From Teedie to the Presidency 

Early Years



TR Age 11Theodore Roosevelt was born at 28 East 20th Street, New York City, on October 27, 1858. He was the second child of Theodore – a glass importer and philanthropist – and Martha Bulloch Roosevelt. His nickname as a child was "Teedie." Although he was frequently ill with chronic asthma attacks, Teedie enjoyed an active childhood filled with intellectual pursuits. Due to their various health problems, none of the Roosevelt children attended school outside their home. As Theodore grew older, he shed the nickname “Teedie” in favor of his formal first name. Despite popular belief, he never liked nor used the name “Teddy.”

Watch a short film about the young 'Teedie' Roosevelt.  Part 1  Part 2

Education and Marriage
Roosevelt attended Harvard to study natural history, and considered a teaching career. From the day of Theodore's arrival in Cambridge, he failed to fit into the Harvard mold. Once Roosevelt asked so many questions during a natural history lecture that the professor exclaimed, “Now look here, Roosevelt, let me talk, I'm running this course!” After the death of his father in 1878, TR switched his major to history and government.

Alice Hathaway Lee came into TR's life in October 1879. She thought him rather eccentric, and refused his first marriage proposal. He was undeterred and continued to court her during his senior year. She finally agreed, and they were married on his 22nd birthday, October 27, 1880. After graduation, Theodore enrolled in Columbia University Law School, but dropped out after one semester.

Public Office
Entering politics as a means of public service, TR was elected to the New York State Assembly. He was reelected in 1882 and 1883. Roosevelt served a short term as Republican minority leader in 1882. Due to his independent thinking, reform-minded policies, and his refusal to obey party bosses, Roosevelt was removed from this post. However, Roosevelt's influence in the Assembly did not wane. He began working closely with Governor Grover Cleveland, a Democrat. During this period Roosevelt gained a strong influence in civil service reform. TR Young

Joy and Tragedy
Roosevelt's first child, Alice, was born February 12, 1884. Unfortunately, this event was quickly overshadowed with sorrow. Theodore was in the middle of an Assembly debate in Albany when he received a telegram announcing the birth. Not long after, a second telegram arrived with the news that his wife, Alice, was gravely ill. His mother was also very sick. The two died twelve hours apart. In his grief, Theodore remarked, “The light has gone out of my life.”

Escape to the Dakotas
After the deaths of his wife and mother, Roosevelt left for a trip out to the Dakota territories. Learning to rope, ride, and survive in the wilderness revitalized Roosevelt. The conviction grew within Roosevelt that the American wilderness was responsible for the strong sense of individualism, the love of liberty, and the intellectual independence that had so long shaped the nation. He always believed that he would never have become President if he had not gone out west.

His Second Love
On one of his visits back to New York, Theodore ran into an old childhood friend, Edith Kermit Carow. They began to meet during his trips back east and correspond regularly. Eventually, Theodore proposed to Edith, and they sailed to England to be wed. They returned from the honeymoon to set up permanent residence at Sagamore Hill, located at Oyster Bay, Long Island. Between 1887 and 1897, Edith and Theodore had five children: Theodore, Jr., Kermit, Ethel, Archie, and Quentin. In the meantime, Theodore continued to write books while waiting for the right moment to re-enter politics.
Return to Politics
The family moved to Washington, D.C. in 1889, when President Benjamin Harrison appointed TR to the four-man Civil Service Commission. Through the power of his new office, Roosevelt was able to instigate reforms. His major reform was to have all government appointments made on the merit system. In 1895, he resigned to take the post of Police Commissioner of New York City. With this new appointment, he hoped to expand his ideas of reform into new areas. He tirelessly hounded corrupt and incompetent policemen, often replacing them with men who had no connection to any political machine.

Roosevelt campaigned vigorously for Republican presidential candidate William McKinley in 1896. Roosevelt's loyalty paid off when he was later appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy, a position he had long coveted. Knowing that a strong Navy was essential for the United States to become a world power, Roosevelt built up the Navy by constructing new ships, adding more modern equipment, and enhancing training procedures. War with Spain seemed likely and Roosevelt wanted the U.S. Navy to be prepared for it.

The Spanish-American War
With the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898, Roosevelt left his job as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in order to lead a volunteer cavalry regiment as a Lt. Colonel in the Army. The regiment, known as the Rough Riders, executed a daredevil charge up San Juan and Kettle Hills in Cuba. Roosevelt was hailed as a hero and finally achieved the glory he had dreamed of as a boy.

Crowds enthusiastically welcomed Roosevelt upon his return from Cuba. TR's wartime reputation propelled him to the office of Governor of New York State. He adopted a moderate line as Governor, rejecting the extreme demands of the reformers and quietly sapping the power of the conservatives.

Rise to Prominence
In 1900 Roosevelt felt sure of re-election to the governorship. However, some of the Republican political bosses thought differently. Roosevelt's reform-mindedness and swashbuckling approach to public life often infuriated old-line politicians. The Republican national chairman, Mark Hanna, called him “that damned cowboy.” They wanted to put Roosevelt in a safe place where he could do no harm. At the 1900 Republican Convention, Roosevelt was nominated for the one position he didn't want – Vice President under incumbent William McKinley. The New York party bosses wanted Roosevelt out of the governorship but Mark Hanna could see the consequences beyond New York State. Exasperated, Hanna exclaimed, “Don't any of you realize there's only one life between that madman and the presidency?” Roosevelt reluctantly agreed to accept the nomination. He reasoned that perhaps he might be able to run for the presidency in 1904.

In retrospect, Mark Hanna's words seem prophetic. Only six months after McKinley's March 1901 inauguration, the President was assassinated and Theodore Roosevelt became the 26th President of the United States.


Photo credits 2