Press/Journalists

Media Alert
October 8, 2009

Exclusive Prologue Magazine Article Reveals Bess Truman Letters to Harry

Washington, DC…For the first time, letters written by Bess Truman to her sweetheart, Harry S. Truman, are revealed by their oldest grandson, Clifton Truman Daniel, in an article in Prologue Magazine, the quarterly magazine of the National Archives.

Until now, however,there has been no public record of what Bess was writing to Harry because, Daniel reveals, his grandmother was a very private person and felt that “her business was her own damn business and nobody else’s.”

The article, “Dear Harry . . . Love, Bess,” is available for purchase online Scribd.com, as is the entire Fall issue. The Fall Prologue can also be purchased at The Archives Shop in the National Archives Building in Washington, several news stores in the Washington area (see list below), at several Presidential library shops (Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman, Nixon, and Reagan) and at the Kansas City Store in downtown Kansas City.

Harry Truman was a legendary letter-writer. He wrote them to Bess from the war zones of World War I France. He was writing one to his family when Franklin Roosevelt died and he became President. He wrote many letters home from the “great white jail” as President.

These letters, more than 5,000 of them, have been mined by historians for years as they chronicled the life of Truman and the post-World War II years when he was President. Some 1,300 of the letters are to his wife, Bess, written between 1910 and 1959.

True to her privacy credo, she burned most of the approximately 1,300 letters she wrote to Harry, except for a few that were found several years ago scattered throughout the Truman home. They are now part of the holdings of the Truman Library in Independence, MO.

For the first time, Daniel will discuss the letters in a lecture October 14 at noon in the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives in Washington. (A separate event for the news media will be held at 10 a.m. October 14; for details call 202-357-5300.)

In his exclusive Prologue article, Daniel paints a picture of his grandmother that is quite different from the stern, serious-looking “no comment” First Lady that most Americans remember and read about in history books. Passages from the personal letters she and her husband exchanged over many years reveal a much more intimate, softer side to the former First Lady.

For example, Daniel quotes a letter Bess wrote to Harry in 1923 while he was at Missouri National Guard training camp:

“There was a big black bug on my bed when I turned the sheet down and I had to kill it myself,” she wrote to Harry in 1923 while he was at Missouri National Guard training camp. “But that wasn’t the first time I had wished for you.”

In 1925, with a small child (Margaret, Clifton’s mother) to look after, Bess wanted to get her hair cut short, as many women in that era had done. But Harry was reluctant for her to lose the golden locks that she had when he was smitten with her at the age of six.

“When may I do it?” she wrote to Harry while he was at training camp. “I never wanted to do anything as badly in my life. Come on, be a sport. Ask all the married men in camp about their wives’s heads and I’ll bet anything I have there isn’t one under sixty who has long hair.”

Harry eventually gave in.

During his absences, Daniel writes, the two got upset when they didn’t receive their regular letters from each other or when they didn’t get one written and mailed on time. At one point, Bess wrote:

“I was delighted to get that ‘special’ this morning. It made me sick not to have sent yours that way yesterday, but there wasn’t anybody here who could take it to the P.O.”

(Prologue is available at these Washington-area locations: Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW; Georgetown University Bookshop, 3800 Reservoir Rd. NW; The News Room, 1803 Connecticut Ave. NW; One Stop News, 2000 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; and News Express, 7700 Old Georgetown Rd., Bethesda, MD.)

Learn more about Prologue or subscribe online.

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For press information, contact the National Archives Public Affairs Staff at 202-357-5300.

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