Teddy Roosevelt and ‘A Great And Permanent Amusement’

Tim Koch writes from London,

By the time you read this (but not at the time of writing) the man who will be President of the United States for the next four years should have been chosen – assuming there is no repeat of the ‘hanging chad’ election of 2000. In a long campaign, the candidates were very concerned with talking about the economy and foreign policy but, inexplicably, expressed no opinions on rowing. Possibly the last* U.S. President who had anything to say on the subject was the Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt (1858-1919) who was held office between 1901 and 1909. He was a sickly child who became a strong and athletic adult by wholeheartedly embracing ‘manly pursuits’. As well as the 26th President he was a soldier, boxer, hunter, naturalist, explorer and sportsman. He was also a ‘Progressive Republican’ (when such a thing was not, some would say, an oxymoron) and a Nobel Peace Prize winner. In more recent years some have looked beyond the caricature of the man and have held that he was one of the great U.S. Presidents.

As this picture here shows, by the time Teddy was a young Harvard sculler he had left his childhood weaknesses behind him. In his autobiography he had this to say about rowing:

‘…. at Oyster Bay (his holiday home) our great and permanent amusements were rowing and sailing: I do not care for the latter and I am fond of the former. I suppose it sounds archaic, but I cannot help thinking that people with motor boats miss a great deal. If they would only keep to rowboats or canoes, and use oar or paddle themselves, they would get infinitely more benefit… But I rarely took exercise merely as exercise. Primarily I took it because I liked it…’

Roosevelt’s views on exercise and its benefit to the nation were summarised in a speech he gave in 1899 entitled ‘The Strenuous Life’.

Hail to the Chief!

 *G.R.B. comment: While Tim is probably right about Teddy Roosevelt being a President to have an opinion about rowing (and who could still actively row while he was in the White House), I believe, though, that it was Teddy’s fifth cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, ‘FDR’ (1882-1945), who was the last President of the United States (1933-1945) who could have an opinion on rowing. As a student, at Groton School in Massachusetts, FDR rowed. In a famous 1897 letter, the 15-year-old wrote home to his parents about a prominent visitor to the school: ‘Mr. Lehmann, the English coach, gave us an informal talk on rowing… as you probably know, he is about the greatest authority on rowing in the world.’ FDR continued to Harvard, but he did not row there. Instead, he became an avid sailor. His 25-foot sloop Vireo is now on display at Mystic Seaport. By the boat is a photograph showing FDR with family and friends sailing in Vireo. The day after this photograph was taken in 1921, FDR was stricken by polio and would never be able to sail again. However, he continued to be interested in rowing, and both his sons James and Franklin Jr., rowed at Groton School and at Harvard.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.