One evening in 1955, Harry Truman came home to find Bess burning her letters to him. “What are you doing? Think of history,” he said. “Oh, I have,” she said and tossed in another stack.
Bess Truman thought her business was hers and nobody else’s, so she destroyed her half of the more than 2,600 letters she and Harry exchanged during their courtship and marriage. While making an inventory of the Truman home in the 1980s, archivists discovered 184 letters Bess had missed. Her grandson Clifton Truman Daniel shares them here, along with portions of Harry’s responses, family photographs, and stories. These letters provide new insight into the life and personalities of Bess and Harry Truman during the formative years of his political life. Despite Bess’s shy and self-effacing manner, her lively correspondence offers a glimpse of a caring and witty woman who shared her concerns about family, politics, and day-to-day activities with her husband.
More and more we are learning how important Bess Truman, with her emotional support and wise private counsel, was to the world-changing history of her husband’s Presidency, but even now she remains a somewhat mysterious First Lady. With this important book Clifton Truman Daniel provides sagacious commentary, historical context, and new information as he brings us some of the revealing letters his grandmother and her “Dear Husband” wrote one another before they entered the White House. In this vivid portrait of a marriage, we gain a fresh understanding of how crucial the strong-minded Bess was to her Harry, and thus ultimately to the American people.
The discovery of so many of Bess Truman’s letters to her husband came as a big surprise. To have them published now, after so many years is just wonderful, adding much to our understanding of the human side of the Truman story, and Clifton Daniel’s clear, balanced accompanying text makes this book even more of a welcome event.
What a special treat to see inside Bess and Harry Truman’s marital relationship and how it evolved. A wonderful and enlightening addition to any Truman collection!
—Susan Ford Bales