June 22, 2011
Theodore Roosevelt, before he got caught up in politics, planned to earn his living by writing. It was an ambition he never gave up and even returned to once he left the White House. As a result, he is a president with over 40 books and hundreds of essays to his name. After working here at the Theodore Roosevelt Center for quite some time, I thought I’d heard of most of them by now. So, when I saw this booklet in our first shipment from the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site, I was struck by its topic and the fact that I hadn’t even read the title in passing until now.
Originally published in The Outlook, this particular edition of “The Key to Success in Life” was published in 1916 by Federated Publishing. I could discover little about its origins, so why it was reprinted by this company at this time, we do not know. Reading through it, I realized it is a sort of self-improvement guide, full of Roosevelt maxims. The first paragraph of the work is pure Rooseveltian:
There are many qualities which we need in order to gain success, but the three above all – for the lack of which no brilliancy and no genius can atone – are Courage, Honesty, and Common Sense.
You may remember a letter I shared a few months ago in which Roosevelt gave advice to a mother for her son. This essay on success expands on those words of wisdom but holds the same message: You must work hard, honestly, patiently, virtuously. You must also be a good citizen. For men that meant being a bread winner; for women, it meant being a good housewife and mother. If you followed this advice, which fills thirty pages, Roosevelt was certain you would be successful in your life and in your duties as a citizen of the United States of America. I found it interesting that both were entwined so deeply in Roosevelt’s philosophy. One could not be a successful person without also being a successful citizen. Citizenship is not something at the forefront of our society’s mind these days and I find Roosevelt’s words on the subject fascinating and also inspiring.
This is just one of the many treasures we have received from the Birthplace. These items are being digitized and cataloged as part of a project of the National Park Service Manhattan Sites and National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy, funded by the Leon Levy Foundation.
Image: Cover of the reprinted edition of the essay. From the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site