We get excellent and challenging reference questions at the TR Center every week. However, sometimes we get a query that takes us in a fascinating research direction. Last week we got the following question: What instances has your staff uncovered where TR signed or referred to himself as “Teddy?”
What our research showed is that how TR signed his name changed over time and based on the person he was addressing, reflecting his sense of identity and relationship with his correspondents.
We reviewed nearly 300 letters, dated between 1867 and 1885. The earliest items were signed formally, “Theodore Roosevelt,” probably showing the influence of the tutor or other adult teaching him how to write a letter. In 1871 the family nickname Tedie (variously spelled “T.D.” or “Teedie”) appears. In a November 1872 letter to Hilborne West, Roosevelt humorously appropriates a bit of the ancient history he’s been viewing while traveling throughout Europe. He starts his missive with the greeting “From Theodore the Philosopher to Hilborne, elder of the church of Philadelphia. Dated from Paris, a city of Gaul in the sixteenth day of the eleventh month of the fourth year of the reign of Ulysses.” In the pattern of ancient writings, this letter does not include a signature.
By 1875 the predominant signature becomes “Thee Jr.,” and in 1878, on the death of his father, “Jr.” is dropped. “Thee” is used in more than 100 letters, mostly to family, including Roosevelt’s first wife Alice Lee.
So how rare is the “Teddy” signature? It appears just 12 times among the set of letters we examined. Seven of these were addressed to his sister Corinne, including the last one dated July 1, 1883.
Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Corinne Roosevelt Robinson, July 1, 1883. Theodore Roosevelt Collection, 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.