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Bess Truman

Bess Truman

Elizabeth “Bess” Truman (1885-1982) was an American first lady (1945-53) and the wife of Harry S. An intensely private woman, Bess reluctantly agreed to attend political events with her husband throughout his career. but rarely offered her own opinions on issues, a sharp contrast to her activist predecessor, Eleanor Roosevelt. Though the Trumans were an extremely close family, Bess did not enjoy many of the social aspects of the position, instead preferring to return to her Missouri home as often as possible. Her most significant contribution as first lady was overseeing an extensive structural renovation of the White House, which saved the aging executive mansion from demolition.

Bess Wallace was just 5 when she met 6-year-old Harry Truman at the First Presbyterian Church’s Sunday school in Independence, Missouri. Having just moved to town with his family, Truman was smitten with his new acquaintance, later writing of her golden curls and beautiful blue eyes. They became classmates in the fifth grade and graduated from Independence High School together in 1901, though they weren’t close. They began dating several years later after Truman visited relatives who lived near Bess’s home, the two hitting it off when Truman dropped by to return a cake dish that belonged to his future mother-in-law.

Bess was 18 years old when her father, David, shot himself in the family bathtub in June 1903. Although he left no explanation, it was believed his suicide was the result of mounting debts and a depression heightened by heavy drinking. The family settled its financial problems after moving to the estate of Bess’s affluent grandfather, but she remained light-lipped on the subject, never discussing it with her only daughter, Margaret. When Truman was under consideration for the 1944 Democratic ticket as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s vice president, Bess became worried that increased scrutiny of her family would dredge up old news about her father’s death.

Truman briefly co-owned a haberdashery business in Kansas City after World War I, with Bess assisting in various unpaid roles as manager, accountant and saleslady. After her husband became a U.S. senator, Bess again worked for him, this time as a paid office clerk, by answering mail and helping to edit reports and speeches. Truman feared that the revelation of her position would cause a stir when he was nominated for vice president, and she was dubbed “Payroll Bess” by one political opponent, but the negative fallout over the working arrangement soon dissipated.

After moving to the White House, Bess ended the weekly press conferences held by Eleanor Roosevelt and declined all interview requests. When reporters attempted to draw out information via a series of written questions in 1947, most were answered with a “no” or “no comment.” Despite revealing very little publicly, Bess developed a reputation as a steadying influence behind the scenes; she was a “relatable” first lady, especially when contrasted with her influential predecessor. More details about her character emerged in later years, with former aides describing her as warm and down to earth.

After making her last public appearance at Truman’s funeral in December 1972, Bess continued to receive visitors at her old family home for another decade. When she died from congestive heart failure at age 97 in October 1982, she held the distinction of being the oldest former first lady in U.S. history. After her funeral services, in which successors Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter and Nancy Reagan paid their respects, Bess was buried next to her husband at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence.


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Elizabeth Virginia Wallace Truman

Elizabeth Virginia “Bess” Truman was the wife of Harry S. Truman and First Lady of the United States from 1945 to 1953. She served as her husband’s secretary and was known for often voicing her opinions.

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. As her husband put it later, she was “not especially interested” in the “formalities and pomp or the artificiality which, as we had learned…, inevitably surround the family of the President.” Though she conscientiously fulfilled the social obligations of her position, she did only what was necessary. While the mansion was rebuilt during the second term, the Trumans lived in Blair House and kept social life to a minimum.

They returned to Independence in 1953. After her husband’s death in 1972, Mrs. Truman continued to live in the family home. There she enjoyed visits from Margaret and her husband, Clifton Daniel, and their four sons. She died in 1982 and was buried beside her husband in the courtyard of the Harry S. Truman Library.

You can learn more about Mrs. Truman at the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum.

Learn more about Elizabeth Virginia Wallace Truman’s spouse, Harry S. Truman.


Harry Truman’s Adorable Love “List” to His Wife, Bess

There is John and Abigail, Tony and Maria, and Johnny and June, but what about Harry and Bess? One of the sweetest love stories in the annals of American history is that of our 33rd President, Harry S. Truman, and his wife of 53 years, Bess Truman.

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Their story began in Independence, Missouri, in 1890. Five-year-old Bess Wallace was rather indifferent to her Sunday school classmate. But, for six-year-old Harry, it was love at first sight. “I saw a beautiful curly haired girl there,” Truman would later recall. “I thought (and still think) she was the most beautiful girl I ever saw. She had tanned skin[,] blond hair, golden as sunshine, and the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen or ever will see.”

Bess and Harry attended the same school from the fifth grade up until their graduation from high school in 1901. Over that time, she largely snubbed his advances, except for the “big days,” as Truman called them, when she let him carry her books. After high school, Truman moved to Kansas City and then Grandview, 20 miles away, where he worked on his family’s farm.

In 1910, the two had a chance encounter. Truman was visiting his cousins in Independence, and, as a favor to his aunt, he returned an empty cake dish to her neighbor, Bess' mother. Bess apparently answered the door, and from that adorable small-town exchange, a relationship blossomed.

When he could, Truman made trips to see Bess, traveling to Independence by carriage or train. But, given the distance, much of his courting happened in handwritten letters he sent beginning on December 31, 1910.  In a letter dated June 22, 1911, in fact, Truman rather impetuously asked for Bess’ hand in marriage. Talking about a drought that Missouri was suffering, he wrote, “Water and potatoes will soon be as much of a luxury as pineapples and diamonds.” That was quickly followed by, “Speaking of diamonds would you wear a solitaire one on your left hand should I get it?” Bess left him hanging for weeks before finally denying this first proposal the two were instead engaged in November 1913.

After Harry served in World War I, the Trumans were married on June 28, 1919, in a simple afternoon ceremony at the Trinity Episcopal Church in Independence. The altar was bedecked in daisies and pink hollyhock Bess wore a white, wide-brimmed hat and carried a bouquet of roses, and Harry was dressed in a smart vested suit.

Starting with his first note in 1910, Truman lovingly wrote a total of 1,300 letters to Bess—at times during the war, his career and his presidency when they were apart. Most of Bess’ side of the dialogue is long gone a private person, she burned her correspondence. But the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, in Independence, Missouri, holds 50 years' worth of Truman’s missives.

Tammy Williams, an archivist at the Truman Library, and I recently discussed a letter the former president sent to Bess on their 38th anniversary—June 28, 1957. In the playful message, featured below, Truman lists every anniversary and, for each year, documents the important goings-on in their lives.

“It is not the super sappy, romantic letter. He has some of those—but this one is sweet in a different way,” says Williams. “So much of it has to do with him and what was going on in the country and in the world. But, everything that was going on with that impacted their relationship. They survived it together.”


Harry and Bess: Never in My House

Following the death of the American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1945, he was succeeded by his Vice-President, Harry Truman, of Independence, Missouri. Before he entered politics, Truman had been in the haberdashery business with a Jewish partner, Eddie Jacobson.

When the United Nations was discussing the partition of Palestine in 1947, a representative of the provisional government in Eretz Yisrael came to Jacobson and urged him to speak with his former partner, now the new President, and request that he support the Jewish right to a state in Palestine.

Eddie Jacobson met with Harry Truman on the doorsteps of Truman’s home in Missouri. He was not invited to enter the house and had to speak at length to the President outside on the steps of the house.

Bess Truman refused to let Jews into her house, even Jews whom she knew and may have liked. She remarked, “no Jew ever entered my mother’s house and no Jew will ever enter my house”.

Harry Truman was a “mild” anti-Semite. In his diary, he wrote an entry on July 21, 1947:

“The Jews, I find are very selfish. They have no concern for Poles, Estonians, Latvians and other Displaced Persons they are only interested in themselves. When they have power, physical or political, neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the underdog”.

Former Treasury Secretary, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., a Jew, spoke with President Truman about the sad state of affairs of Holocaust survivors, passengers of the ship Exodus, who were turned away from the shores of Palestine by the British and were sent back to Europe. Morgenthau asked the President to intervene with the British to allow the Jews entry into Palestine.

Of this request, Truman wrote in his diary: “He had no business whatever to call me. The Jews have no sense of proportion nor do they have any judgement on world affairs. Henry brought one thousand Jews to New York on a supposedly temporary basis and they stayed.”

He often called New York City “kike town” he referred to his Jewish partner, Eddie Jacobson, as his “Jew clerk” and he wrote to Bess about someone in a poker game who had “screamed like a Jewish merchant”.

However, strange as it seems, Harry Truman was more sympathetic to the creation of a Jewish state than was his State Department and, in particular, his Secretary of State, George Marshall. When he gave recognition to the new State of Israel in 1948, George Marshall resigned in protest.

There was another reason for Truman’s hasty recognition of Israel. On May 14, 1947, Andrei Gromyko, the Soviet ambassador to the United Nations, proposed the idea of partitioning Palestine into a Jewish State of Israel and an Arab State of Palestine.
Fearful that the Soviet Union would be the first nation to recognize the State of Israel in 1948, Truman acted quickly and gave American recognition to the State of Israel, the first country to do so. It was followed by the Soviet Union’s recognition, the second country to do so.

Once, in 1953, the television host, David Susskind, asked the ex-President why he had never been invited to the Truman home in spite of their many interviews.

Truman replied: “You’re a Jew, David, and no Jew has ever been in our house. Bess runs it and there’s never been a Jew inside the house in her or her mother’s lifetime”.

In spite of everything, Harry Truman was friendly to the State of Israel and was warmly regarded as a friend by David Ben-Gurion and other Israeli leaders. But no Jew ever entered his house.


Bess Truman

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Bess Truman, née Elizabeth Virginia Wallace, (born February 13, 1885, Independence, Missouri, U.S.—died October 18, 1982, Independence, Missouri), American first lady (1945–53), the wife of Harry S. Truman, 33rd president of the United States.

Bess Wallace, the daughter of David Wallace, a local politician, and Margaret Gates Wallace, came from one of the wealthiest and most prominent families in Independence, Missouri. Like her three brothers, Bess attended local public schools, and she met Harry Truman when both were in elementary school. He was evidently smitten with her from the start, and their courtship lasted many years.

After graduating from high school in 1901, she enrolled in Miss Barstow’s Finishing School for Girls in Kansas City, Missouri. In 1903 her father committed suicide, leaving his widow to depend on her parents for financial help. The far larger effect of the suicide, however, was psychological, and Bess developed an inordinate desire for privacy that would cause problems for her in the White House. Her immense sense of family responsibility brought her back to Independence, where she lived with her mother and became an outstanding athlete, especially in tennis.

Bess and Harry were married on June 28, 1919. Harry started a haberdashery store with an old army friend, but the business went bankrupt in 1922. In the same year he entered politics (despite Bess’s misgivings about politicians), winning a seat as judge of Jackson county. Following several miscarriages, Bess gave birth to their only child, Margaret, in 1924. Like most political wives at the time, Bess stayed in the background and took no public part in his campaigns except, as she said, to see that her hat was “on straight.” Behind the scenes, she acted as secretary and assistant and helped to write speeches.

When Harry was elected vice president in 1944, Bess was still unknown around Washington, D.C. Her anonymity suddenly disappeared in April 1945, when she became first lady and her husband became president following the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The long tenure and social activism of her predecessor, Eleanor Roosevelt, had set a daunting precedent, but Bess was determined to handle the job differently. She refused to hold press conferences, and, after she finally agreed to answer questions in writing, she often did so with a firm “no comment.” White House employees judged the Trumans one of the most close-knit families ever to occupy the mansion, dubbing them the “three musketeers.” Although she did not take an active public role as first lady, she often acted privately as one of the president’s chief advisers, and after he left office President Truman claimed that Bess had been a “full partner in all my transactions.” Margaret Truman painted a different picture, however, writing later that her mother occasionally felt shut out of some of Harry’s most important decisions.

In 1949, when it became clear that the White House was in need of significant repairs, Bess favoured renovation rather than the construction of an entirely new house, which would have been a cheaper option. For three years the Trumans lived in Blair House while the interior of the White House was gutted and reconstructed. In March 1952, when television reporters requested a tour of the mansion, it was the president rather than the shy first lady who showed them around.


Bess Truman - HISTORY


Elizabeth Virginia Wallace Truman

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. As her husband put it later, she was "not especially interested" in the "formalities and pomp or the artificiality which, as we had learned. inevitably surround the family of the President." Though she conscientiously fulfilled the social obligations of her position, she did only what was necessary. While the mansion was rebuilt during the second term, the Trumans lived in Blair House and kept social life to a minimum.

They returned to Independence in 1953. After her husband's death in 1972, Mrs. Truman continued to live in the family home. There she enjoyed visits from Margaret and her husband, Clifton Daniel, and their four sons. She died in 1982 and was buried beside her husband in the courtyard of the Harry S. Truman Library.


Sew Chicago

Sorry for the lag between posts, dear readers. I’ve had some small bumps in my life this past week, including a last-minute loss of a job offer and some mysterious bugs on my ceilings >>shudder!<< that is >hopefully< resolved by my bleaching and hand-wiping the entire ceiling. Ewww. Yuck. But back to our regular programming…I last left you on my Kansas City, Missouri trip.

My first thought in visiting Kansas City, was to visit the Harry Truman Presidential Library and Museum and the Truman’s “Summer White House” , the home that Harry and Bess Truman shared from 1945 to 1953. The Truman home is a National Historic Site managed by the National Park Service . I love visiting National Parks, so I can add a cancellation stamp to my passport. I wish we had these National Park Service Passports when I was a kid. It’s a great momento of where I’ve been.

Harry Truman Presidential Library & Museum

I’ve started to discover the Presidential museums while driving back from Iowa this winter when I visited Herbert Hoover’s Presidential Library & Museum and birthplace . Talk about humble beginnings! But this is about Harry in Missouri, not Herbert in Iowa…

Imagine my delight when I visited the Truman Presidential Museum and there was a display of Bess’ inaugural dresses — including swatches! (You can click the images to see a larger version.)

It was huge deal to keep the secrecy of Mrs. Truman’s inaugural dresses. There were explicit instructions to NOT release any details of the First Lady’s dresses to the presses until a specific time.

The Presidential Museum tracks Truman’s early years, as one would expect. But I didn’t expect that Harry had run a habadashery. He opened the store shortly after marrying Bess (their courtship is a lovely story of Harry writing Bess letters for nine years and taking the train every weekend from the farm to visit Bess, despite Bess’ mother’s disapproval of the poor farm boy.)

Click image to view a series of the Truman & Jacobson Haberdashery

Being the shoe-lovin’ girl that I am, I loved seeing Bess’ wedding shoes. White leather with a large matte silver buckle. The style actually is timeless because I think I have a pair that look similar to these. The museum is chock-full of mementos from Harry’s years. And a peaceful garden with Harry’s and Bess’ burial sites.

Afterward, I went to the Truman’s home down the road. Again, it was a testament to Harry’s and Bess’ devotion to each other. Bess left everything the way it was when Harry died. Unfortunately, the park rangers didn’t allow pictures inside the house.

Kansas City Historic Garment District Museum

As I planned out my next day’s adventure’s, I happily found the Kansas City Historic Garment District Museum was nearby. If I hadn’t surfed the Internet looking for the Lewis & Clark Trail monument, I might not have found the garment district. What a wonderful surprise!! According to the museum’s website “After World War I and through the 1940’s the area employed over 4,000 persons and boasted that 1 out of every 7 women in the U.S. purchased a KC made garment. Manufacturing of garments was the second largest employer of any industry in KC. ”

Unfortunately, Ms. Brownfield, who normally gives tours of the museum, was out of town and her counterpart had just finished giving a tour to a Girl Scout troupe and was suspected to be pooped out from that, so I missed the opportunity for a guided tour. Luckily, when I arrived at the museum, someone let me in to see the ground floor. And oh what there was to see! Vintage TWA uniforms with the logo as cutwork a Betty Rose dress from an ASG member’s closet and vintage look books.

There were tools and uniforms from Nelly Don, a Kansas City-based manufacturer named after its founder, Ellen Quinlan Donnelly Reed. During World War II Nelly Don made uniforms for women in the military and factories and underwear for men in the military. Nelly Don manufactured 75 million dresses from 1916 to 1978, making it the largest dress manufacturer of the 20th-century. Nelly Don was one of the first companies to apply assembly line techniques to clothing manufacturing. It was reported that she only had to dismiss one employee in the entire history of the company. <Source: Wikipedia>

I was only able to see the ground floor, but there was so much to see with just that. There were vintage sewing machines and a cutter made for Nelly Don. There was a brief history of the wholesale industry and production in Kansas City. Based on a few of the items on display, the Kansas City chapter of the American Sewing Guild helped provide several of the museum items. For the full set of pictures, click to my Flickr photostream there are too many to put into this post, else you’ll be scrolling down forever.

Down the street from the museum, there is a button and needle sculpture in a pretty little park behind a waterfall from Proctor & Gamble. I love the color of the button…it’s almost the same color as my dress form base! The sculpture is dedicated to the memory of the wholesale textile and garment industry that flourished since 1898. At its peak, the garment business in Kansas City was well-known throughout the fashion industry and its products were sold in every state in the U.S.

I feel a little foolish for saying that I’m surprised at the history that Kansas City has in the fashion industry because why wouldn’t it? It’s in the heartland of our country and would have had the best way to distribute throughout the country. So, if you’re in Kansas City, be sure to call ahead and arrange a tour at the museum. And leave a donation, please, to support its on-going efforts. It’s a little gem in the middle of the country. I hope to find little gems like this elsewhere.


First Lady Bess Truman and actress Liz Taylor in the White House broadcasting room, January 7, 1946.

When they came together on January 7, 1946 for a scripted public service announcement over the CBS radio network, live from the ground-floor broadcast room of the White House, it seemed like there couldn’t be two more polar opposite individuals than the teenage movie star and middle-aged First Lady for one odd reason.

In the single photo taken of them together, the one who usually smiled really didn’t and the one who almost never did, was broadly beaming.

Despite the fact that she wasn’t yet even a teenager, actress Liz Taylor did her part to help troops at charity events in the final years of World War II.

Not yet even a teenager, the actress with thick eyelashes framing luminous violet eyes was poised and articulate, invariably radiating a confident warmth beyond her nearly thirteen years of age.

Born as Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor, but known as Liz, she’d become nationally acclaimed after starring in the December 1944 hit film National Velvet, her affinity for animals emerging in the storyline of a girl and her horse as it had a year earlier while appearing in Lassie Come Home.

That day, she stood in place, her hand on the chair of the seated First Lady, her face tentative.

Bess Truman’s willfully bland public face.

In contrast was the stout and grey woman born as Elizabeth Virginia Wallace, but known as Bess.

From the moment her husband had inherited the presidency nine months earlier upon the sudden death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Bess Truman detested the fact that fate had thrust her into a life of posing for still pictures and performing for newsreels.

Instead of the poker face she invariably showed the world, however, when the camera snapped her with Liz, she was uncharacteristically smiling, almost laughing with relief.

Taylor doing a radio play on NBC. (dameelizabethtaylor.com)

The two women shared more than the same first name and a birthday in February. Although she was born in England, Taylor’s parents both hailed from Arkansas City, Kansas.

Before settling in California, they returned with Liz there in 1937, and she attended school in the small Midwestern town, just over 260 miles from Bess Truman’s permanent home of Independence, Missouri.

Also there for the broadcast was Cornelia Otis Skinner, tart but talented stage and screen actress, prolific writer of books, plays, films and New Yorker articles.

FDR Jr. (Boston Public Library)

Also there was the strapping former First Son Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr. who attended in place of his mother. The cause was the annual fundraising for the March of Dimes, culminating on the January birthday of the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt he had helped create the first national effort to treat and eventually eradicate the scourge of polio, to which he had fallen victim as an adult.

Eleanor Roosevelt had always hosted the annual March of Dimes event in Washington while she was First Lady, but 1946 found her in London.

A year before the broadcast with Taylor, Mrs. Truman (far left) with Eleanor Roosevelt (second from right).

Writing in her daily column, the former First Lady noted that she was “particularly grateful to Mrs. Truman” for continuing the tradition from the White House.

Every year, Eleanor Roosevelt had been surrounded by popular actors and actresses who made the cross-country trip from Hollywood to Washington to appear at the culminating fundraiser dinner, overseen by the First Lady. The actors were especially relevant since a large venue for raising annual donations took place at the movies. As Mrs. Roosevelt explained:

“Outside every motion picture theater, there is a table on which are receptacles into which people put their contributions of dimes. I have always felt that this was one of the best ways of making it possible for almost everyone to contribute in a great national effort. Even children save their pennies until they can put a dime down on the table outside a movie theater.”

Liz Taylor meets Harry Truman, the President hosting a White House reception.

Four years later, in 1950, Liz Taylor was back at the White House, this time to meet with the husband of Bess and to raise awareness for another national charitable group.

She went along with fellow cast members Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett from the recently released film “Father of the Bride” to meet President Harry Truman.

The movie stars were in the capital city making an appearance at a Red Cross fundraiser, an effort providing direct aid to those servicemen then being sent to fight in the Korean War.

In appreciation of their “coming clear across the country for this,” President Truman invited them to come to the White House, where they met with him and military officials.

Over the years, Liz Taylor would meet many a President and First Lady.

A Democrat, she would appear at a Los Angeles fundraiser in support of John F. Kennedy’s candidacy when he was nominated by his party at its 1960 convention held there, and later meet with him in a hotel bungalow in Hollywood, where she made a point of stating that nothing else took place but a talk.

RFK, Liz Taylor, Richard Burton, Ethel Kennedy, 1968.

She more frequently crossed paths with the Attorney General, the President’s brother and his wife, Robert and Ethel Kennedy, seated with them along with her husband actor Richard Burton at fundraising events in New York and Los Angeles.

Liz Taylor and Jackie Onassis.

Although movie fan magazines cooked up nearly two decades worth of fake feuds between Liz Taylor and Jackie Kennedy, the two did not meet until a chance 1976 encounter backstage after a New York ballet performance by their mutual friend, ballerina Margot Fonteyn.

Liz Taylor was also an initially strong supporter of Jimmy Carter’s 1976 candidacy, meeting with him at a gala fundraiser at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Later that year, however, marriage made her switch party allegiance. In December of 1976, she married John Warner, chairman of the U.S. Bicentennial Commission John Warner, who had formerly served as President Richard Nixon’s Secretary of the Navy.

Liz Taylor sat with Richard Nixon at the 1990 funeral of mutual friend Malcolm Forbes.

Not until the 1990 funeral of her friend, millionaire publisher Malcolm Forbes, however, did she meet Nixon, by then former president, when they sat together during the services.

On January 1, 1979, Liz Taylor gained the same status that Bess Truman had once held, becoming one of the “Ladies of the Senate,” an informal group of Senate spouses that had been holding regular meetings since World War I, convening as volunteers for the Red Cross.

Liz for First Lady? A Seventies notion.

Almost immediately, there was speculation about whether the newly-installed Senator Warner might not seek the Republican presidential nomination in 1980 and make Liz Taylor First Lady herself.

She wasn’t averse to the idea.

In 1977, she responded to such a scenario by recalling how enamored she’d become with the White House because of her first visit:

“I was a little girl of thirteen when I first went there. I was part of a Hollywood group visiting the president’s wife Bess Truman. It was a wonderful inspiring experience.”

Nancy Reagan greeting Liz Taylor when she was a guest at a White House state dinner.

Taylor, however, did she explain why it was, if it was so wonderful for her, that Bess Truman was wearing the high-beam smile and not her.

Of course, Liz Taylor didn’t become First Lady in 1980, but one of her old Hollywood friends did.

MGM pals, Liz Taylor in the White House private quarters with Nancy Reagan, overnight guest during a 1987 Japanese crown prince state visit.

Liz had known actress Nancy Davis from when both were under contract at MGM, before the latter married fellow actor Ronald Reagan.

Her disagreement with some Reagan policies never got in the way of Taylor’s friendship with the President and First Lady.

The Reagans visit Liz backstage.

They came backstage to see her after a performance of Little Foxes at the Kennedy Center, and she performed for his second Inaugural Gala.

Liz Taylor, in fact, was more often at the White House during the Reagan era than at any other time.

Liz Taylor and Betty Ford sit out a dance at Studio 54. (Zuffante)

Despite her partisan affiliations, Liz Taylor became especially close to another California Republican First Lady, albeit during her post-White House years.

In 1983, she formed a permanent friendship with former First Lady Betty Ford, who personally helped counsel the actress, as she did all patients who entered the Rancho Mirage, California drug and alcohol recovery center which she helped found and which bore her name.

Taylor and Ford attend an early AIDS event together in Arizona.

Taylor would need a second stint at the Betty Ford Center in late 1988.

Taylor became a strong supporter of the institution and Betty Ford, in turn, became an advocate for AIDS education due in support of Taylor’s work as co-founder of the American Foundation for AIDS Research.

Liz Taylor shakes hands with President George W. Bush in the White House East Room, December 8, 2002. (Getty)

Despite her refusal to attend the 2003 Academy Awards to protest President George W. Bush’s anticipated invasion of Iraq which she predicted would result in “Word War III,” Liz Taylor made a final White House visit as the guest of the President and Laura Bush.

The event was the annual reception held for Kennedy Center Honor recipients, which she was awarded that year.

A cancer survivor, enduring a lifetime of chronic back pain, often hospitalized for respiratory complications, her verve never abandoned her although she was 79 years old by the calendar, to many she seemed timeless.

But of course, she was first and foremost simply human. Her body simply gave out.

She died on March 23, 2011.

On New Year’s Eve 1999, as a special guest of the President and Mrs. Clinton for the White House reception and dinner and then the Lincoln Memorial ceremony, the actress recalled what she remembered as being her first visit to the historic mansion and meeting with a First Lady.

Actress Elizabeth Taylor was a star guest at the Millenium New Year’s Eve reception and dinner hosted in the White House by President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton, December 31, 1999.

“What a difference a half century makes, huh?”she quipped, referencing the overt political influence of Hillary Clinton with the more covert style of Bess Truman.

And she finally admitted why she hadn’t been able to break into her signature smile, spilling the beans that something else was going on beneath the surface, literally and figuratively.

As a later newspaper story revealed, “she had surreptitiously kicked off a slipper and it had landed under a chair occupied by Mrs. Harry Truman. Liz desperately fished for the shoe with her toes while keeping her serene pose for the cameras.”

Asked if the Millenium event was the greatest of all her White House moments, however, Elizabeth Taylor shook her head, no.

She couldn’t help but feel the best time was the Bess time, her first visit to the White House.

She finally explained why, more fully:

“You could see when we started she was very nervous. I was very insecure about meeting her until I saw that she was more insecure. I thought why is she nervous about meeting me?! And that made me somehow feel more secure. At least I thought that at the time. Now I realize it wasn’t this kid actress she cared about, it was flubbing a live radio broadcast from the White House! She just had to set it up with about one sentence – the second it was over, she was so pleased as Punch, she couldn’t stop smiling! You never know what’s really going in people’s heads, especially famous ones.”

At the apex of their fame, “Liz and Dick” walking in the London airport. The author notes how Taylor always seemed somehow familiar when he was a child, only later realizing it was due to the fact that she and his mother were, for a time, dead ringers, the latter sometimes stopped and told she looked like the former.


Elizabeth Virginia Wallace Truman

Elizabeth Virginia "Bess" Truman was the wife of Harry S. Truman and First Lady of the United States from 1945 to 1953. She served as her husband's secretary and was known for often voicing her opinions.

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. As her husband put it later, she was "not especially interested" in the "formalities and pomp or the artificiality which, as we had learned. inevitably surround the family of the President." Though she conscientiously fulfilled the social obligations of her position, she did only what was necessary. While the mansion was rebuilt during the second term, the Trumans lived in Blair House and kept social life to a minimum.

They returned to Independence in 1953. After her husband's death in 1972, Mrs. Truman continued to live in the family home. There she enjoyed visits from Margaret and her husband, Clifton Daniel, and their four sons. She died in 1982 and was buried beside her husband in the courtyard of the Harry S. Truman Library.

You can learn more about Mrs. Truman at the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum.

Learn more about Elizabeth Virginia Wallace Truman's spouse, Harry S. Truman.


'Til Bugs Do the Trumans Part

"It has an impact on the way people view a president -- if he's known as lacking scruples or is known as being disloyal to his wife. It makes some people quite angry, if a president is known as something other than the straight and narrow. We profess to be a nation with family values," Dallek said.

While the Trumans' relationship was scandal free, Bess Truman preferred to keep her life private.

Grandson Daniel said, "Grandpa was an open book" who saved "every scrap of paper, every bill, every letter."

But his grandmother, he said, was a "very, very private person who thought her business was her own damn business and that was it."

While thousands of Harry Truman's notes and letters are publicly available at the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum in Independence, Mo., Bess burned most of hers in 1955.

"One evening in 1955, around Christmastime, Grandpa came home and found her in front of the fireplace with a roaring fire, throwing in bundles of her letters to him," Daniel said. "And he stopped her and said, 'Bess! Dear God, what are you doing, think of history!' And she said, 'Oh, I have!' and kept throwing letters in the fire. She destroyed almost all of them."

Her reticence was because of, in part, her father's suicide when she was 18, Daniel writes in the fall 2009 issue of Prologue magazine.

"She adored him, and his death was sudden, unexpected, heartbreaking, and in that day and age, shameful," he wrote. "She never spoke of him. What thoughts and feelings she had were reserved for family and close friends, and she was determined to keep it that way."

But, Daniel said, his grandmother overlooked 180 letters that had been hidden away in books, or in the back of desk drawers. They were discovered in the early 1980s by Truman library archivists.

Daniel's mother Margaret, who owned the letters until her death last year, included some of them in her 1985 biography of her mother. In 1998, 15 were put on display at the library. Daniel is working on a book of his own, on his grandmother's letters, but it will be another four years before all of them will be open to the public.

Daniel said although, as a child, he knew his grandmother as a stern lady who he feared disobeying, her letters showed him the softer, playful side he had heard stories about while growing up.

"I just started laughing when I was reading them for the first time," he said. "It was fun to finally confirm -- she has a sense of humor, she's fun to listen to, and also to listen on paper to a young Bess Truman. I only knew the 80-year-old Bess Truman, I didn't know the 40-year-old Bess Truman."

Daniel said his favorite letter is the one in which Bess recalls killing a bug in her bed.

"I am the bug killer in my house," he said, laughing. "And if my wife is alone without me, then she'll have to do it on her own."

While he and his wife don't write letters to each other, they do text message.

"My grandparents' letters are the 1920 equivalent of texting or e-mailing," he said.

This story has been updated to reflect Mary Margaret Truman as "Margaret".