Sometimes, the Small Things are More Interesting

Aug 02, 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. This one is from Ali in New York.

During my internship at the Theodore Roosevelt Center, I have been cataloging letters sent to President Theodore Roosevelt, dated from late August to mid-September of 1905. This was an important time in American history. President Roosevelt was instrumental in bringing about a peaceful conclusion to the Russo-Japanese War. I read countless letters congratulating him on his diplomatic success and thanking him for his help in ending such a bloody war. Meanwhile, President Roosevelt was receiving daily updates on a boycott of American goods in China and riots in Tokyo. Reading the hundreds of letters he received in a month, I was able to get a glimpse of history through the eyes of the people making it. Among all of the letters marking important moments in history were letters marking small, but equally important, events. I loved finding these letters while working through my assignment. They gave me a glimpse into the lives of the people, rather than the political events of the day.

My favorite find was a letter written by William Sowden Sims. It was a confidential letter, meant for President Roosevelt. Sims was a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy, so I was expecting another serious letter. Instead, I found a short letter announcing Sims’ engagement to Miss Anne Hitchcock. Sims was writing to President Roosevelt to share his happy news and thank the President for introducing him to Miss Hitchcock. He told Roosevelt the engagement hadn’t been announced yet but he wanted President Roosevelt to be one of the first to know about his “great happiness.” This letter allowed me to see President Roosevelt as more than the President of the United States. He was also a man who wanted his friends to be happy.

Letter from William S. Sims to Theodore Roosevelt, September 1, 1905.

Letter from William S. Sims to Theodore Roosevelt, September 1, 1905. From the Library of Congress Manuscripts division.

Transcript of Letter:
Washington, D.C.
September 1, 1905

My dear Sir: –

I feel sure that you will be interested to hear that a most charming and altogether admirable young lady of your acquaintance, Miss Anne Hitchcock, daughter of Secretary and Mrs. Hitchcock, has done me the great honor of promising to marry me.

The engagement is not to be announced for some time, and I therefore beg that it be held as confidential for the present.

Miss Hitchcock will of course inform Mrs Roosevelt.

We expect to be married in the early part of the winter.

Miss Hitchcock understands a great deal about the subject of naval marksmanship, and takes such an intelligent interest therein, that I am persuaded that she will not permit this great happiness that has come into my life to distract attention from my work.

I am, Sir, Very sincerely yours,
Wm. S. Sims
Lieut. Comdr, U. S. A.

Another favorite was a letter addressed to President Roosevelt from his Groton School headmaster, Endicott Peabody. Reverend Peabody wrote to Roosevelt to discuss “the teaching of Foot-ball at the Universities.” Peabody believed coaches at Harvard University, Yale University, and Princeton University were teaching their players to play dishonestly. He wanted President Roosevelt to meet with these coaches and talk to them about fair practice. Peabody recognized how busy Roosevelt was likely to be, but insisted that he was the only one capable of persuading the coaches to “undertake to teach men to play Foot-ball honestly.” This letter is a perfect example of the important role President Roosevelt played in people’s lives. Reverend Peabody knew he could come to President Roosevelt with his problems and they would be heard.

Detail, Letter from Endicott Peabody to Theodore Roosevelt, September 16, 1905.

Detail, Letter from Endicott Peabody to Theodore Roosevelt, September 16, 1905. From the Library of Congress Manuscripts division

Not all of the letters received by President Roosevelt were as pleasant, however. In September of 1905, President Roosevelt received a piece of hate mail. The letter, written in block print by a man named Eugene Elter, says President Roosevelt is “the biggest hot air blower in this nation,” and accuses President Roosevelt of being a thief. The letter is short and basically non-threatening, but it was investigated by the Secret Service. Their report was among the letters I had to catalog and I loved having the opportunity to see how threats made toward the President were handled in the early twentieth century. The Secret Service agents investigating the letter found that it was a case of blackmail. Eugene Elter had received similar threatening letters, which his mother shared with the Secret Service, and the matter was dismissed.

Overall, this internship has been a great experience. I’ve had the chance to learn about historical events from the people who were experiencing them, which is a rare opportunity. More than that, though, I was able to learn about Theodore Roosevelt as a man, rather than as president. I learned that his friends trusted him, confided in him, and respected him. They truly valued his opinion, even though not everyone was a fan. After spending time reading the hundreds of letters he received in a month, it is clear to me why President Roosevelt was such an influential political figure. I have truly enjoyed getting to know a different side of President Roosevelt and hope that future users find the experience as rewarding as I have.

Ali is completing her MLS in Archives Management at Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science. She is currently an intern at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library.

Posted by Alissa Caron on Aug 02, 2011 in History  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)  |  Share this post

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