Theodore Roosevelt’s heart was as big as the great outdoors he loved. A sickly, undersized boy, he grew into a physically fit, energetic man whose courage knew no bounds. Roosevelt hailed from the top of American society, but wealth could not shield him from human tragedy. As leader of a young, vigorous nation, he steered a middle course between the power brokers of big business and the needs of ordinary working people. A keen student of nature, Roosevelt would protect millions of acres for posterity. He was a writer, ranchman, politician, soldier, explorer, family man, and America’s 26th president, the youngest person to ever hold the office.
Theodore Roosevelt for Kids brings to life this fascinating man, an American giant whose flaws were there for all the world to see. Twenty-one hands-on activities offer a useful glimpse at Roosevelt’s work and times. Readers will create a Native American toy, explore the effects of erosion, go on a modern big game hunt with a camera, and make felted teddy bears. The text includes a time line, online resources, and reading list for further study. And through it all, readers will appreciate how one man lived a “Bully!” life and made the word his very own.
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Theodore Roosevelt for Kids
His Life and Times, 21 Activities
By Kerrie Logan Hollihan
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 2010 Kerrie Logan Hollihan
All rights reserved.
IN THE dark hours of night in the mid-1860s, a gas lamp flared in an upstairs room. There, in bed, a small boy sat up gasping. Asthma had attacked him, and he could not breathe.
The little boy's father, a wealthy New Yorker, ordered servants to the livery stable nearby. The father scooped up his son, bundled him warmly, and carried him downstairs and outside. In moments, a carriage and horses appeared. The father got in and placed the little boy beside him. Taking the reins himself, the father flicked his whip and urged his horses into action.
The open carriage rumbled down the Manhattan streets through the fresh night air. Block after block they drove as the little boy wheezed, trying to catch his breath. Then more miles to travel, the horses clopping a steady, calming beat, until the little boy's gasps gave way to puffs and finally gulps as air filled his lungs.
Teedie Roosevelt could breathe.
Again, his father had come to his aid, as only a boy's father could. To Teedie, his father seemed like the strong-minded Great-Heart, whom he had read about in a book called Pilgrim's Progress.
Teedie's name was Theodore Roosevelt, just like his father's. Theodore Roosevelt Sr. was one of New York's leading citizens, the seventh Roosevelt to make his home on the island of Manhattan. The family had its roots in Holland, and its members pronounced their name in the same way the flower is pronounced. "Roosevelt" means "field of roses."
Teedie's mother, Martha Bulloch Roosevelt, came from a different background. Mittie, as her family knew her, hailed from the Deep South, a rural culture of large plantations and smaller farms. Like many farmers — rich or not — the Bulloch family depended on their African American slaves to grow their crops and work in their homes.
Teedie's parents married in 1853, and his mother became mistress of their New York brownstone home. In less than a year, their first child arrived. They named her Anna but called her Bamie (rhyming with Tammy).
Then, on October 27, 1858, their first son was born. Soon the little boy had his pet name: Teedie. The house at 28 East Twentieth Street filled quickly with more children — Elliott (called Ellie) in 1860 and Corinne (Conie) in 1861.
As a small child, Teedie heard grownups talk about the Civil War and its furious battles between North and South. Teedie was three when the war began in 1861. By the time it ended in 1865, he was six and a half and firmly for the Union, like his father. In the Roosevelt home, however, there was little war talk. Mittie's mother and sister lived with the Roosevelts. The three Southern ladies fretted about Mittie's two brothers, who fought in the Confederate States Navy.
There could have been arguments about the war in the Roosevelt home, but there were none. Teedie's father, out of respect for Mittie's family, hired a substitute to fight for him in the Union Army. Such payments were common among elite families in the North during the Civil War. America's very wealthy families did not take part in politics. The dirty wrangling of political life, they felt, was below them. Nor did they fight in battle.
Nonetheless, Teedie watched as his father reached out to families of soldiers. The wives and children of Union soldiers were going hungry. Teedie's father had a plan for soldiers to send part of their pay home. His father left New York to spend weeks in Washington, D.C. In time, his father persuaded President Abraham Lincoln to approve his idea.
In letters to his father, Mittie wrote about how sick Teedie was. The little boy had his first asthma attack when he was three. He suffered so badly that he spent much of his childhood in bed. Doctors in his day had little to offer. At one point they suggested that puffing on a cigar might stop an attack. Teedie could not go to school, so the Roosevelts hired tutors to educate him at home.
Teedie's delicate condition could not keep him from learning. Once he learned to read, there was no stopping him. Copies of Our Young Folks, a children's magazine, poured into the Roosevelt home, and Teedie devoured them all. He also read "The Saga of King Olaf," a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. From then on, stories of the Nordic heroes of Scandinavia captivated him.
Newspaper stories about the adventures of Dr. David Livingstone, the great English explorer to Africa, excited Teedie as well. He dreamed about tracking his way through uncharted lands in search of exotic animals and unnamed rivers. Sometimes Teedie sneaked dime novels into the house, cheap books that his parents prohibited because they felt they were trashy and kids shouldn't read them.
Early on, Teedie showed unusual curiosity about the natural world. On a morning trip to the market, he passed a butcher's stall where he spotted a dead seal. Teedie had read about seals in books, and here lay one for him to see. Every day he returned to look at the animal and brought along a folding ruler to measure it. Bit by bit, however, the meat was sold to customers, but the enterprising Teedie managed to bring the seal's skull home.
Teedie added the skull to the "Roosevelt Museum of Natural History" in his bedroom. When a housemaid complained, the "museum" found a new spot on shelves in a faraway part of the house. "It was the ordinary small boy's collection of curios," he wrote years later, but it kept him busy for hours.
Teedie started a notebook to keep track of his "ofserv-a-tions" of insects and fish. Whenever the weather turned warm, the Roosevelts left New York for spots in the country. There Teedie could wander about searching for crayfish, eels, "beetlles," and "misqueto" hawks. He kept notes faithfully, though his spelling needed work.
Teedie probably did not realize that his mother took him to the country to stop his attacks from asthma. The four children loved their days at Tranquility, a house on Long Island's Oyster Bay where their Roosevelt grandparents summered. Often cousins and friends joined them, including one of Corinne's closest playmates, a little girl named Edith Carow. The girls welcomed Teedie to join in because he played games of Store and Baby. In time, Teedie grew old enough to have a little rowboat of his own, and he named it for Edith.
A Victorian Childhood
THE ROOSEVELT children grew up under the strict customs of their day. "Victorian" ways ruled families in the mid-1800s, both in Europe and the Americas. The times got their name from Victoria, queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, who ruled an empire around the globe.
The Victorians moved in a world with firm ideas about society. People divided themselves into classes according to their income and education. Middle-class men and women worked in separate spheres: men out earning an income, women at home running their households and caring for their children. Things were similar on America's farms. Men did the heavy work in the fields and cared for livestock. Wives kept house, raised chickens, and cultivated vegetable gardens.
Victorians claimed to hold high ideals, at least in public. They followed strict rules about manners. Physical punishment was common in school and at home. "Spare the rod and spoil the child," Victorians declared. Husbands were expected to rule their wives, and fathers ruled their families. Children were expected to obey their parents, never to talk back.
This was an era when most little children wore baby dresses until the boys were old enough to wear pants. (Teedie didn't wear pants until he was five.) Girls never wore pants. Parents thought about boyhood or girlhood, and how their children would develop into adults, but the word "teenager" didn't exist.
In any case, everyone stayed covered during these times when modesty was key. Girls did not wear long skirts until they neared womanhood, but pantalettes hid their legs. Men wore hats and ladies wore bonnets.
Even furniture was covered up. Proper Victorian ladies covered the "limbs" of their sofas and pianos with heavy drapes. Certain matters were never discussed in mixed company of gentlemen and ladies. When a lady was clearly pregnant, she stayed at home and did not go out. To be sure, there was no talk of where babies came from.
Sundays stood apart from the rest of the week. In the Roosevelt house, it was a day for going to church — sometimes twice — with the rest of the time spent in quiet thinking. No loud games, no wild play — those were the rules. Teedie disliked Sundays. (A historian has pointed out that's when Teedie often had asthma attacks.)
Yet Sunday was the one day each week when Teedie and his siblings were allowed in the grand front parlor of their home, whose magnificent gas chandelier lit up the evening. The only other time the parlor opened was when guests arrived.
A Grand Tour
IN MAY 1869, when Teedie was 10, the Roosevelts set sail for Europe. To make the "Grand Tour" was a tradition for wealthy Americans. Only in Europe, they believed, could one experience true culture. Over the course of a year, the Roosevelts saw England, Germany, France, and Italy. Classy capital cities, great cathedrals, collections of fine art, ancient ruins — all were the order of the day.
Not for Teedie, however. It was still no fun having asthma attacks. He would have liked to stay home and work on his museum. He later wrote, "I cordially hated it, as did my younger brother and sister. Practically all the enjoyment we had was in exploring any ruins or mountains when we could get away from our elders, and in playing in the different hotels."
Teedie was overjoyed when the family returned home in May 1870. Summer, the best season of the year, lay ahead. There were pets to romp with and a Shetland pony named General Grant (after the great Union soldier Ulysses S. Grant, the future president). The children ran barefoot, "and the seasons went by in a round of ... pleasures — supervising the haying and harvesting, picking apples, hunting frogs successfully and woodchucks unsuccessfully."
Sometimes the children "played Indians" and built wigwams in the woods, staining their skins with poke-cherry juice. They did not know any Indian children in person; what they knew about America's native peoples was through books they read and stories they heard.
The summer Teedie was 13, he received his first shotgun. Eagerly he took his first practice shots. But unlike his friends, he could not hit a thing. One of the boys pointed to a billboard off in the distance, and Teedie had a shock. "Not only was I unable to read the sign but I could not even see the letters."
Teedie was severely nearsighted; he had just never realized it. A word with his father and the problem was solved with a pair of eyeglasses. When he looked back on his boyhood, he mused, "I had no idea how beautiful the world was until I got those spectacles."
Now that Teedie could see, nature opened up even more to him. He began to learn taxidermy by stuffing the skins of animals and birds. Taxidermy was an art form among scientists of the day who collected specimens of wildlife in order to study them.
In Manhattan, Teedie's father helped to launch the American Museum of Natural History. The museum sent scientists on expeditions to the far corners of the earth. As specimens of animals and birds arrived back home, zoologists mounted them for study. Curious visitors marveled at exotic displays of birds, animals, and the first dinosaurs ever discovered.
At home, Teedie practiced stuffing and mounting birds he shot for his own little museum in the back hallway. It took patience, good instruments, and a number of toxic chemicals including arsenic and formaldehyde. But with time, Teedie became an accomplished taxidermist.
In the winter of 1870–71, the Roosevelts again ventured across the Atlantic to the warm climate of the Mediterranean. This time, Teedie adored their trip. The family visited Egypt and sailed up the Nile River. They moved on to the Holy Land, which Teedie had read about in the Bible, as well as Syria, Greece, and Turkey in the Ottoman Empire.
In Egypt, Teedie put his taxidermy skills to good work. His father gave him a new gun for Christmas, and Teedie shot birds and prepared them to take home. Teedie had read enough to appreciate his visits to Egyptian temples and holy places in Palestine, but collecting birds highlighted his trip. Oddly enough, he often looked like a stork himself. Teedie liked to read standing up, balancing on one leg with the other crossed over.
YOUNG TEEDIE'S parents continued to take the family to the country each summer in hopes that the fresh air would relieve their son's asthma attacks. But a cure never came.
When Teedie was about 13, his parents packed him off by himself on a trip to Maine. On the coach ride north, Teedie's life changed. Other boys rode along, and in Teedie — skinny, weak, nearsighted, and asthmatic — they found their mark. They picked at him and bullied him until finally he struck out in anger. The boys simply jeered and "handled me with easy contempt," as he recalled.
Teedie had never felt so humiliated. He decided to make a change. He consulted his father, who had urged his son to build his body. Now Theodore Roosevelt Sr. hired a prizefighter to teach Teedie to box.
"I felt a great admiration for men who could hold their own in the world," he wrote. His father, his Bulloch uncles, and characters in the sagas he read — all were heroes in Teedie's eyes. Determined to be helpless no longer, Teedie set out to make his body as strong as his mind. He spent long hours lifting weights and doing pull-ups on bars on an upstairs porch. Neighbors feared he would lose his balance and fall off.
He knew he would never be a champion, but in time, Teedie took pride in his strength. He grew to manhood relishing all kinds of physical activity. He learned to sit a horse well, to scramble over fences, to row, and to bike. If there were a river to swim, he would swim it. A mountain to climb, he was there. A lion to face, he would face it.
Teedie Roosevelt could not be a prize fighter, but he prized a life of vigor and action, what he famously called "the strenuous life."CHAPTER 2
AS SOON as Teedie returned from adventures in Europe, he faced an assignment. Just three years ahead loomed the prospect of entering Harvard College, but he was in no way ready. He had never gone to school.
Teedie's tutors, travels, and huge appetite for books grounded him well in the classics, nature, French, and German. However, his numbers skills needed work. His father hired a private tutor, and Teedie spent his days working on mathematics and Latin. In two years he crammed in the work of three and passed Harvard's entrance exam. He became the first of a long line of Roosevelts to enter the nation's oldest college in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
A Harvard Man
NO LONGER the child dubbed Teedie but a college student calling himself Theodore, the young man moved into a boarding house on Winthrop Street near Harvard Square. His family felt that a damp dormitory would endanger his health. Theodore was free to furnish his room exactly as he wished. He hung animal heads on the walls and brought along snakes, lobsters, and a huge turtle.
Theodore planned to study natural science at Harvard but soon found that meant spending too much time indoors peering into a microscope. Besides, he soon became far too busy with campus life to sit still. He debated everyone — students and professors alike. He went to dances and wrote letters home about the girls he met. He marched in political parades, rowed on the Charles River, and boxed his way past many a bloody nose.
Theodore accepted invitations to join Harvard's elite social clubs. He cultivated the accent of young Boston-bred men who dropped the "r" when they said "Hah-vud." He continued his plan of bodybuilding, and when he felt that his legs were still too skinny, Theodore started jumping rope on his front porch.
Only one thing marred his happiness. When Theodore came home for Christmas during his sophomore year, he found his father gravely ill. But then, with his "Teedie" at home, his father rallied as Christmas came and went. Relieved, Theodore returned to school to study for exams.
Then his father sickened once more, but the family kept the news hidden as Theodore studied. All through January and into February, Theodore's father lay dying. Then, just at the end, Theodore received a telegram ordering him home.
His heart filled with dread, Theodore jumped on a night boat from Boston to New York. He arrived at the steps of the family brownstone, only to see that a crowd had gathered. His father had died during the night.
Excerpted from Theodore Roosevelt for Kids by Kerrie Logan Hollihan. Copyright © 2010 Kerrie Logan Hollihan. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
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Table of Contents
Preface - The Once and Future President,
1 - Teedie,
2 - Theodore,
3 - Mr. Roosevelt, Ranchman,
4 - Mr. Roosevelt, Writer and Policeman,
5 - Colonel Roosevelt, Warrior,
6 - An Unexpected President,
7 - The President Goes Global,
8 - Roosevelt the Adventurer,
9 - Living Life to the Hilt,
Also available from Chicago Review Press,