Summer intern Kyndal from Mississippi explores the relationship between Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge.
While much of the material I’ve dealt with as an intern has been administrative—Roosevelt’s secretary, for instance, thanking someone for a letter or apologizing for Roosevelt’s absence from a meeting—every now and then I came across an item that gave a glimpse into Roosevelt’s personal life and how it shaped and was shaped by his political life.
One such series of letters was between Roosevelt and his friend Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts. Lodge’s handwriting is difficult to read, but as a result I was forced to pay much more attention to his words while deciphering them than I might have done otherwise. I quickly realized that I was in over my head, as both men referred to occurrences and people in a way that was somewhat cryptic to an outsider. What I did know from the first letter was that the historian Henry Adams was preparing some sort of manuscript, and Roosevelt was writing a preface or introduction for the work. Where Lodge came in, and why he was so grateful to Roosevelt for participating in the project, was matter for further research.
Thanks to the wonders of the digital medium, the answers to my questions were surprisingly easy to find. As it turned out, these letters were written shortly after Lodge’s son George died unexpectedly at the age of thirty-five. George Cabot Lodge was a poet and a friend of Henry Adams, who undertook to publish his biography in 1911, the year of the letter exchange between Lodge and Roosevelt. It was not this manuscript but rather a volume of George’s collected works that Roosevelt wrote the introduction for.
Roosevelt and George were both veterans of the Spanish-American War and knew each other through the Lodge family’s political connections. Their friendship led George’s family to request that Roosevelt introduce George’s posthumously-published works. Lodge assured Roosevelt that “It is a very great happiness to us all to have you associated with Bay’s [George’s nickname] memory in this way. I know that you will be glad to do it. . . It is of his work as well as of him as a man that we want you to speak as no one else can do it.”
Letter from Henry Cabot Lodge to Theodore Roosevelt, February 11, 1911. From the Library of Congress Manuscripts Division.
While Roosevelt’s connection to Henry Cabot Lodge was largely political, their letters to each other reveal a respectful and warm friendship, and a shared grief at the loss of their respective friend and son. What seemed at first to be a business-like discussion of publication details instead proved to be a bittersweet picture of two men honoring the memory of a loved one.
After getting a B.A. in History and English Literature from the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Kyndal Owens completed a Master’s in Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (just graduated!). He hopes to find work in a historical venue such as a museum or archive.