Kurt's Historic Sites

Truman 2

Bess Truman

Interment LocationVisited 
Independence, MOAugust 13, 2009 

Photographed August 13, 2009.

No U.S. first lady has lived longer than Bess Truman. When she died on October 18, 1982, she had lived for 97 years, eight months, and five days. On October 21st she was laid to rest in the courtyard of her husband’s presidential library in Independence, Missouri. 140 people attended Bess Truman’s services, including three of her successors in the White House: Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, and the sitting first lady, Nancy Reagan. A flag pole stands at the head of the plot where Bess and Harry Truman are interred.

President Truman’s gravestone appears partially in the bottom left corner of this image, while Mrs. Truman’s monument appears in full. The ashes of the couple’s only child, Margaret, are interred near the foot of the slabs, out of view at the left. The ashes of her husband, E. Clifton Daniel, are contained there as well. The graves are accessible with paid admission into the museum.

Photographed August 13, 2009.
Photographed August 13, 2009.

I do not have a good photograph of the first lady’s gravestone in my archive, but I can transcribe the epitaph here. Carved in all capital letters under an engraved wreath, it begins, “Bess Wallace Truman/Born February 13, 1885/Elizabeth Virginia Wallace/Independence, Missouri/Died October 18, 1982.” The inscription continues beneath a separating line: “Married June 28, 1919/Harry S. Truman/Daughter/Born February 17, 1924/Mary Margaret/First Lady/United States of America/Apr. 12, 1945 — Jan. 20, 1953.”

Bess Truman was a hard-working first lady. She fulfilled the social obligations expected of her and belonged to numerous organizations. She was a dedicated White House hostess and was influential behind the scenes in her husband’s presidency. However, Mrs. Truman disliked the limelight. She much preferred life as a private citizen in Independence to being a specimen under a microscope — so to speak — in Washington. Although her immediate predecessor, Eleanor Roosevelt, was held in high regard by the public in large part because of her newspaper columns and weekly press conferences, Bess Truman did not substantially suffer in popularity because of her comparatively minimalist relationship with the media. Though she did have critics in the capital such as Representative Clare Boothe Luce who viewed her small town sensibilities as unsophisticated, to others in the country Truman was “down-to-earth” and relatable.

Photographed August 13, 2009.

Fast Facts

Born: February 13, 1885 in Independence, Missouri

Spouse: Harry S. Truman (m. 1919-1972)

Second Lady Tenure: 1945

First Lady Tenure: 1945-1953

Died: October 18, 1982 in Independence, Missouri

Cause of Death: Congestive Heart Failure

Age: 97

Interment: Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, Independence, Missouri

"My mother, whose public facade has been unvaryingly sedate and whose public utterances have been unfailingly courteous but cryptic, is perhaps the least understood member of our family. She is a woman of tremendous character, which the public may sense, but in addition she is a warmhearted, kind lady, with a robust sense of humor, a merry, twinkling wit, and a tremendous capacity for enjoying life."
- Margaret Truman Daniel
on her mother, Bess Truman, in her 1956 book, Souvenir: Margaret Truman's Own Story

Sources Consulted and Further Reading

Beasley, Maurine H. “Bess Truman and the Press: Case Study of a First Lady as Political Communicator.” August 1983. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED232151.pdf.

Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum. “Biographical Sketch of Mrs. Harry S. Truman.” Accessed April 12, 2022. https://www.trumanlibrary.gov/education/trivia/biographical-sketch-bess-truman.

Miller Center. “Bess Truman.” Accessed April 12, 2022. https://millercenter.org/president/truman/essays/truman-1945-firstlady.

Peterson, Mark. “Bess Truman Buried.” Gettysburg Times. October 22, 1982. https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2202&dat=19821022&id=Np9cAAAAIBAJ&sjid=U1gNAAAAIBAJ&pg=4791,4605178.

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