Mr. Roosevelt, the Comedian

Jul 05, 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. Today, Angela from Georgia chimes in about Roosevelt and his sense of humor.

During my time as an intern at the Theodore Roosevelt Center, one of the collections I cataloged contained over 200 letters written by Theodore Roosevelt to his younger sister, Corinne Roosevelt Robinson. The letters span from 1876, when Roosevelt was only eighteen and a new student at Harvard, to his very last letter to Corinne written in 1918 on his sixtieth birthday. In school everyone learns about Theodore Roosevelt the Trust Buster and Theodore Roosevelt the Rough Rider, but the opportunity to catalog Roosevelt’s personal correspondence provided a glimpse into what he was like as a student, a brother, and a family man.

One of my favorite discoveries about Roosevelt, aside from all his amazing feats and accomplishments, was that he was truly a funny guy. Shortly before I began my internship, I saw an interview with Roosevelt biographer Edmund Morris. In the interview Morris maintains that Roosevelt was one of the funniest presidents– a characteristic I was not aware of. Throughout my internship I was delighted to find out that Morris’ assessment of Roosevelt is correct! Roosevelt’s personal letters to his sister are sprinkled with his humor.

One letter, written on January 7, 1877 when Roosevelt was only nineteen years old, struck me as particularly witty and had me smiling for the rest of the day. In the letter Roosevelt writes to Corinne, who he affectionately calls “Pussie”, on his journey back to Harvard after spending winter break with his family. He humorously describes to his sister how he coped with the sadness of leaving his family and the unpleasant train ride:

16 Winthrop St.

Darling Pussie,

I delivered your two notes safely. Doctor said he would see about the seal being sent on.

I had a very pleasant journey on in the cars, and to drown my grief at parting from you all took refuge, not in the flowing bowl, but in the Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s Magazine (not to mention squab sandwiches). A journey in the cars always renders me sufficiently degraded to enjoy even the love stories in the latter. I think that if I was forced to travel across the continent, towards the end of my journey I should read dime novels with avidity.

Goodbye, darling.
Your loving

Drawing, Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Corinne Roosevelt, January 7, 1877. MS Am 1540 (14). Houghton Library. Harvard University.

Drawing, Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Corinne Roosevelt, January 7, 1877. MS Am 1540 (14). 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.

I love the image that this letter conjures up in my head– I picture a young Theodore Roosevelt, not yet bespectacled or mustachioed (though he did sport some serious mutton chops while at Harvard), riding on the train eating squab sandwiches and amusing himself by making funny little drawings for his sister.

Along with his sense of humor, Roosevelt’s love of reading and books (and squab sandwiches) shine through in this letter. Even at a young age, Corinne must have taken note of her older brother’s need to be surrounded by good books. Thanks to her, when Roosevelt went on safari in Africa in 1909, he never had to resort to reading dime novels or love stories. Before he left, Corinne gave him the now famous Pigskin Library as a gift. The library contained over eighty of Roosevelt’s favorite books bound in pigskin to withstand the safari and harsh climate, which traveled with him throughout East Africa.

Roosevelt’s letters to his little sister, which span forty two years, not only allow us to gain some understanding of who Theodore Roosevelt was in his personal life, but also allows the reader to watch him evolve and grow from a young college student to a father to a seasoned politician. Throughout those forty two years, his sense of humor persisted.

Angela recently completed her MLS and a MA in History from Indiana University.

Posted by Angela Kilsdonk on Jul 05, 2011 in History  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)  |  Share this post

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