December 21, 2010
At this time of year, children all over the world are writing their letters to Santa Claus. Writing such a letter was one of my favorite things to do as a child. I imagine writing to a president would have had much the same thrill, and I wonder why I never thought to try it. Luckily, the children of Theodore Roosevelt’s time weren’t nearly as unimaginative as me, and their voices can be heard throughout our collections.
During my search through the Library of Congress collection for a recent reference request, I stumbled across dozens of letters children wrote to Theodore Roosevelt during his 1912 campaign for President. These letters made me laugh, and I thought this would be a good time of the year to share their words with you. I chose three letters: one from an 11-year-old girl in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, another from a high school student in Wamego, Kansas, and finally one from an eight-year-old boy in Columbia, Missouri.
Letter from N.M. DeNoon to Theodore Roosevelt, November 5, 1912, from the Theodore Roosevelt papers, Library of Congress Manuscript division
Miss N.M. DeNoon of Pittsburgh writes to inform Roosevelt that had children been allowed to vote, he would be President, as a recent vote at her school saw Roosevelt win over Woodrow Wilson and William Howard Taft. She also assures Roosevelt, “I am for you and will never go back on you.”
Letter from Jennie Staine to Theodore Roosevelt, March 29, 1912, from the Theodore Roosevelt papers, Library of Congress Manuscript division
Miss Jennie Staine of Wamego writes to tell Roosevelt that her school is having a debate over tax laws, a topic she is certain Roosevelt would have arguments on, and if he wouldn’t mind, would he send her his thoughts on the subject? Of all the possible ways to get one’s homework done, asking the president for help is original!
Letter from Richard Roosevelt Catha to Theodore Roosevelt, March 23, 1912, from the Theodore Roosevelt papers, Library of Congress Manuscript division
Lastly, and my favorite, is this letter from Master Richard Roosevelt Catha of Columbia. He writes to tell Roosevelt he needs a lecturing fund “in order to help me to place you in the nomination for the great office of President of the United States of America.” The letter goes on to ask for an immediate reply and to remind Roosevelt that “Large Streams from little fountains flow, Tall Oaks from little Acorns grow” (quoting from an essay by David Everett published in 1797). Master Richard’s precociousness had me in stitches!
Sadly, I was unable to find any replies from Roosevelt to these three children. I would have especially enjoyed seeing how Roosevelt responded to Master Richard. Perhaps as our digital library continues to grow, we will discover whether Roosevelt did respond. At this time of year, when children are our focus, it is fun to read these letters and remember that children haven’t changed much over the centuries. They are still curious, eager and excited to let their voices be heard, whether to Saint Nick or to a former president.