The have my article up and running about the Vigilantes over at Roads to the Great War. This was a lot of fun to write. For those who may not know, though I don’t mention it in the article Hermann Hagedorn was the leader of the Roosevelt Memorial Association from the early 1920s until the late 1950s.
If you are looking for something to do in recognition of Women’s History Month in the coming weeks I might suggest the above programs at the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace on these successive Saturdays. A guy with my initials even goes off on the 21st.
These past few weeks I have been pulling together my presentation, which focuses on the Roosevelt family’s response to the American Civil War. Young Teedie’s parents supported different sides during the conflict. His mother Mittie was a Georgia belle from a slave-owning family with a brother and several half-brothers in Confederate uniform; Theodore Roosevelt Sr. was a Union man, a friend of Abraham Lincoln’s personal secretary John Hay, who had his mail sent to the White House in care of Hay while out in the field registering men of the Army of the Potomac up for the allotment of their pay to their families back home. I tell the story in more detail in the manuscript of “Incorporating New York,” my history of Civil War Era New York City that will hopefully get published sometime in the future.
There is a rich assortment of speakers lined up for the house on East 20th Street in the coming weeks. Come out and take part in Women’s History Month in these waning days of winter.
Some may remember a year ago March when I wrote about Nora E. Cordingley for the Feminist Task Force of the American Library Association’s Women of Library History page. Cordingley was a librarian at the Roosevelt Memorial Association Library on East 20th Street, working for many years under the direction of Hermann Hagedorn. I knew even at the time that I wanted to write in 2019 for the same venue about Margaret Suckley, a confidante and sixth cousin of Franklin Roosevelt who went to work at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park in 1941. Earlier today they posted that piece. I was very happy with how it came out and see the Cordingley and Suckley articles as bookends of one another. These two did such important work and deserve to be remembered.
In a related note, if you live in the Greater New York area, or will be in the city between now and May 31, it is not too late to see “Affectionately, F.D.R.” This exhibit is a display of over one dozen letters written between President Roosevelt and Ms. Suckley over a ten year period between 1934-44. The letters were recently given to Roosevelt House on East 65th Street by a generous couple. None of the letters has ever been on display until this exhibit. Check out the directions and hours here. I have been to scores of events at Roosevelt House over the years and can attest to what a special place it is.
(image/FDR Presidential Library & Museum)
This weekend here in New York City is the 99th annual Theodore Roosevelt Association conference. I am not attending any of the events today but will be at the Harvard Club tomorrow for the symposium. While I have irons in many fires, at the end of the day the Roosevelts are my primary intellectual interest. What I find fascinating about them is that one can interpret pretty much any aspect of American, and often even international history, through the prism of the Roosevelt clan. One hundred years ago right now Theodore Roosevelt’s health was in rapid decline. In 1917 he seemingly sensed that the end was near and began sending his papers to the Library of Congress for posterity. It was a burdensome time, with his health in decline and five of his children in danger serving in the Great War. Quentin of course would be killed on Bastille Day 1918, and the other boys would be gassed and/or wounded before it was all done. Ethel and her surgeon husband Richard Derby were in Paris dealing with the wounded.
Roosevelt was writing his weekly newspaper column well into the later months of 1918 but eventually stopped as he reached his final illness. When he finally died in January 1919 the output from his brief sixty-year life was incredible: 100,000+ letters, 30+ books, reams of journalism, and so much more. The Library of Congress this week, coincidentally or not in time to commemorate Roosevelt’s 160th birthday, has made digitally available a significant portion of that life’s work. They have done us a yeoman’s service.
(image/Library of Congress)
In February 1966, Esquire magazine published an article by Gay Talese called “Mr. Bad News.” The subject of that piece was Alden Whitman, a still-very-much-alive obituary writer for the New York Times. Many obituaries are written months or even years prior to the individual’s death. That’s why one sees a 2000 word overview of someone’s life published literally within the hour after they have passed. March is Women’s History Month. To mark the occasion editors at the Gray Lady have created a series they are calling “Overlooked,” for which they are writing obituaries for prominent women who did not receive recognition in the newspaper when the women originally died. Charlotte Brontë, Emily Warren Roebling and Ida B. Wells are three of the first fifteen subjects. Hopefully this will become something like “The Lives They Lived” section that appears the final Sunday of the year. I would like to see them do some figures from the First World War such as Edith Cavell. They are soliciting potential future articles. For whatever they regard it to be worth, I may submit a few ideas to the Times editors.
I once mentioned in passing here on The Strawfoot a woman named Nora E. Cordingley, a Canadian who worked at Roosevelt House on East 20th Street starting in the 1920s. I knew then that I wanted to expand on her story a bit more but was waiting for the time. That time came a few weeks back when something came through my feeds soliciting articles for the Women of Library History blog. They are currently running their sixth annual series on women who work in the library profession. When I saw the announcement, I knew the time had come and I started working on it right away. The editor and I agreed we should publish the article today. Nora E. Cordingley died on March 14, 1951, 67 years ago today. I am really proud to have written this article. Ms. Cordingley is one of the overlooked people who kept Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy alive and she deserves to be remembered. Read the article here.
I spent the day yesterday pounding out a small project that will hopefully see the light of day sometime this month. I don’t want to say too much about it right now, but I will say here that it is about the Roosevelt Birthplace on East 20th Street. It came out to about 900 words. Again, it is a low stakes projects. Little things like this though can be a lot of fun. There are so many good stories to tell. I will keep everyone up to date.
Once I finish the book manuscript, I intend to do something about the development of Roosevelt House as a cultural institution. The story is a more interesting one than people realize. Roosevelt died in January 1919 when the troops were coming home from Europe. The world was seemingly at peace but actually in turmoil. Much of the world was gathering in Paris for the peace negotiations. That summer was the Red Scare and the race riots here in America, and chaos and starvation abroad. The Russian Revolution was going on, and soon that country would be in civil war. Theodore Roosevelt was gone by the time all this happened, but that was the milieu in which the Roosevelt Memorial and Woman’s Roosevelt Memorial Associations went about the work of rebuilding the house in the early 1920s. The founders of the site saw it as a center for promoting patriotism and for fending off the world’s ills in what was an uncertain time. It is very much an untold story and I think there is a lot to go on here.
They have my article about Ethel Roosevelt Derby up over at Roads to the Great War. Theodore Roosevelt’s younger daughter died on 10 December 1977, forty years ago this week. Ethel was vey much her father’s daughter and lived a long, full life. Of all the pieces I have written, this was one of the most enjoyable and meaningful to write.
(image/Library of Congress)
If you live in or around New York City please remember that I will be speaking about the writing and publishing career of Ted Roosevelt at the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace on Saturday 4 March, one week from today. I wrote about his father Theodore Roosevelt’s journalistic career last week. It is more complicated than I can go into here–that’s what the talk is for–but one thread to keep in mind when it comes to the Roosevelt clan is that the written word was important to almost all of them. Ted was an executive at Doubleday in the 1930s, after his stints in Puerto Rico and the Philippines and before he rejoined the Army in 1941. His father knew the Doubledays well and even laid the cornerstone for the publishing house’s Garden City Long Island headquarters when they relocated from New York City in 1910. If you note, in the caption he emphasizes the shift from the city to what was then rural Long Island and what he sees as the positive influence it will have for people and business–like Doubleday–who make that demographic shift. It is not reading too much into it to say he is foreseeing the post-Second World War rise of suburbia. Levittown was in Long Island.
I have been pulling my speaking material together this week and have started gathering the images as well, which I intend to put into a Powerpoint later today. The image above is from the 20 August 1910 Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Roosevelt would have just gotten back from his post-presidential safari in Africa and return swing through Europe, where he accepted his Nobel Peace Prize and attended the funeral of King Edward VII that May. Note the heaviness of Roosevelt’s dark suit, which he is wearing under no shade in the dog days of August. It is lost on us how grueling the speaking circuit can be for politicians.
As some know, when the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace reopened last October I made the decision not to return on a weekly basis. The primary focus is on getting the book done. Still, I have not completely severed my ties, contributing some for the site’s social media platforms for instance. One thing I ran past the powers-that-be way back while the renovation was still going on was talking in a more formal setting from time to time. I am happy to say that today the first of those talks got the official approval. Should you happen in New York City on Saturday March 4 come out for a presentation by yours truly about the writing and publishing career of Ted Roosevelt. This is a fascinating and relatively unknown story, which begins in March 1919 with his return from the trenches of France during the First World War and ending 25 years later with his death in France during the Second. Remember, Ted’s grandparents were the homeowners of what we now call the TRB.