Free Shipping on Orders of $40 or More
The Strenuous Life: Theodore Roosevelt and the Making of the American Athlete

The Strenuous Life: Theodore Roosevelt and the Making of the American Athlete

by Ryan Swanson
The Strenuous Life: Theodore Roosevelt and the Making of the American Athlete

The Strenuous Life: Theodore Roosevelt and the Making of the American Athlete

by Ryan Swanson


(Not eligible for purchase using B&N Audiobooks Subscription credits)
$24.99 $27.99 Save 11% Current price is $24.99, Original price is $27.99. You Save 11%.
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for delivery by Monday, October 3


Featuring an amazing cast of historical figures, this is the story of how President Theodore Roosevelt led an American sports and fitness revolution.

Give up exercise, Theodore Roosevelt was told by a doctor while attending Harvard, or you might die of a heart attack! This after being plagued by crippling asthma, myopic eyesight, and other ailments as a child. Roosevelt's body was his weakness, the one hill he could never conquer.

But, oh, how he tried!

In vivid detail, The Strenuous Life shows how Roosevelt developed an obsession with athletics, carried it to the nation's highest office, and championed a new age of American athleticism. As President, Roosevelt boxed, practiced Ju-Jitsu, played tennis, conducted harrowing "point-to-point" walks, and invited athletes to the White House. He also made certain that each of his children played sports. Not surprisingly, Roosevelt's personal quest had broad reverberations. During his administration, America saw an unprecedented rise in sports and recreational activities. With Roosevelt in office, baseball's first ever World Series took place, interscholastic sports began, and schools placed a legitimate emphasis on physical education. Additionally, the NCAA formed, and the United States hosted the Olympics for the first time.

Yes, the "Bull Moose," as he'd come to be known, resided squarely in the midst of this upheaval. Filled with amazing anecdotes, a who's who of American political and sports figures from the early 20th century, and Rooseveltian gusto and humor, this book is the play-by-play and color commentary on Roosevelt's "Strenuous Life."

Related collections and offers

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781635766127
Publisher: Diversion Books
Publication date: 08/20/2019
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 1,086,036
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Ryan Swanson is an Associate Professor of history at the University of New Mexico's Honors College. He earned his Ph.D. in history from Georgetown in 2008 and has been studying and researching Theodore Roosevelt and his role in athletics in the United States for the past ten years. He is the author of When Baseball Went White: Reconstruction, Reconciliation, and Dreams of a National Pastime, which won the 2015 Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) research award, and co-editor of Separate Games: African American Sport Behind the Walls of Segregation, which received a North American Society for Sport History (NASSH) book prize in 2017. Swanson has also published a wide variety of articles and book chapters on the role of athletics in the United States.

Read an Excerpt



In life, as in a football game, the principle to follow is: Hit the line hard: don't foul and don't shirk, but hit the line hard.

— Theodore Roosevelt

Forget pageantry or decorum, the real question was this: Was it even safe for the president of the United States to attend the Army–Navy football game? Sure, some Philadelphians worried about making their city look good when Theodore Roosevelt arrived. Others argued over where Roosevelt would sit ("It required a conference of the Cabinet yesterday to decide the matter."). Still others, including Mayor Sam Ashbridge, jockeyed to get some face time with Roosevelt. But given the state of the nation in 1901, the logistics of getting the president in and out of Franklin Field safely had to trump everything else.

The task of coordinating the security detail fell to Philadelphia Police Superintendent Harry M. Quirk. It was an unenviable position. Already Quirk was hanging by a thread; speculation regarding his removal from command of the police department had been splashed across the pages of the city's Inquirer and Times in the weeks leading up to the big game. To add to the chaos, a smallpox outbreak forced Quirk to quarantine one of his Philadelphia police stations. There were also reports that game tickets sent to dignitaries had been stolen from the mail and were "being sold promiscuously" by scalpers. Now the commander in chief, accompanied by the "heavy guns" of the cabinet, was rolling into town. And strangely, the White House had neglected to inform Quirk of exactly when and where the president of the United States would arrive in his city. "Guards were kept guessing," the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Quirk became a battlefront general, deploying his men based on some combination of intel and intuition. He supposed that Roosevelt would arrive in his city for the November 30 Army–Navy football game at the South Street Station, this despite rumors suggesting that the presidential party would disembark at the city's towering Broad Street Station. But that was all Quirk had — a guess. Reporters watched the uncertainty manifest itself: "Consultation after consultation was held between the police, Secret Service men and railroad officials." Given the anarchy that had erupted during the previous months in the United States, most significantly the assassination of President William McKinley a mere seventy-eight days earlier, this lack of specificity and security protocol seemed like a critical mistake.

Kickoff was scheduled for 2:00 p.m. Presumably, the president would arrive sometime before then. Of course, if TR and his entourage lagged a bit behind schedule, if the president decided to, say, stop in Wilmington, Delaware, to survey the country's busiest shipbuilding yard (Roosevelt was "a die-hard navalist" after all), then the kickoff would be pushed back. Hedging his bets, Superintendent Quirk set up command at the South Street Station at noon. He also sent men to secure the station at Thirty-Seventh Street, and another squad sprinted off to the Spruce Street terminal — just in case. The US Secret Service, which still lacked official congressional approval to guard the president, provided scattered support. The whole city of Philadelphia waited in a state of high alert, anxious to receive the president somewhere and sometime. "Never in modern times," the Philadelphia Inquirer reported diplomatically, "did a President travel to an official event more unostentatiously."

Fortunately, Quirk guessed right. President Roosevelt, not yet three months into his stint in the White House, arrived — aboard the personal Pullman car of the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad — at 1:02 p.m. The conductor held the three-car train just short of Philadelphia's South Street Station as Quirk's men canvassed the area one last time. Then the train, which "bore no outward distinctive marks," pulled in. Family and friends filled TR's car. Most importantly, wife Edith, daughter Ethel, and son Kermit had also made the trip. So too had Roosevelt's sister and brother-in-law. For a voracious socializer like Roosevelt, such confined closeness during the three-hour trip was invigorating.

The train stopped. Porters served a quick lunch. Eating done, Roosevelt flipped "two shining half eagles" to the conductor and engineer, tipping them for providing safe passage. Out of the train spilled one important person after another: Secretary of War Elihu Root, Secretary of the Navy John Long, Postmaster General Charles Smith, and Attorney General Philander Knox. Most were accompanied by their wives. Roosevelt got off last. Then the race to the field commenced.

The Middies and the Cadets were going to war (at least the gridiron sort of war), and Roosevelt could hardly wait. Just a week prior, Roosevelt's avalanche of work kept him from traveling north to witness his alma mater, Harvard University, win a "smashing triumph" over Yale. Roosevelt was a football parent, a football evangelist, and a football fan all at the same time; he did not plan to miss any of this Army–Navy contest.

Pushing off so suddenly that he caused an "audible gasp" from his onlookers, Roosevelt bolted from the car stoop and set out for the stadium.

This was typical Roosevelt. While Roosevelt preached many, many doctrines over the course of his political career, he returned to a simple but transformative focus time and time again: action. To an undoubtedly overwhelmed advisee Roosevelt had once offered, "Get action, do things; be sane, don't fritter away your time; create, act, take a place wherever you are and be somebody: get action." Roosevelt had, well, a sense of urgency about him. "We will walk," Roosevelt said, already jog-walking. He dismissed the nearby carriages; such conveniences were for the women and children. Dressed in a gray overcoat, striped trousers, a low collar shirt, a "black four-in-hand necktie," and a dark silk hat, TR strode forward at a disruptive clip. How could the president be protected if he refused to wait for his security detail? Fortunately, there wasn't far to go; the South Street Station nearly butted up against the party's destination, Franklin Field. The venue sat on the outskirts of the University of Pennsylvania's campus.

Security was everywhere. Precautions mandated closures and barricades in all directions. Trains were stopped miles down the tracks. Philadelphia police cut off traffic to the station, roped off a nearby pedestrian bridge, and formed "two solid lines of Quaker blue coats" to provide the presidential entourage unimpeded access to the stadium.

Luckily, the weather had cooperated for the president's visit. The city had received its first snowfall of the year the day before, but the precipitation had dried up. It was the type of day that makes football fans feel emboldened and vigorous, even as they do nothing but sit and watch. It's exercising by osmosis, and this Saturday was a perfect day for it. The sun shone brightly. "There was just enough frost in the air to keep the blood tingling," the Philadelphia Times reported. Blankets and wraps were deployed. Flags and streamers rolled and flapped in the breeze. A perfect day for football.

Probably the only one sad about the whole situation was young Kermit, TR's second-oldest son. The twelve-year-old made the trip to Philadelphia, but then for vague security reasons had been left to wait out the game aboard the train.

There was a pervasive skittishness hanging over the country. What tragedy might happen next? Anarchists had assassinated Empress Elisabeth of Austria in 1898 and King Umberto of Italy in 1900. An election dispute led to the murder of Kentucky Governor William Goebel on January 30, 1900. Then on September 6, 1901, Leon Czolgosz, a terrorist bent on defending "the good working people" of America, had shot William McKinley twice at point-blank range as the president glad-handed his way through a receiving line at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. After a ghastly week-long struggle, President McKinley died from infection on September 14, 1901. Thus the United States, for the third time in fifty years (the third time in some Americans' lives!), lost a president to assassination. Within weeks, Congress was debating fourteen separate bills meant to secure protection for the president.

As McKinley's vice president, Roosevelt took over the presidency. "Oh God. Now that damned cowboy is President of the United States," New York Senator Thomas Platt (like Roosevelt, a member of the Republican Party) famously unloaded upon hearing of McKinley's death and Roosevelt's promotion.

The Philadelphia that Roosevelt visited for the first time as president was a city being jabbed and poked by grimy, lucrative industrial growth. The nation's third-largest city, Philadelphia neither had the high commerce of New York, the self-important philosophical bent of Boston, nor the political power of Washington, DC. But Philadelphia was just what it was: a sprawling nexus point for coal and steel, and a city dominated by its railroad junctions and streetcar networks. Philadelphia's workers put in far more than eight hours a day and then made their homes in racially clustered neighborhoods. At the turn of the century, Irish immigrants made up about a third of the city's 1.3 million residents. African Americans, just beginning to move to northern cities in large numbers as a part of the Great Migration, were increasingly taking up residence in the City of Brotherly Love as well.

The nation's newspapers, from coast to coast, blared the news of the president of the United States attending a football game across their front pages. "For the first time in the history of American athletics," the Baltimore Sun reported, "the White House was deserted because of a football game." McKinley had never made such a vigorous outing. He preferred to spend his leisure time sitting in a rocker, smoking cigars, playing cards.

Philadelphia's two leading papers, the Times and Inquirer, devoted more than a dozen pages, all of it aggressively optimistic, to the presidential visit. "The foremost spectator of the fray was the Commander in Chief of the army and the navy, President Theodore Roosevelt, and with him were the most distinguished men of the nation." Then the waxing began. "In the background was massed the beauty, the fashion and the wealth of the great Eastern cities. Under the rays of the November sun the flash of color was dazzling."

Franklin Field sported four very large but simple sections of bleachers. Wood, not cement, carried the day here. The seating along the sidelines went up twenty-five rows. The end zone bleachers were slightly shorter. No press boxes, no seatbacks, not even any handrails softened the venue; it was a sit-and-be-glad-you're-not-standing situation. Two H-style goal posts bookended the field of play. High fences guarded the facility, partitioning off the athletic space from the streets and urbanity that surrounded it. And the Philadelphia vista in the background was one of smoke, chemicals, and steel. The fan sitting in an upper row seat could gaze upon at least a dozen smokestacks spewing forth exhaust. Machinery, chutes, factories, refuse piles — these were Franklin Field's neighbors.

Dozens of people, most concerned with security, scrambled to be a part of the presidential cluster as it careened toward the stadium. Philadelphia detectives Murray, McKenty, Gallagher, and Sell, disguised (half-heartedly) with ushers' badges, formed a ring around the president. The military academy leaders — Colonel Albert Leopold Mills of West Point and Commander Richard Wainwright of the Naval Academy — took up the James and John positions at the immediate right and left of TR. Both had served heroically during the Spanish-American War. The secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Interior and the postmaster general jogged to keep up. University of Pennsylvania Provost Charles Harrison, a prodigious fundraiser who was remaking Penn into an academic powerhouse, tagged along at the rear of the pack, barely keeping contact.

Roosevelt skipped up a few stairs and traversed a muddy embankment. Then, with lines of policemen holding back the swelling crowds, Roosevelt, trotting now, headed through Franklin Field's southeast gate.

Roosevelt's energy was palpable. Here was the man who would set a Guinness Record for shaking hands with 8,150 people in one day. Roosevelt regularly drank a gallon of coffee a day, using a coffee cup that was, according to his son Ted, "more in the nature of a bathtub." Certainly on this crisp Pennsylvania day, TR radiated positivity and action. He bounded, and pontificated, and gestured wildly — all at once, it seemed. His countrymen, having recently lost a president, pushed forward for a peek. Even the policemen, "stalwart fellows" as they were, resplendent in their "new brass buttons and white gloves" had a difficult time staying focused. They could not pull off anything close to a Buckingham Palace reserve. And what did Roosevelt leave in his wake? Smiles. "Philadelphia's finest, selected for the task, stood stately and silent" as long as they could. But once Roosevelt had passed, their decorum cracked. "As the President passed them each face broke into a smile, and remarks, such as: 'He's the real thing, is Teddy,' ran up and down the line."

The military bands knew their role, but they missed their cue because of the pace of the presidential party. One can hardly hoist a tuba without at least a few seconds of warning. The now rolling Roosevelt was well inside the gate, nearly on the field, before the military bands could strike up "Hail to the Chief." The instrumentalists scrambled to catch up. Roosevelt emerged onto the field. He strode a few yards forward and then paused at the east end goal post. Recognizing the significance of the moment, most of the security detail peeled off. And there Roosevelt stood alone for a few seconds — the former asthmatic invalid and barely competitive athlete — emerging onto an epic athletic scene.

The contemplation lasted just a couple of moments. Refocused, Roosevelt pushed off across the gridiron and then, at midfield, made an abrupt turn toward the Navy sidelines. The 25,000 fans roared. No one could hear anything but adulation. The "deafening cheer" voided the last strains of "Hail to the Chief."

Roosevelt reached the stands, ascended a few rows, and took his position in a reserved seating box. The police and Secret Service positioned themselves around the president in all directions. Roosevelt had his own impenetrable offensive line.

With Roosevelt and his accompanying dignitaries properly appreciated and seated, and with the temperature nearly at its high for the day, forty-four degrees, the game kicked off.

TR cheered both sides, favoring the rough tackle and hard hit above all else. Roosevelt was a boxer, after all. Physical contact satiated the president. Roosevelt unleashed a steady torrent of analysis and appreciation to those within earshot. He used all the football jargon of the day, plus some of his own making.

"Go it man!"

"It's a daisy tackle."

"Wasn't that tackle a sockdolager?"

Roosevelt, ever intent on being helpful and in charge, yelled instructions and chastised mistakes. He declared one player a "buster" and the next a "smasher."

The sheer enthusiasm of the president's display titillated the press within earshot. What kind of president was this? One Philadelphia Times reporter, who basically watched Roosevelt watching the game, simply declared Roosevelt "The Man." "More electric than [Daniel] Webster's singing and [John] Adams' digging was the honest enthusiasm of our young President. It was the emotional impulse of the lover of true sport," the paper said. Mrs. Roosevelt, Edith, looked on at her husband with bemusement. She knew this man. The two were approaching their fifteenth wedding anniversary and had been friends since childhood. She tried a few times to get her husband, the president of the United States after all, to keep it down. But she didn't try too hard; there was no quieting TR in such a space as this.

* * *

Early twentieth-century football was trench warfare, favoring defensive strategy and field position above all else. The game fit perfectly with an increasingly militarizing nation. Scoring was rare. The field was bigger, the ball rounder, and punting game much more important than in today's football. Banish any thoughts of a high arching Tom Brady spiral settling into Rob Gronkowski's tightly gloved hands forty yards down the field — that's twenty-first-century football. The early twentieth-century game featured barely moving masses of tangled humanity with a ball rattling around somewhere in the mix. The sport was melded to America's universities; no significant professional football teams emerged in the United States until the 1940s. The opening sequences of the 1901 Army–Navy game demonstrate this very different version of football.


Excerpted from "The Strenuous Life"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Ryan Swanson.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 Hit the Line Hard 11

2 The Strenuous (Like, Really Strenuous) Life 35

3 Harvard and Its Harvardness 51

4 The Tennis Cabinet 71

5 Creating the Roosevelt Athletic League 93

6 1904 118

7 Ted's Dangerous Football Adventure 141

8 "Walking" 171

9 Baseball's Great Roosevelt Chase 188

10 Legacy 211

11 Wait…Jack Johnson? 229

12 One Last Race 249

Epilogue 277

Acknowledgments 287

Endnotes 289

Index 321

About the Author 328

Customer Reviews