Bess W. Truman

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The danger with biographies written by anyone close to their subject is that such works too often become either uncritical glorifications or unmitigated hatchet jobs. Margaret Truman, avoiding both of these pitfalls, has written an intelligent and sensitive biography of her mother-- a work of interest and value to both specialists and interested laypersons.

The work traces the lift of Bess Wallace Truman from her birth in 1885 to her death in 1982, but for most readers her time as First Lady (1945-1953) and her relationship with Harry will be of greatest interest. Such readers will not be disappointed.

Bess is portrayed as an intensely private woman, not especially happy with the limelight that came with Harry’s career as Senator, Vice President, and President. She kept loyalties to family and friends in Missouri and longed for her home there, not the White House. Indeed, Margaret certifies that Bess was terribly concerned that Harry’s sense of duty would make him seek another term as President in 1952 and that her mother was greatly relieved when he decided that he would not.

One of the really charming things about this volume is the author’s clear-eyed approach. She distinctly loves and supports her parents but also tells us, candidly, when she thinks them wrong. Their marriage is characterized as happy and good but not perfect; Margaret recounts both the ups and the downs of a long marriage of two very human people.

This biography is based not only on Margaret’s memories but on excerpts from letters and memos that Harry wrote “for history’s sake.” On this matter, Bess Truman’s attitude differed from her husband’s. Harry once found her sitting in front of a roaring fire with a stack of letters. Asked what she was doing, she said, “Burning our letters.” “Think of history,” ordered the President. “I have,” responded the First Lady.

Margaret Truman Daniel has produced a fine biography of rare insight and historical importance.