Working in the Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library, I love to get glimpses into the real Theodore Roosevelt, beyond the presidency and public eye. Whether reading letters where TR waxes poetic about the natural world to friends like John Burroughs and John Muir, or romantic notions written to his wife Edith, I feel privileged to dig into Roosevelt’s most private relationships. I came across a few letters recently that reminded me of ways in which TR was like fathers everywhere.
Roosevelt wrote often to his sister Anna, about everything from what he was reading to the politics of the day. Yet the communications I appreciate stumbling on the most are the detailed letters to his sister about his home life that provide insight into TR the father.
On January 31, 1897, Roosevelt wrote to Anna about a humorous recent outing to support son Kermit at a dance recital. Roosevelt describes the motley crew of fellow dancers at the school who “have all lost so many front teeth that it looks like a class of little ruminants, varied by the occasional narwhal.” He updates his sister that all three children are enjoying dance class, and that the family is settling in to their second winter in New York City. One could imagine a similar letter being written by most parents at some point.
In a letter to Kermit a few years later in November of 1903, Roosevelt writes, “Mother has gone off for nine days, and as usual I am acting as vice-mother.” It is odd to think of Roosevelt, deep into his first term as president and in the middle of negotiating towards the building of the Panama Canal, as a stay-at-home Dad while Mom was away. While the family likely had servants and nurses to care for the children, Roosevelt does list all of the activities he has been doing with Kermit’s siblings.
I am constantly impressed by TR’s time management skills. In addition to being one of the most productive presidents in history, he read numerous books per week, kept up regular correspondence with friends, and still found time for his children. While it is easy to find instances of Roosevelt being extraordinary, these insights into the everyday life of Roosevelt are fewer and farther between.