First Lady Bess Truman Hated the Press


I mentioned yesterday that it's a first lady tradition to have a feature photograph in Vogue. If you're Hillary Clinton or Michelle Obama, it's a pretty exclusive tradition to be on the cover. But one first lady opted out: Bess Truman. Since I'll be doing my own Stuff You Missed in History Class first lady features this week, it seems only fair to spotlight Mrs. Truman.

Bess Truman (or, more formally, Elizabeth Virginia Wallace Truman) didn't like the attention of the media. And that suited her because she was the kind of person who could go unnoticed in crowds. Perhaps my favorite anecdote about Mrs. Truman's limelight loathing is her response to the secretary who was asked by a reporter to find out what outfit the first lady would be wearing to tea: "Tell her it is none of her d**n business" [source: Paul F. Boller, Jr.].

She became first lady rather reluctantly. The official White House Web site explains that Harry Truman was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's running mate for his fourth term in office, and when F.D.R. died, Truman was sworn into office on April 12, 1945. While Mrs. Truman ran through all the first lady rigmarole that was expected of her, she wasn't too enthusiastic about it. But she loved her husband, so she tolerated the whirlwind Washington life.

Granted, the country was recovering from the vise of the Great Depression, so there probably wasn't much revelry on Capitol Hill. Mrs. Truman would have preferred it that way. And even though many people have been looking forward to the revival of the Washington social scene after the so-called early-to-bed Bush administration, one has to wonder how many parties White House social secretary Desiree Rogers will be planning in the midst of the current economic downturn.

Source: Boller, Jr., Paul F. "Presidential Wives: An Anecdotal History." Oxford University Press: New York, 1998.

Harry S. Truman National Historic Site

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