Give Harry a Grade!

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Give Harry a Grade!
After he graduated from Independence High School in 1901, Harry Truman attended Spalding’s Commercial College in Kansas City. The college occupied twenty rooms of the New York Life building. There were sixteen teachers who taught bookkeeping, shorthand and typing. Harry took courses in all of the subject areas. He had to ride city streetcars from Independence to his classes in downtown Kansas City. His parents gave him money for transportation and twenty-five cents for lunch. He often dined at an eatery called Herman’s located at Eighth and Main in downtown Kansas City. Mr. Jesse James, Jr. operated a Soda Fountain and Candy Shop where Harry would sometimes stop for an ice cream soda. On one occasion, Mr. James extended Harry “credit” because he did not have the necessary nickel for his treat. The nickel was paid the next day.
The Truman Presidential Museum & Library has the only surviving paper from Harry Truman’s student days at Spalding’s Commercial College. It is a half-page letter he typed and mailed to the farm in Grandview.
What can you learn from this old letter of just a few lines?

Why would someone save it? Why is it important to us? Think about these questions as you examine the letter the way an archivist or historian would.

Time: 20-30 minutes


1. streetcar: an electric vehicle that goes along metal tracks in the road taking people from one place to another.

2. credit: paying for an item at a later date.

3. archivist: a person who takes care of historical records.

4. historian: a person who writes about and/or studies past events and people.
Materials students need:

1. copy of letter and questions

2. pencil

1. Discuss background information with class.

2. Review vocabulary terms.

3. Assign reading of the letter and answering questions.

4. Class discussion of student responses.


1. When did Harry type the letter?

2. How old was he when he typed the letter?

3. Who received the letter?

4. What is the main theme or message of Harry’s letter?

5. Why is this letter important to us today?

6. Did you find the letter to be outdated in anyway?

7. Circle typing and/or spelling errors in the letter.

8. What grade would you give to Harry’s letter? Think about the standards you

would use to assign a letter grade. Would you consider length? number of

mistakes? Grammar? Decide on a grade and fill-in the certificate. Be sure you

that you can justify your decision on Harry’s grade.

This is to certify that

Harry S. Truman

earned the grade of _____in Typing I.



Answer Key
Give Harry a Grade!
1. Harry typed the letter July 1, 1901.
2. Harry was seventeen years old.
3. The letter was written to his maternal Grandmother (Sarah) Young, his

Uncle Harrison (Young) his namesake, and his Aunt Laura (Young-Everhart).

4. Harry wants to let the family know that he will be coming to the Grandview

farm to celebrate the Fourth of July and is bringing a friend, James Wright.

5. This letter is very important because it was typed by a future president when

he was young and going to business school. It gives us a glimpse into what

his life was like when he was just out of high school.
6. Answers will vary but students may notice the very formal closing for a letter

from one family member to other family members.

7. Errors that should be circled include:

July is not capitalized

a colon only after the salutation

a coma belongs after the word holiday

a coma belongs after the word yesterday

a space belongs between I and wont

wont should have a apostrophe

no ^ (circumflex accent mark indicates the letter has a different sound

than the letter would without the accent mark) above the word as

typewriter should not be hyphenated

a period belongs after well

a space between I and close

a coma belongs after truly

no period following Truman

8. Answers will vary but students should be able to explain how they arrived at

the letter grade.

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