Published with Permission
Written by Katharine Trauger
Hyperactive, asthmatic, infinitely curious about creation, rising to high governmental positions . . . who was this famous home scholar?
Can you imagine yourself married to a hardware importer so rich he can afford to indulge in philanthropy?
Let’s imagine such a life for a while—the life of Mittie—a mother of four during the U.S. Civil War era.
You cringe at talk of politics because your family is divided over it. Some relatives have joined the armies of the South and, some, the North; some are Democrats, and, some, Republicans.
Your own husband refuses to enlist for combat, to prevent fighting your brothers and breaking your heart.
Another war tugs at your heart, also—a war for the life of one of your children. Your son is ill and spends terrifying nights unable to breathe. How you hate to watch him napping slumped in a chair! Yet, in this way, he finds some relief. His other maladies remain undiagnosed and untreated. You battle with despair.
In your effort to obey doctor’s orders to keep him quiet, you find your son has spunk. He enjoys discovery, so, you allow him to accompany you shopping, on occasion.
During one such trip to town, his curious eyes spot a dead seal, and he begs for its head. To your disgust—and your son’s delight—the vendor gives it to him.
The seal head inspires a neighborhood science museum that your son and his friends soon fill with collected and preserved creatures, products of his new studies in taxidermy.
By age nine, he possesses enough skill and knowledge to write his first scientific paper on insect life cycles.
Of course, as a family of your standing, you home school. Sometimes you employ private tutors, but more often, you prefer parental input for this special child. Your husband observes your son’s health improving with activity, and encourages him, building a professional gym. Your small, frail son with the wheezy voice uses this gym to learn boxing as an advantage with neighborhood bullies.
The Civil War ends and you allow your son to view the funeral procession for the slain President. The fight for your son’s health also seems to abate, and your husband takes your family on extensive tours abroad, while helping your son develop a keen interest in—and impressive knowledge of—geography and history. You watch with gladness as he also learns deep respect and love for his dad.
At age eighteen, already a published ornithologist, he enters Harvard, and studies biology. He memorizes many books building friendships with anyone who can help him learn more. He even finds energy to spare for teaching Sunday School.
When your son is twenty, though, your husband perishes. Through your grief, you watch your son with uneasiness, but discover he faces this blow with integrity, doubling his activities. He writes, “My father [. . .] was the best man I ever knew. He combined strength and courage with gentleness, tenderness, and great unselfishness. He would not tolerate in us children selfishness or cruelty, idleness, cowardice, or untruthfulness.” Your son also said that he never took any serious step or made any vital decision without thinking first what position his father would have taken.
Notice, in all this praise for his dad, he never mentions his immense wealth.
Dissatisfied with the pampered college life of the very rich, your son resumes the strenuous activity his dad always recommended. Among his favorite activities are: rowing, boxing, joining fraternities and clubs, and editing a student magazine. He graduates Phi Beta Kappa, in the upper fifth of his class. At this point, he has half written an accurate, illustrated work on naval battles of 1812, often affectionately called his “doctoral dissertation”, still in print and enjoyed as a history text, today.
His physician advises he curtail his active life, but instead, he marries, begins law studies, and then wins a New York Assemblyman position. In this role, he wins the peoples’ support by exposing corruption in city officials. His reputation for fairness wins also—friends and enemies—in both political parties. How like the preparation his early life provided!
Then comes a double blow. This young man loses twice: both his mother and his wife die on the same day. He buries his grief in more hard work, buying a ranch in the Dakotas and living as a cowhand, law enforcer, and book author for several years. He remarries, gives up political life, and publishes several books.
Healthier than ever, he returns to public service as a presidential appointee.
After two terms, he becomes President of New York Police Commissioners, personally walking the streets at night to stop crime.
Another appointment, to Assistant Secretary of the Navy, positions him to advance his extensive naval knowledge.
With a war in the Caribbean, he resigns to form a new regiment, which wins a spectacular victory over brutality there.
Next, as Governor of New York, he again wins friends and enemies, cleaning out corruption. One powerful enemy decides to “retire” him by nominating him for Vice President, a post he soon occupies.
When his President is assassinated, he finds himself holding the most powerful position in the land. Using this power, he fights corruption in labor and production of food and drugs, begins conserving national resources, and works to bring peace. During his presidency, he wins (read: actually earns) the Nobel Peace Prize, the Wright brothers make their famous flight, and the Panama Canal begins construction.
Keeping a campaign promise, he refrains from another presidential term. Returning to his first love—the vigorous life his dad always championed—he leads scientific and mapping expeditions in Africa and South America until old age stops him.
Home educated with Dad as primary teacher, forging health from frailty, rising to the U.S. Presidency and a Nobel Prize, who is your famous son?
Answer: Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States, winner of the 1906 Nobel Prize for Peace, Lieutenant Colonel of the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry (the “Rough Riders”) and hero of San Juan Hill, author of The Naval War of 1812 and many other books and magazine articles, and home scholar.
Another question: How did Theodore Roosevelt obtain his nickname, Teddy, and how did he feel about it?
Answer: His older sister gave him the nickname when she was too young to pronounce his name correctly. He absolutely disliked it, but quietly endured it through most of his life.