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Growing Up To Be President: Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt 1858-1919

Theodore Roosevelt

Served as president from 1901-1909

By Kate Kelly,

Theodore Roosevelt was born into a wealthy family in New York City but health issues meant that he had a very sheltered childhood. Today it is known that he suffered symptoms of asthma, a disease that was not well understood in that day. Remedies of the time included having a child drink caffeine or smoke in an effort to open air passages; of course, these would not have been effective, and smoking, particularly, would have been counter-productive.

He went by the name of Teddy.

Roosevelt’s father spent time with his children, and on a hiking trip in Europe, he noted that his son improved when the family exercised regularly. Theodore Sr. came home resolving to establish a plan for strengthening his sickly son.  A room in the family’s Oyster Bay mansion was turned into an exercise room, and Teddy was encouraged to hike, wrestle, swim, and go horseback riding or rowing…whatever would help build up his strength. Young Teddy succeeded in gaining enough strength that he was “normal” and mostly healthier.  Later in life, Roosevelt was to spend three years out on his ranch in North Dakota. It was during this time that in the West when Teddy developed into a very capable and well-respected outdoorsman.

Teddy also suffered from another problem that was not well understood at the time. He had poor vision for seeing into the distance. (This is known as nearsightedness, meaning he could see things that were near but not far.)  When he was 13, he was given his first gun and in his autobiography, he notes that he was puzzled as he watched his companions take aim at things; he saw nothing.  He eventually discussed this with his father, and Teddy soon got his first pair of glasses.  “I had no idea how beautiful the world was until I got those spectacles.”

In 1872, when Theodore was 14, he made a trip with the family down the Nile.  Teddy actively collected plants and animals he found on that trip, and he resolved that he was going to be a natural scientist.  While he did not actually pursue this career goal, he contributed much to the Museum of Natural History in New York City.  He also became an ardent conservationist.

Join us tomorrow for Growing Up To Be President: Abraham Lincoln

These stories of a few of our presidents are just a few of the little-known stories available at Kate Kelly’s website,   In February (Black History Month) and March (Women’s History Month), Kate will be profiling many leaders from backgrounds that up until recently could not have led to the White House.  To be added to either list, please visit the website.

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