Kermit Roosevelt

Nov 03, 2014

During our recent annual symposium, World War I and Theodore Roosevelt, humanities scholar Clay Jenkinson spoke about Kermit Roosevelt. Here, Clay introduces a new resource on Kermit that has just become available.

Kermit Roosevelt

Kermit Roosevelt (1889-1943) is one of the most fascinating of Roosevelt's children. He had the great good fortune to accompany his father on two of his greatest adventures: the safari in East Africa in 1909-10; and the nearly-disastrous exploration of the River of Doubt in 1914. Like his brothers he was educated at Groton and then Harvard, where he sped through his studies in two and a half years after returning from Africa.

Kermit embodied many of the strengths of his famous father, as well as some of the Roosevelt family demons. He had a lifelong wanderlust that was probably seeded on those two great journeys of his adolescence. He read incessantly, and at times with a greater literary appreciation than his father. It was Kermit who brought the penniless but talented Edwin Arlington Robinson to his father's attention, an act of literary patronage that may have saved Robinson's life. Kermit was a talented writer who did not share his father's need to be the center of attention in his books. He had an amazing capacity with language. He knew Swahili, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Latin, Farsi, Arabic, and Hindustani.

Kermit was a brilliant and erratic adventurer, who lived a romantic and strenuous life on many continents. It's as if he got so great a dose of that aspect of his father's oversized personality that he could never balance it with the habits and arts of sustainability. Kermit was his mother Edith's favorite. She called him the one with the white head and the black heart. She had a very special sympathy for Kermit's brooding personality.

Kermit was also subject to periods of black care. Unlike his hectic and strenuous father, but like his late uncle Elliott, Kermit turned to drink in his periods of melancholia. By the end of his life he was a wreck, and his distant cousin Franklin Roosevelt posted him to an army base in faraway Alaska to make sure he did not embarrass his family or the Roosevelt administration. Kermit committed suicide on June 4, 1943.

No adequate biography of Kermit Roosevelt yet exists. The extraordinary Lewis L. Gould, author of Edith Kermit Roosevelt: Creating the Modern First Lady, The Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, and The Republicans: A History of the Grand Old Party, among others, has been doing scholarly work on Kermit. In the course of his recent work, Professor Gould has prepared a bibliography of Kermit's writings, and he has generously made it available for inclusion on our website: We feel greatly honored to be able to share it with students of the Roosevelts.

Both Professor Gould and the staff of the Theodore Roosevelt Center welcome corrections or additions to the bibliography. Please submit these to [email protected].

Posted by Clay Jenkinson on Nov 03, 2014 in History  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)  |  Share this post

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