Thanksgiving has been an annual holiday in the United States since 1863, when Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November to be a day dedicated to giving thanks. This letter written from Theodore Roosevelt to his son, Kermit, describes how the Roosevelts celebrated Thanksgiving in the White House. The letter is addressed to Groton School in Massachusetts, which suggests that Kermit was unable to come home for Thanksgiving in 1902.
Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Kermit Roosevelt, November 28, 1902. MS Am 1541 (43). 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.
In an era before Thanksgiving Day parades and televised football games, the Roosevelt family devised other methods of entertainment. TR states that all of the family went out riding, even telling Kermit which horse was ridden by each family member. Archie and Ethel went out "to the hunt," while the rest of the group enjoyed a "three-hour canter." The Roosevelts were joined by friends, such as Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge and Brigadier-General Leonard Wood.
The company grew to include the Lodges and "all their connections" for the evening meal, which was taken in the new State Dining Room. This dining room was included in a major renovation of the White House that was completed in 1902. After their meal, the tables were cleared to make room for dancing. Apparently, they danced the waltz as well as the Virginia reel. TR tells Kermit that "Mother" looked as "pretty as a picture," and that he had a "lovely" waltz with her.
Such elegant festivities on Thanksgiving Day were only slightly marred by the antics of the family pets. It seems that five-year-old Quentin put the family's kitten in the bathtub and proceeded to turn on the water. Although TR mentions that Quentin "didn't really mean any harm," one can only imagine the results of this escapade.