harry. But about 180 of her letters were found in the couple's home after her death in 1982.

The couple's grandson, Clifton Truman Daniel, unveiled some of the letters Wednesday at the National Archives in Washington. The letters on display were written in 1923 and 1925, long before Harry Truman became the country's 33rd president.

Daniel says the letters show that his grandmother had a girlish and fun side to her personality, The Kansas City Star reported.

"Dear Old Sweetness," began a letter from Bess on July 17, 1923. "My! But I was glad to get that letter this morning and it sure was a nice one — about the nicest I ever had."

The letter was one of several she wrote to Harry while he spent two weeks in Kansas for National Guard training at Fort Leavenworth and Fort Riley.

Harry Truman wrote at least 1,300 letters to his wife between 1910 and 1959, and they have been mined for years by historians.

"They wrote back and forth the way we use e-mail," Daniel said. "Two letters a day sometimes, and they're always complaining that they didn't get a letter, or they're happy they did get a letter. 'Where's my letter? You owe me one. You owe me two!'"

Daniel, the public relations director at Harry S. Truman College, a community college in Chicago, said the letters show his grandmother was "wonderfully human."

"She could be very stern, but these letters show me the girl inside her," he said.

When she wrote Harry about spying on their neighbors as they loudly packed their car for a vacation:

"I wouldn't have missed seeing Mrs. Swift in her knickers for a hundred dollars."

Or when she teased her husband about having dinner in Leavenworth with two friends, one of them female:

"How did you like playing around with another lady" — she underlined the word twice — "today? Did you and the fair Jean have a good time?"

And when she wanted to cut her hair into a bob — which was all the rage in 1925 — her husband strongly objected to the idea, saying he liked her hair long.

"I never wanted to do anything as badly in my life," Bess wrote. "Come on, be a sport. Ask all the married men in camp about their wives' heads & I'll bet anything there isn't one under sixty who has long hair."

When Harry gave in and pledged his undying love, Bess responded:

"I most sincerely hope you'll never feel otherwise ... for life would be a dreary outlook if you ever ceased to feel just that way."

The Truman Library and Museum in Independence plans a public display of her letters in four years.

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