Cambri Spear, a recent graduate of Utah State University, researched her Honors thesis at the New York Public Library and Columbia University. In the first of a two part blog series, she examines the relationship between Theodore Roosevelt and Stephen Crane.
It’s a little known fact that during his time as New York City police commissioner, Theodore Roosevelt became friends with novelist Stephen Crane, author of Red Badge of Courage and Maggie: A Girl of the Streets. The two were certainly an unlikely pair—the bohemian city-dweller who often lived among the “other half” and the moralistic, wild-west loving politician. The two met in late 1895 or early 1896 at the Lantern Club, a literary club, and possibly interacted at other literary clubs as well. In spite of their lifestyle differences, their shared love of literature somehow sparked a friendship, as Crane’s niece remembers the two would talk straight through the night. Roosevelt collected Crane’s works, including an inscribed copy of George’s Mother and Red Badge of Courage, and letters suggest they met to discuss Crane’s writing. Letters also document lunch and dinner appointments they had together.
As a friend, Roosevelt gave Crane exclusive access to observe the Jefferson Market Police Court for some newspaper articles he was writing, and he also agreed to be interviewed by Crane. In his typical fashion, Crane criticized the police department, discussing the “wretched mismanagement” and “brutality and unnecessary harshness” of the patrolmen. He also criticized the administration of the police department: “what we have gained in official honesty through administrative reforms is more than counter-balanced by the effects of official incapacity and inexperience.” Somehow these articles did not sever his friendship with Roosevelt, perhaps because he published them in a more obscure newspaper.
Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Edward Sanford Martin, October 26, 1896. 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.