ST. LOUIS • Jane Hadley was a quick-witted, charming widow whose husband had been a prominent railroad lawyer. Alben W. Barkley was a widower 34 years her senior who happened to be Harry Truman's vice president.
They met in May 1949 at a party in Washington. Soon, the VP was making regular commercial airline stops in St. Louis. She was 37, he 71.
Hadley was born Jane Rucker in Keytesville, Mo., her father a lawyer and her mother a pianist who had studied in Europe. She met Carleton Hadley at Washington University and married him in 1931. He was general counsel for the Wabash Railroad when he died of a heart attack at 42, leaving behind his wife and two daughters.
Barkley's wife, Dorothy, had died in 1947. A former senator from Kentucky, he was Truman's running mate in their stunning upset in 1948.
Barkley was an old-timey, stump-speechifying Democrat. In 1940, Mrs. Hadley worked in the St. Louis office of GOP presidential nominee Wendell Wilkie. When her milkman expressed fondness for President Franklin Roosevelt, she left him a note saying, "No Wilkie, no milkie."
Undeterred by their political differences, the vice president kept calling. Their budding friendship — was it romance? — became front-page news. They attended a Cardinals game at Sportsman's Park with owner Fred Saigh and sat with First Lady Bess Truman at Kiel Auditorium for a concert by aspiring soloist and daughter Margaret Truman. When Barkley and Hadley spent a weekend with friends at her St. Charles County estate, reporters followed them shopping.
"This is just a nice quiet visit," Mrs. Hadley said, laughing off questions of the heart.
One week later, on Oct. 31, 1949, they gathered reporters at her seven-room apartment at 5539 Pershing Avenue to announce their engagement. Asked to kiss his fiancée, Barkley declined. "Let's make it just a normal, dignified affair," he said. Someone turned on a radio to hear broadcaster Walter Winchell read the bulletin and claim he had known all along.
They were married Nov. 18 at St. John's Methodist Church, Kingshighway and Washington Boulevard. She wore light blue. KSD-TV's broadcast outside the church went live to New York. So many well-wishers filled the street that the newlyweds had trouble getting into the Oldsmobile convertible he had given her.
When a woman shouted, "Oh, Mrs. Barkley," Jane Barkley said, "I like the sound of that." Asked about his wife's politics, the vice president said, "She got swept off her feet by Wilkie, but now she's back in the fold."
Barkley returned to the Senate and died in 1956. A widow again, Jane Barkley was a secretary at George Washington University when she died in 1964 at 52.
Read more stories from Tim O'Neil's Look Back series.