Bear Hunts in the White House

Jun 17, 2011

As part of their time with us, we ask our digital cataloging interns to write a blog post to share some of their experiences and “finds” while working in the Roosevelt collections. As they start to wrap up their internship hours, we will start to share their blog entries with you. This one is from Marie of Connecticut.

When I told people I would be working for the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University, I received a variety of responses. From my Cabela’s loving Dad I heard, “Ah, the hunting president.” From my history teacher brother-in-law came, “The trust buster.” From my friend in the military I heard, “Oh yeah, the Rough Rider.” And from my engineer (and history-phobic) husband, “You mean the guy Robin Williams played in that movie?”

It was quickly apparent that the name Theodore Roosevelt could take on any number of meanings to any number of people. From my experiences cataloging his letters the past few weeks, I discovered a side of Roosevelt that may not be as well known; at least it wasn’t to me. I’ve had the opportunity to read fifteen years worth of letters he sent to his second son Kermit and have come to know Theodore Roosevelt the father.

Reading some these letters was almost as good as a novel; I laughed out loud, I cried, I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next. Roosevelt loved to tell Kermit about the antics of his two younger brothers, Archie and Quentin. The best part was Roosevelt would often join in! Here is a quote from one of his letters to Kermit dated 17 January 1903:

Detail, Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Kermit Roosevelt, 17 Jan 1903. MS Am 1541 (46). Houghton Library. Harvard University.

Detail, Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Kermit Roosevelt, 17 Jan 1903. MS Am 1541 (46). 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 detail:

The night before the Diplomatic dinner, having about fifteen minutes to spare, I went into the nursery, where the two small persons [Archie and Quentin] in pink tommies instantly raced for the bed and threw themselves on it with ecstatic conviction that a romp was going to begin. I did not have the heart to disappoint them, and the result was that my shirt got so mussed that I had to change it.

How funny is that? Here he is, the President of the United States, with a room full of elegantly dressed diplomats awaiting his arrival, and he takes the time to wrestle with his sons. You can’t help but smile.

As much as Roosevelt loved to play with his children and tried his best to give them all he could, he also let them live their own lives and learn from their own mistakes. I recall a series of letters where it was apparent Kermit wanted to quit Groton School before his last year and be tutored at the White House instead. Roosevelt did not approve but he kept telling Kermit he would respect whatever decision he made. He’s the President, he could have said, “You’re my son, you’re staying and that is all.” But he never played that card. And in the end, Kermit ended up finishing that last year at Groton.

I still see the hunting, trust busting, bespectacled Rough Rider when I look at Theodore Roosevelt, but now it is tempered by the image of a man in a tuxedo playing bear hunt with two small boys.

Marie just graduated with her MLS from Southern Connecticut State University and currently volunteers in the archives at the Connecticut State Historical Society.

Posted by Marie Jarry on Jun 17, 2011 in History  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)  |  Share this post

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