Man-Cub Mamas in History: Martha Young Truman

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This post series is inspired by the book, First Mothers: The Women Who Shaped the Presidents by Bonnie Angelo. The book is about 11 mothers of presidents, all of whom lived in the 20th century. While Angelo presents a much more rounded version of the President’s mothers, my goal in these posts is to share only the positive things each mother did. So without further ado, here are some anecdotes about Martha Young Truman.

  • Martha grew up on the Missouri-Kansas border. As a child, she faced hardships like the grasshopper years- when grasshoppers devoured crops and everything made of wood.
  • Martha was a young girl during the Civil War. Her home and farm were pillaged by the “Red Legs,” who were supposedly free-state supporters but really took the opportunity to loot and ransack the state of Kansas. After the war, her family was accused of Southern sympathies and forced to relocate to a detention camp while their home in Kansas was torched. They would have to stay in the camp for three years before they were allowed to return. Because of his mother’s experiences of being on the “losing side” after a war, Harry spearheaded “the most generous policy ever extended to a defeated enemy” to the countries of Europe after WWII.
  • Martha went to college at Baptist Female College in Lexington Missouri.
  • Despite the hardships of her youth, Martha taught her children to have fun. One game she would play was tossing the toddlers out of a second story window into the arms of their uncle, who was three feet below. The children thought it was great fun, although it was a game “most mothers would have frowned on.”
  • Martha would entertain her children and nephews by making animal silhouettes with her hands by lamplight.
  • Martha used her large print Bible to teach Harry to read.
  • When Harry Truman was 6, Martha noticed that he wasn’t watching the 4th of July fireworks like her other children. The next day, she took him straight to a specialist in a city over 15 miles away. He was immediately diagnosed with “flat eyeballs.” With the help of thick and expensive glasses, suddenly the world was more clear. Because of this timely intervention, Harry was able to develop a love of reading.
  • When Harry reached school age, Martha relocated the family to another town so he could be in a better school district.
  • Martha taught Harry how to play piano, eventually enrolling him with a Vienna trained professional in Kansas City. He went on to be an exceptional piano player, although he never made a career of it.
  • At age 91, Martha helped campaign for Harry and FDR to become vice-president and president.

If you want to learn more about the first mothers, feel free to check out the book! I loved reading it.