Harry S. Truman

In the ACLU of Missouri’s archives in the Julian Edison Department of Special Collections, I found this delightful letter from Harry S. Truman. In 1959, the organization went by the name St. Louis Civil Liberties Committee and was a small volunteer-only advocacy organization. While the former president was not able to speak at their meeting, his short reply provides a delightful historic artifact:

envelope and letter

From the ACLU of MO Records, Series 1, Subseries 1, Box 3

“Thank you for your letter of the 20th,” Truman writes. “I am deeply appreciative and wish it were possible for me to accept your cordial invitation to address the Saint Louis Civil Liberties Committee. Unfortunately, my May and June schedules are completely full, and I am not in a position to make any additional commitments. I regret it very much. Sincerely yours, [signed] Harry S. Truman.”

Short. Polite. Not overly informative.

What actually caught my eye was the envelope. Where the stamp would go, instead Truman simply signed it.

envelope The return address also simply read, “Harry S. Truman Independence, Missouri.” This was clearly enough to get the letter from his home on the western side of the state to Mrs. Alfred S. Schwartz at 7121 Westmoreland Ave. in St. Louis.

I was intrigued, so some brief online searching led me to the term “franked mail” and then to discover that, as part of U.S. law, all former presidents and their surviving spouses are entitled to send mail for free by using just their signature. Anyone else know that? It was a new bit of trivia for me.


History and documents from the Truman Presidential Library are available online if you are interested in exploring Missouri’s only president and what his life was like in retirement.

As part of a project between the Washington University Libraries’ Julian Edison Department of Special Collections and the ACLU of Missouri, student interns reviewed the ACLU-MO’s archived records for themes, important historic turning points, and other notable moments in the organization’s nearly hundred-year history. The project began in 2017 and continued through early 2020. Read more at library.wustl.edu/tag/ACLU-MO/.

The Future

Yes, posting something every day (ok, nearly every day) is overly ambitious, but that’s my aim now that virtual is our main way to communicate. Follow all the posts in this series at library.wustl.edu/tag/st-louis-history/.

If you have a question about this post or other topics related to St. Louis history, I can be reached at mrectenwald@wustl.edu or on twitter @mrectenwald.

Stay safe and healthy everyone.

About the author

Miranda Rectenwald is Curator of Local History, Washington University Special Collections. More info.