Monday, October 23, 2006

Harry Truman’s Schoolroom Days

Truman is third from the left in the top row.

A Boy Who Would Be President: Harry Truman at School, 1892-1901 is an article in Prologue that discusses Harry Truman’s schoolroom days. This article centers around some new documents that were uncovered:
…two ledgers that record his attendance and his grades at Noland School for the first and second grade - and two of his high school English theme books were recently made available for research by members of Truman's family.

We learn interesting facts about Truman’s early school life from these resources:

  • The 1892–1893 school year, Harry's first-grade year, began on September 13. For some reason Harry's mother, Martha Ellen Truman, didn't send him to school until October 17….After starting school five weeks late, he didn't miss a day for the rest of the year, and he was never tardy.
  • In the first term, Miss Ewin gave Harry the highest possible grades in every subject. They were a little lower in the second term, but still among the highest given in the class, and they rose to near perfect in the third term. Miss Ewin gave him the highest possible grades in the third term in spelling, reading, language, and numbers.

The article discusses Truman’s claim to have skipped third grade and if this made sense with the one report card from that time frame we have left, which doesn’t back up his story. The article uses evidence from Bess Wallace’s records to help discern what could have happened (I'm making you go read that section...did I whet your curiosity enough?)

The author then goes on to look at the two high school essay books, which he compares to Charlie Ross' (Charlie was Truman's White House press secretary among other literary accomplishments) to help see Truman's writing abilities:

  • The eighth-grade book…reminds one why Harry once wrote to Bess that "the English language so far as spelling goes was created by Satan I am sure."
  • [T]here's something almost objectionable in Harry's essays. Perhaps they're not always sufficiently deferential to some spirit of the age; there's too much opinion in them, too much Harry. If Charlie is mindful of his readers and their values and their expectations of him, Harry seems to want only to tell everyone very plainly how he feels about things.

The author wraps up with this statement:
All the most important policy initiatives of Truman's presidency had their origins in some important way in the fundamental personal makeup that we call his character; and this essential character of Harry S. Truman's was to some degree formed by, and to a much greater degree evident during—even if only in the brief but bright glimpses the limited documentation allows—his nine years as a schoolboy in Independence, Missouri, from 1892 to 1901.

This article offers much more in depth information than I provided here, so take some time and explore it!

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