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9 Love Letters in 9 Years | March 20, 2019

9 Love Letters in 9 Years

The Courtship of Harry and Bess

Harry S. Truman and Bess Wallace carried on a nine-year courtship almost entirely through letters and some supervised visits. Harry first met Bess when they attended Sunday school together in 1890. Harry was six years old and Bess was five.

By 1910, Harry began what some call his longest “campaign” — the courtship of Bess Wallace. Nine years after sending his first letter, Harry and Bess married on June 28, 1919.

Below are a selection of letters, one from each year of their courtship, that give brief insights into Harry’s feelings for Bess and his determination to one day wed the “one girl in the world” for him.

December 31, 1910 – Like in any relationship, life got in the way of Harry and Bess’ courtship.

Nothing would please me better than to come to see you during the holidays or any other time for the matter of that, but Papa broke his leg the other day and I am the chief nurse, next to my mother, besides being farm boss now. So you see I’ll be somewhat closely confined for some time to come. I hope you’ll let the invitation be a standing one though and I shall avail myself of it at the very first opportunity.

Read the full letter here.

June 22, 1911 – Harry slips in a reference to getting engaged, one which failed. The two are still nearly eight years away from marriage at the time of this “proposal.”

Speaking of diamonds, would you wear a solitaire on your left hand should I get it? Now that is a rather personal or pointed question provided you take it for all it means. You know, were I an Italian or a poet I would commence and use all the luscious language of two continents. I am not either but only a kind of good-for-nothing American farmer.

Read the full letter here.

April 8, 1912 – An excerpt from this letter reveals that while Harry enjoyed sharing details of his life with Bess, he primarily wrote to her to in hopes of a response which he would treasure a great deal.

I really don’t care a hoot what you do with my letters so long as you write me — that’s what I’m laboring for, a letter from you. You may read them to anyone you choose, put ’em under the parlor carpet, or start fires with ’em — just as long as you send me an answer, which by the way won’t be used for any of the above-mentioned purposes.

Read the full letter here.

March 26, 1913 – Harry reminds Bess, as he had in previous letters, that he impatiently waits for Bess to send him a photo of herself. Today, with just a click of a button, we can share instant photos of ourselves, but courting in the early 1900s meant waiting days, weeks, or even months for something so simple. Harry and Bess officially got engaged in November of 1913, but continued their courtship and did not announce the engagement for another four years.

Have you ever had that photo made? I am very anxious for it. If you will remember I asked for yours before you said you would accept one of mine. Please hurry it up. I want it worse than ever as well as the original.

Read the full letter here.

March 10, 1914 – Nearly two years after his letter to Bess revealing that he writes mostly in hopes for a treasured response from her, Harry reminds Bess that his weeks feel almost meaningless without her sentiments.

It’s been quite a while since I had one from you. The week’s never complete without a least one; the more the better.

Read the full letter here.

Early 1915 – Harry asks Bess to send him another picture so that he can “see” her more often.

I am hoping to see you before the week goes by again. When you get well you’ve simply got to give me another picture of yourself so I can have one downstairs and one up. It’s right unhandy to chase upstairs every day to see how you look. Here’s hoping to see the original before long.

Read the full letter here.

August 29, 1916, writing from Camp Doniphan, Oklahoma, during World War I – Perhaps the most telling thing about Harry’s letters is his poignant honesty. He rarely shied away from telling Bess how he felt.

I can’t write you a very good letter this time. They are always poor but this one will be worse than usual because I’ve got the dumps and am homesick and can’t think well…

Read the full letter here.

October 15, 1917, writing from Camp Doniphan, Oklahoma, during World War I – Love letters can come in many forms.

I have just been up to my tent and found that your box of good cake just came. It is sure grand. Lee said he had never tasted anything so good, neither have I. It was almost as good as having a letter to get the box with your writing on the outside and something real to eat inside. Thanks in all the extravagant ways it can be said. Do it again.

Read the full letter here.

October 6, 1918, writing from France during World War I – Harry references what appears to be an elopement, no doubt out of an eagerness to finally wed his beloved Bess. Interestingly, the church he names, formally known as The Church of the Transfiguration an Anglo-Catholic Parish, served as a stop along the Underground Railroad, as well as a safe house during the 1863 New York Draft Riots.

Would you meet me in N.Y. and go to the Little Church Around the Corner if I get sent home? We can then go east or west or any old direction you wish for a tour.

Read the full letter here.

February 6, 1919, writing from Rosieres, France near Bar-le-Duc – The quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.

You’ve no idea how I liked your letter especially when you asked me if I can do a days work on lemon pie and chocolate cake. I can work the rest of my life on those two luxuries if I can only have you to make them.

Read the full letter here.

Harry and Bess celebrate their 100th wedding anniversary later this year on June 28, 2019. The Truman Library is hosting the wedding reception of the century for this milestone, including a group vow renewal ceremony.

Couples of all ages to renew their vows at this historic. Or you can join us to observe the ceremony and enjoy the wedding reception with dessert and a champagne toast to our favorite presidential couple. The event is open to the public and free, but RSVPs are requested.

Natalie Walker is Museum / Archives Technician at the Truman Library Institute. She holds a Master’s in Public History from Colorado State University.