It's that time of year again! Every summer interns from around the country join us in our work on the TR Digital Library. We often ask them to share their experiences in the blog. Jared Ward used StoryMap to create a digital narrative of TR's speeches in the spring and summer of 1903. It was a strenuous schedule.
I started work for the Theodore Roosevelt Center aware of the enduring images that characterize Roosevelt the man: African safaris, big game hunting, colorful speeches and amateur pugilism, amongst others. He preached and pursued the “Strenuous Life,” brimming with masculinity and vigor. His position of esteem and privilege in the White House did little to extinguish that lifestyle, as I quickly realized after putting together a StoryMap of his 1903 speeches. StoryMap is a free tool used to tell stories on the web by highlighting a series of events. As I dug into the digital archive’s collection of speeches from the summer of 1903, I was immediately struck by the sheer volume and exhausting itinerary embarked on by Roosevelt.
Between April 1 through May 31, Roosevelt stumped nearly 200 towns and cities throughout the nation, stopping to talk about everything from agriculture to politics and things in between. He spoke from hotel balconies, train stations, capitol building steps, and schools. He led an opening ceremony at the University of Chicago School of Law, spoke at an opera house in Iowa and visited more familiar settings for Roosevelt like Yellowstone National Park. He traveled over 8,000 miles in a world before private presidential jets. In two months' time he traveled at a clip of over 100 miles a day via rail and automobile, giving nearly four speeches a day.
Plotting Roosevelt’s stops in that busy 1903 summer shows the exhausting demands of his itinerary but also offers a window into the political acumen of Roosevelt, who weaved together local, national, and international issues. On April 2 of that year he used the venue of the University of Chicago to emphasize the importance of universities in shaping morality and character so vital to American citizenship. Later that same day, still in Chicago, he spoke to a visiting crowd about foreign policy in the Western Hemisphere and the developments of the Panama Canal and Venezuela. Roosevelt’s speeches showed his ability to connect with his audience. While in Waukesha, Wisconsin, he drew links from his past and his surroundings. He commented on his interactions with the son of Wisconsin’s governor’s at a state fair, recalling the cattle business he knew in an earlier life, a subtle nod to Wisconsin’s concerns. He commends the virtuous citizens created by Wisconsin while masterfully segueing into the expanded role of America and its citizens in the “large international life of the world as a whole.” In the span of a few lines, the cattle-raising citizens of Wisconsin were called on to be imperial citizens and important cogs in Roosevelt’s conception of international relations. Whether he was in the wilderness of Montana or urban hubs like San Francisco, Roosevelt was able to connect local populations to wider political ideas.
In many ways the dots on Roosevelt’s StoryMap put the many hats he wore on full display; a man who would famously later characterize his fitness to a Bull Moose, an embodiment of early twentieth-century masculine ideals and an astute politician. Clicking through every speech may cause one’s fingers to fatigue and eyes to strain. But following TR’s travels virtually offers a small insight into the vitality and energy that embody Roosevelt.
Please click here to view the map.
Jared Ward is a PhD candidate at the University of Akron in the department of history. His research focuses on Chinese foreign policy during the Cold War, and he is currently working on his dissertation.