Christmas at the White House

Dec 21, 2011

Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to James Abram Garfield

Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to James Abram Garfield, December 26, 1902. From the Library of Congress, Manuscripts division.

In December 1902, the Roosevelt family celebrated their second holiday season in the White House. The day’s events were chronicled by President Roosevelt in a letter to James Abram Garfield. Garfield was the young son of James Rudolph Garfield, a friend and advisor of President Roosevelt, and grandson of President Garfield. James was around the same age as President Roosevelt’s son Archie and it is clear from the letter that he was friends with both Archie and Quentin.

President Roosevelt, Mrs. Roosevelt, their six children, and at least three pets (Jack the dog, Tom Quartz the kitten, and Algonquin the pony) exchanged gifts on Christmas morning. Quentin received an electric railroad and Archie a small rifle and a pair of riding boots. The day took an unexpected turn when Archie revealed a Christmas tree hidden in a large closet. 

Lunch was at the home of President Roosevelt’s sister, Anna Roosevelt Cowles, and in the evening everyone returned to the White House for dinner and dancing with the family of Senator Lodge. Of course a Roosevelt Christmas would not be complete without a dash of the strenuous life. President Roosevelt, his son Ted, General Leonard Wood, and Rough Rider veteran Bob Ferguson also went on a three hour horse ride and engaged in a bout of singlestick that left President Roosevelt with “a bump over one eye and a swollen wrist.”

Transcription of letter:

December 26, 1902


            Among all the presents I got I don’t think there was one I appreciated more than yours; for I was brought up to admire and respect your grandfather and I have a very great fondness and esteem for your father. It always seems to me as if you children were being brought up the way that mine are! Yesterday Archie got among his presents a small rifle from me and a pair of riding boots from his mother. He won’t be able to use the rifle until next summer, but he has gone off very happy in the riding boots for a ride on the calico pony Algonquin, the one you rode the other day. Yesterday morning at a quarter of seven all the children were up and dressed and began to hammer at the door of their mother’s and my room, in which their six stockings, all bulging out with queer angles and rotundities, were hanging from the fireplace. So their mother and I got up, shut the window, lit the fire (taking down the stockings of course), put on our wrappers and prepared to admit the children. But first there was a surprise for me, also for their good mother, for Archie had a little birthday tree of his own which he had rigged up with the help of one of the carpenters in a big closet; and we all had to look at the tree and each of us got a present off of it. There was also one present each for Jack the dog, Tom Quartz the kitten, and Algonquin the pony, whom Archie would no more think of neglecting that I would neglect his brothers and sisters. Then all the children came into our bed and there they opened their stockings. Afterwards we got ready and took breakfast, and then all went into the library where each child had a table set for his bigger presents. Quentin had a perfectly delightful electric railroad which had been rigged up for him by one of his friends, the White House electrician, who has been very good to all the children. Then Ted and I with General Wood and Mr. Bob Ferguson, who was a lieutenant in my regiment, went for a three hours’ ride; and all of us, including all the children, took lunch at the house with the childrens’ aunt, Mrs. Captain Cowles – Archie and Quentin having their lunch at a little table with their cousin Sheffield. Late in the afternoon I played at single stick with General Wood and Mr. Ferguson. I am going to get your father to come on and try it soon. We have to try to hit as light as possible, but sometimes we hit hard, and to-day I have a bump over one eye and a swollen wrist. Then all our family and kinsfolk and Senator and Mrs. Lodge’s family and kinsfolk had our Christmas dinner at the White House, and afterwards danced in the East Room, closing up with a Virginia reel.

            Give my love to your father and mother.

Faithfully yours,

Theodore Roosevelt


Master James Abram Garfield

1744 P Street, N.W.,

Washington, D.C.

Posted by Grant Carlson on Dec 21, 2011 in History  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)  |  Share this post

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