The Nancy Bentley Papers
Date Span: 1881-1966. Bulk Date Span: 1881-1891.
The papers of Nancy Bentley consist of correspondence sent to Bentley by Mary Martha Truman and Margaret Ellen Truman Noland from 1882 to 1891. The correspondence documents personal developments in the life of Mary Martha Truman and her relations with family and friends. The papers also include notes concerning the letters, correspondence regarding the collection, and photographs.
Size: Less than one linear foot (about 400 pages).
[ Top of the page | Administrative Information | Biographical Sketch | Collection Description | Series Descriptions | Folder Title List ]
Due to the nature of the correspondence between Mary Martha Truman
and Nancy Bentley, what exists provides little information as to the
biographical details pertaining to Nancy Bentley.
The papers of Nancy Bentley consist mostly of letters written by Mary Martha Truman to Bentley between 1882 and 1891. The collection also contains notes regarding the letters as well as nine photographs of Mary Martha Truman and her friends at Stephens College, which she attended during the years 1880 to 1882. A 1966 letter from Nancy Bentley’s nephew, Jordan R. Bentley, to Harry S. Truman describing the finding of these letters is included in the collection, along with Truman’s reply. Mary Martha Truman was the youngest sister of John Anderson Truman, the father of Harry S. Truman. During the period of their correspondence, Mary Martha lived for the most part in the Kansas City area or in such western Missouri towns as Lamar and Harrisonville. Her friend Nancy Bentley resided in Forest Green, Missouri.
The collection consists of two series, a Correspondence File and a Subject File. The Correspondence File makes up the bulk of the collection and consists of fifty-six letters or postcards from Truman to Bentley, along with two letters from Margaret Ellen Truman Noland, Mary Martha’s sister. This series is digitized in its entirety and available online. Almost all of the letters are handwritten, and describe various aspects of Mary Martha Truman’s life. She discusses classmates she and Nancy had in common, and reminisces about the times they spent together attending Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, where they were roommates. Mary Martha offers insight into her career as a teacher as well as the frustrations that accompanied her responsibilities. Occasionally, she expresses discouragement with the profession and a lack of interest in continuing further. Most letters are filled with her dreams of finding a suitor and the dissatisfaction associated with being an unmarried school teacher in the late nineteenth century. The early letters in the collection have a much more optimistic tone; however, as the years pass by, Mary Martha comes to the realization that she may never marry. Often complaining of loneliness, she discusses the different suitors she established relationships with but who unfortunately passed her by. Mary Martha focuses some of the letters on her health, family, faith and acquaintances. In addition, she follows Nancy Bentley’s romantic endeavors and frequently encourages her to visit so that she can match Nancy with her male friends and relatives. Nonetheless, the letters toward the end contain frequent complaints by Mary Martha about her life experiences.
One especially significant letter is dated April 7, 1885, and was written from Harrisonville, Missouri, where Mary Martha was staying with her brother John Anderson Truman and his wife, Martha Ellen Truman. "Baby is real sick now," Mary Martha writes, "he is so cross we can't do anything." The baby was Harry S. Truman, then almost a year old. This is believed to be the earliest written description of the future President.
The Subject File contains correspondence between Jordan Bentley and former President Truman regarding the collection, as well as brief notes explaining references in the letters and providing related biographical information. These notes were prepared by Ardis Ragland Haukenberry, the niece of Mary Ethel Noland. Both women helped with the acquisition and arrangement of the collection. Mary Ethel, the daughter of Margaret Ellen Truman Noland, acted as the family's historian and genealogist. Also included in the Subject File are copies of nine photographs of Mary Martha Truman and others, most of which were taken during her years at Stephens College.
More information concerning Mary Martha Truman is available at the Truman
Library in the papers of Mary Ethel Noland, which
include a diary Mary Martha kept during her visit to the Columbian Exposition
(World's Fair) in Chicago in 1893.