Private and introspective, Elizabeth Virginia Wallace Truman, known as “Bess,” was a stark contrast to her predecessor, Eleanor Roosevelt. Whereas the Roosevelt’s had a distant and formalized partnership, she and her husband Harry Truman had a strong, loving and collaborative one. Dubbed the Three Musketeers, the tight-knit family was well-loved by White House staff. As First Lady, Bess never issued public statements or advocated for particular causes. She was free to go about her personal business as she pleased, sometimes controversially. Refusing to take sides in public controversy, she continued with her plan to attend a play starring Ingrid Bergman, even though she had to cross a picket line protesting George Washington University’s exclusion of African-Americans from the audience. Instead, she influenced politics privately through her relationship with President Truman. Harry greatly relied on Bess’ counsel and assistance, even placing her on his payroll during his days as a Senator. Harry, known for his temper, could often only be kept in line by Bess, who once had to hold him by the collar and keep him in a hotel room when he was too explosive to go out.
Facts and quotations from First Ladies: From Martha Washington to Michelle Obama by Betty Boyd Caroli. C-SPAN is exploring the influence of First Ladies in its series.
Image credit: Mrs. Harry S. Truman. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Private and introspective, Elizabeth Virginia Wallace Truman, known as “Bess,” was a stark contrast to her predecessor, Eleanor Roosevelt. Whereas the Roosevelt’s had a distant and formalized partnership, she and her husband Harry Truman had a strong, loving and collaborative one. Dubbed the Three Musketeers, the tight-knit family was well-loved by White House staff. As First Lady, Bess never issued public statements or advocated for particular causes. She was free to go about her personal business as she pleased, sometimes controversially. Refusing to take sides in public controversy, she continued with her plan to attend a play starring Ingrid Bergman, even though she had to cross a picket line protesting George Washington University’s exclusion of African-Americans from the audience. Instead, she influenced politics privately through her relationship with President Truman. Harry greatly relied on Bess’ counsel and assistance, even placing her on his payroll during his days as a Senator. Harry, known for his temper, could often only be kept in line by Bess, who once had to hold him by the collar and keep him in a hotel room when he was too explosive to go out.

Facts and quotations from First Ladies: From Martha Washington to Michelle Obama by Betty Boyd Caroli. C-SPAN is exploring the influence of First Ladies in its series.

Image credit: Mrs. Harry S. Truman. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.