It is finals week here at Dickinson State University, and students are working diligently on their final projects as well as studying for their final examinations. Over the last two weeks, students have flocked to the library (the building in which the Theodore Roosevelt Center is located) and may be found typing furiously at computers or hunched over textbooks at study carrels. Stoxen Library often extends its hours during this time, but students seem perfectly willing to live in the building if that were to be allowed.
Similarly, Theodore Roosevelt spent quite a bit of time studying for his exams during his time at college during the late 1870s. Roosevelt’s letters home from the end of his terms at Harvard often mention his hard work for classes. One letter to his sister Anna, dated 1879, details his feelings about his examinations:
“I got through my semiannuals pretty well, doing very well indeed in my Natural History. I did poorest in my German, for the course is so stupid that it is very ‘irksome’ to study it. My average for the semiannuals was rather over 85 percent.”
Detail. Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Anna Roosevelt, March 23, 1879, MS Am 1834 (161). Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University. Electronic copy sponsored by the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University. For reproduction or publication permission, contact the Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Houghton Library.
Perhaps to someone who had studied German in Germany as a young boy this class was rather frustrating. Natural History, on the other hand, appears to be a class that TR enjoyed taking. Some of his written examinations from Natural History 1 and Natural History 3 have survived, and these items reflect that Roosevelt was not exaggerating when he told Anna he did “very well indeed.” One item from 1879 appears to have been awarded a 96 percent; no wonder he was pleased.
In another letter, TR confided to his sister Corinne that he was “now having examinations all the time,” and was “so occupied in studying up for them” that he had very little time for himself. This sentiment could be echoed by many of the current students at DSU, suggesting that higher education has not changed all that much.