On this date in 1878, Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. died of a gastrointestinal tumor that had been a burden on him for months. He kept the extent of his illness from his nineteen-year-old son Theodore who was away at Harvard, but in the end, Theodore was told and rushed home from Cambridge, only to miss his father’s passing by a few hours. It was a loss that would impact Theodore profoundly as he continued to develop into a young man.
In letters to his sister Bamie following their father’s death, Theodore writes how much he wishes to make his father and family proud and how he will count on his older sister to guide him now that their father has passed. The letter I wanted to share with you particularly resonated with me. Theodore notes how his studies allow him to keep busy and not dwell on the loss as much as his mother and sisters can in New York but how he still understands their pain and wishes he could be with them to try to help.
Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Anna Roosevelt Cowles, March 17, 1878. MS Am 1834 (142), 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.
Transcription of letter:
16 Winthrop St
Mar 17th /78
I so long to be with you, my own precious sister, to try to comfort you; I know only too well the dull, heavy pain you suffer, and I know too that it is even harder for you than for the rest of us. It has been easier for me to bear, than for the rest of you, for here I live in a different world, and a world where I am occupied busily all the time. There is much I wish to talk to you about, dearest, for now that Father is gone you will have to advise me in many things. Oh, what lovely memories he has left behind! Sometimes it seems as though it can not be possible he has passed away; and indeed out of our lives he never will pass.
Mr. Fred Elliot’s brother has asked me to dinner and I suppose I shall have to go, but it will be very disagreeable.
Goodbye, my own sweet sister,
Your Loving Brother