Poor Harry Truman. One of the greats. Accomplished what he did while living with his mother in law for 33 years. A woman described as a mother in law from Hell.
Margaret “Madge” Gates Wallace lived as a dowager. She was the top of the social hierarchy in Independence, Missouri. Raised and lived in one of the biggest homes. Her family had servants, lace curtains and Brussell carpets on the floor.
Truman came from the other side of the tracks. Literally. He was a farmer’s son and a dirt farmer himself till 33. He never graduated from college, could not seem to hold a job down after his farming days were over. Failed as a haberdasher. Lost a ton of money in a zinc mining operation that failed.
Bess was the well heeled granddaughter of Independence’s Flour King. As far as Madge was concerned, Bess made a colossal social faux pas in marrying Truman.
Truman could not afford a home for his wife Bess and daughter Margaret till he became a United States Senator. Prior thereto, he lived in his mother in law Madge’s home.
Madge thought Truman would fail as a politician. Told him so repeatedly to his face. Questioned his decisions while President. Even worse, she initially questioned his qualifications to be President.
Madge hated Truman. Never thought him good enough for her daughter. Even after he became President. He was unworthy of Bess. Madge never let Truman forget the low esteem in which she held him.
She never referred to her son in law as Harry or son. Always, Mr. Truman. Even after he became President.
She was a confirmed anti-Semite. Gave Truman repeated hell for recognizing the new State of Israel.
When Truman ran against Dewey in 1948, her opinion was that Dewey was the better man, that Dewey would trounce Truman.
She was critical with Truman firing General Douglas Mac Arthur. She thought MacArthur was “…..such a nice man.” She also said she could not “…..imagine a captain from the National Guard telling off a West Point general.”
Madge’s husband David stepped into his bath tub one day, put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. Madge could never cope following the incident. She considered her husband’s suicide a scandal. She became a prisoner of shame. From that day forward, she leaned heavily on Bess to take care of her. Truman assumed the responsibility also upon his marriage to Bess.
Truman did a good job. Especially since Madge’s dislike for him was obvious. When he was elected to the Senate, Madge came to Washington with the family. She and Margaret shared a bedroom in the apartment. When Truman became President, Madge moved into the White House where she had her own bedroom.
Madge died at the age of 90 in her White House bedroom. She had lived with the President and Bess for 33 years.
During his Presidency, Truman visited Key West a total of 175 days covering eleven separate trips. Not once did Madge join him. Fortunate for the President, perhaps.
Some further Truman background is in order.
Truman was raised and lived his early adult years on a farm. Working as a farmer. The Truman family moved to Independence when the President was 6. Independence in those days was at the edge of the American frontier. Men carried knives and guns. Fistfights common.
Truman’s mother taught him how to read starting at age 5. She sat him on her lap and used the family Bible as a text book..
When Truman was courting Bess, Bess’ home was far different from his. Madge’s family did not work with their hands. They had no debt. They did not worry about insects. A constant concern at the Truman farm home.
Truman was a good man. Obviously. An excellent President. An excellent son in law. He put up with his mother in law Madge’s abuse each and every year he was courting or living as man and wife with Bess.
I came across an article listing history’s six notorious mothers in law. Madge was one of them. Right next to Catherine de Medici.
Historians suggest Truman tolerated and took care of Madge out of respect for Bess. His love for her was so great that he bore Madge’s insults their entire relationship.