Hermann Hagedorn (1882-1964) is remembered for his biographies of Theodore Roosevelt and his work to promote the legacy and ideals of Roosevelt through his long service to the Theodore Roosevelt Association. The son of German immigrants, Hagedorn was born in New York but grew up speaking German at home. He learned English at the series of private boarding schools he attended. Eschewing a business career, Hagedorn enrolled at Harvard. His interests had crystallized around journalism and writing, and while he was an undergraduate and a board member of the Harvard Advocate, he happened to meet Theodore Roosevelt, who stopped by the Advocate office. Hagedorn graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1907. The following year he married Dorothy Oakley and published his first book. From 1910 to 1911 he taught English at Harvard and then quit to devote himself to writing professionally.
Hagedorn’s friendship with Roosevelt did not begin until May of 1916, when he accompanied The Outlook magazine editor, Lawrence F. Abbott, to lunch at Sagamore Hill. Roosevelt supported Hagedorn in his efforts to found the Vigilantes, a group originally committed to promoting good citizenship, which later grew to nearly four hundred American writers intent upon inspiring patriotism through their books, journal articles, and newspaper columns during World War I. Hagedorn became an advisor to former President Roosevelt on the situation of German-Americans and served in a similar capacity for the federal Commissioner of Education in the Woodrow Wilson administration. Some of Hagedorn’s family members had returned to Germany, and their divided loyalties played a role in his disparagement of “hyphenated-Americans,” a topic of concern to Roosevelt as well since Germany was an enemy country during the war.
In 1916, Hagedorn became Roosevelt’s Boswell as he prepared to write The Boy’s Life of Theodore Roosevelt (1918) for Harper & Brothers at Roosevelt’s invitation. That was the first of eight books Hagedorn would write about Roosevelt, whom he greatly esteemed. Hagedorn traveled to North Dakota to interview Roosevelt’s western acquaintances, and wove their reminiscences together into a film in 1919 entitled “Through the Roosevelt Country with Roosevelt’s Friends.”
After Theodore Roosevelt’s death in 1919, Hagedorn became one of the founders of the Theodore Roosevelt Association. He served in several capacities, including executive director, until 1957. The following year, Hagedorn oversaw the Theodore Roosevelt Centennial observance. Hagedorn’s long literary career ended with his death in 1964.
Letter from Hermann Hagedorn to F. G. Sherrill regarding the 1958 Theodore Roosevelt Centennial Celebration planning.