The Life & Death of the Legendary Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt

Early in the morning of 6 January 1919, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, the nation’s 26th president (1901-1909), quietly died in his sleep. His death ended one of the most remarkable lives and careers in American history. Ranked by historians as one of the nation’s greatest presidents, Roosevelt had also been a state legislator, police commissioner and governor (of New York), assistant secretary of the navy, and vice president (under William McKinley). In addition, Roosevelt was a war hero, gaining fame for leading the heroic charge up San Juan Hill in Cuba during the Spanish-American War.

photo of ex-President Theodore Roosevelt, 1915

Photo: ex-President Theodore Roosevelt, 1915. Credit: Pach Brothers photography studio; U.S. Library of Congress.

Along with all those accomplishments, Roosevelt was also a naturalist, author, editor, orator, explorer, horseman and big-game hunter. Roosevelt was born 27 October 1858 into great wealth to a long-established, aristocratic family. He went on to fight for reform and progressive causes during his long political career. A weak and sickly child, he built himself into a strong, vigorous man through strenuous activity.

Posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 2001 for his bravery on the battlefield, he was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for helping to end the Russo-Japanese War. In short, Roosevelt was a larger-than-life figure, one widely respected and admired in America and worldwide.

article about the death of Theodore Roosevelt, Belleville News Democrat  newspaper article 6 January 1919

Belleville News Democrat (Belleville, Illinois), 6 January 1919, page 1

Teddy Roosevelt’s obituary, published on the front page of the Belleville News Democrat on 6 January 1919, included these details of the many attributes and accomplishments of this great man’s incredible life:

The death of Col. Theodore Roosevelt is a shock to the entire nation. Outside of the White House, he was easily the first citizen of the United States. His name is a household word in every civilized country, and Roosevelt made a secure place for himself in the history of nations.

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Col. Theodore Roosevelt was born in New York City on October 27th, 1858. He was of Dutch descent, being a member of one of the old aristocratic families of New York City and State. He traced his lineage back to the Revolution and long before that period on American soil. His parents were wealthy and belonged to the capitalistic or aristocratic class, although Roosevelt himself was always extremely democratic in his ways and principles. Roosevelt was a member of the Dutch Reformed Church, but never played religion very strongly.

photo of Theodore Roosevelt, age 11, 1870

Photo: Theodore Roosevelt, age 11, 1870. Credit: U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

He entered Harvard College in 1876 and was graduated in the class of 1880.

He took up the study of law, but in 1881 was elected to the New York Legislature, and was twice re-elected.

In his second term in the Legislature, he was the candidate of his party for speaker, the majority of the assembly, however, being democratic.

During his third term he served as chairman of the committee on cities and of the special committee which investigated the abuses in the government of New York City.

He early took a stand for good government and honest and clean and decent politics.

He was a delegate to the state convention in New York State in 1884 to choose delegates to the Republican National Convention, and was selected as one of the four delegates-at-large from New York to the National Convention.

Later in the same year, he went to North Dakota and spent most of his time there for several years on a ranch, engaged in cattle raising. The change was made in the interests of his health. He had been weak and sickly and was advised by his physician to go west and live in the open air and sunshine and live the simple life.

photo of Theodore Roosevelt, 1885

Photo: Theodore Roosevelt, 1885. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

He adopted the habits of the cowboys and roughed it, according to the customs which prevailed in those days in the wild and wooly West. He acquired the art of riding on horseback, and became an expert rifle and revolver shot. During most of his waking hours he lived in his saddle. This life on the margin of civilization was too slow for him, however. Regaining his health and becoming robust and strong, he yearned for the streets and avenues of his native city, where the bright lights burn.

In 1886 he was the Republican nominee for mayor of New York City.

He was appointed a member of the United States Civil Service Commission in May, 1889, by President Benj. Harrison.

He resigned this position in 1895 in order to accept the Presidency of the Police Commission of New York City under Mayor Strong.

In April, 1897, he was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy by President William McKinley.

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Upon the outbreak of the war with Spain in 1898, he resigned his post and became Lt. Col. of the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry.

He now began to cash in on the apprenticeship which he had served in the Wild West. He raised the regiment known as the Rough-Riders.

He was promoted to the colonelcy of the regiment, and was popular with the rank and file of men who reposed great confidence in his leadership.

photo of Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, 1898

Photo: Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, 1898. Credit: B. J. Falk; U.S. Library of Congress.

He was in the fights at Las Guasimas and San Juan. His name as a fighter was won at the battle of San Juan Hill.

He was mustered out with his regiment at Montauk, Long Island, in September, 1898. He was nominated shortly afterwards as the Republican candidate for governor of New York and elected in November, 1898.

He was unanimously nominated for Vice President of the United States by the Republican National Convention of 1900 and elected. He succeeded to the Presidency upon the death of President McKinley, by assassination, in Buffalo, on September 14th, 1901.

Painting: President Theodore Roosevelt; official White House portrait by John Singer Sargent, 1903

Painting: President Theodore Roosevelt; official White House portrait by John Singer Sargent, 1903. Credit: The White House Historical Association.

He was nominated for President by the Republicans in 1904 and was elected by a tremendous popular and electoral majority. He beat Alton B. Parker, the Democratic nominee.

While Roosevelt was President the Panama Canal was built and the war between Japan and Russia was fought. He took a hand in the settlement of that bloody conflict and was awarded a Noble Peace Prize for his activities.

The country was rent by panics and strikes during the Roosevelt administration, and he gained notoriety by successfully winding up a coal miners’ strike in the anthracite regions in Pennsylvania which threatened to drag the country into civil war.

Roosevelt was a forceful character and an aggressive man. He believed in the policy of maintaining a big standing army and a powerful navy in our country. He was an advocate of the strenuous life and lived it.

He lived every minute of his life. He split the Republican Party in two in 1912 because the Republican National Convention of that year refused to nominate him for President instead of Taft. He organized the Bull Moose Party on a progressive platform and later closed up the breach by returning to the original fold.

Roosevelt was distinctly a physical force man. In his opinion nature and destiny achieve their purposes through the strongest agency. He had no use for weak men and detested half-hearted measures. He fought the Wilson administration on the ground that it was too slow.

He believed that we should have entered the European War against Germany four years ago.

He was a physical culture expert, having built himself up from a sickly child to a man whose vigor and virility challenged the respect and admiration of the world.

His children were of the same type.

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He was a historian. He wrote many books on history. His “History of the Naval War of 1812” was written while he was yet a Harvard student.

He was a biographer. He wrote a biography of “Oliver Cromwell,” his own autobiography and others.

He was an essayist. He wrote more books than many authors whose fame rests upon their writings alone. His essays, in particular, and later his orations, were always a key to his actions.

He was a great critic. He raised hell most of the time. He knew where to hit and hit hard.

He was a good hater and had a good command of English. The results are well known.

He was a natural scientist, a big-game hunter, and explorer and discoverer. His achievements in natural science alone were enough to make him a man of note. He killed lions and tigers and elephants in the wilds of Africa, and discovered the River of Doubt in South Africa.

He was the holder of more than a dozen college degrees, and won fame as an editor on the “Outlook” and the “Metropolitan Magazine.” During the last year he has been an editorial writer for the “Kansas City Star.”

He was a practical reformer, a veteran colonel of cavalry, a former Governor, a former Vice President and a former President.

photo of the grave of President & Mrs. Roosevelt in Youngs Memorial Cemetery, Oyster Bay, New York

Photo: grave of President & Mrs. Roosevelt in Youngs Memorial Cemetery, Oyster Bay, New York. Credit: Shadow2700; Wikimedia Commons.

His death marks the end of a notable career, and the most strenuous life in America has reached its illustrious close. The whole nation mourns the loss of Theodore Roosevelt. Had he lived to see the day he might have been the next Republican nominee for President of the United States, and it is not improbable that he would have been re-elected.

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Earlier Women of War: Nurses, Camp Followers & Red Cross Volunteers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary searches old newspapers to find the stories of women who served during some of our nation’s earlier wars—as army nurses, camp followers, and Red Cross volunteers.

There are numerous groups that celebrate the lives of (mostly men) veterans from America’s past wars, but many of us wonder: what about the women? Certainly women on the home front were supportive of their husbands, fathers and brothers at war—with sewing, cooking and other tasks to contribute to the war effort and stability at home.

But many women during wartime did much more—even making the decision to assist as military “camp followers” ready to tend to the needs of the soldiers. If you were a wife or mother who had sent a spouse or sons to war, what would you do?

Would you remain at home, or would you want to be close at hand, making sure the men were well fed and nursed in the event of battle injuries? Of course, most women did continue to raise their families, work the fields and keep the household running—but some went off to war to support the troops.

Most of these brave women’s war stories have never been told, as history books make scarce mention of them. Firsthand accounts of these women camp followers and soldiers’ wives are few—but with a little help from historical newspapers, we can get a glimpse into the lives of these forgotten women of war.

Elizabeth Dodd, Revolutionary War Camp Follower

In this 1849 obituary we can read the life story of Elizabeth Dodd, who led quite an eventful life in her 111 years. As the obituary comments: “In the death of this aged person, there is a volume of history lost. Living in great retirement, the relict of a forgotten age, few knew the stories she could tell of the brave old days.”

obituary for Elizabeth Dodd, Weekly Herald newspaper article 4 August 1849

Weekly Herald (New York, New York), 4 August 1849, page 248

Dodd was a camp follower during the American Revolutionary War: “During the first American war, she followed her husband through the principal campaigns; was at many of the hardest fought battles; at Monmouth, White Plains, Yorktown, &c.”

Susannah Clark, First Army Nurse Pensioned

Another fascinating account is that of Mrs. Susannah D. Clark who, according to this 1899 newspaper article, nursed American soldiers in two wars and has the distinction of being the first army nurse pensioned in U.S. history.

According to the old newspaper article: “As a bride of a few days, she cared for the suffering and dying during the Civil War, and as a gray-haired grandmother she looked after and nursed back to good health two of her grandsons during the late Spanish-American unpleasantness.”

Mrs. [Susannah] Clark Nursed Soldiers of Two Wars, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 4 September 1899

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 4 September 1899, page 4

Officers’ Entourages

Officers typically had an array of camp followers—some there to directly assist the officers with many varying roles, including baggage handling, while others came along to sell their wares.

This 1792 newspaper article discusses General Abercrombie and the Grand Army, reporting that he “sent off all his baggage that was on the out side of the fort, to Mysore, under an effort of cavalry, and accompanied by his camp followers.”

Grand Army [under General Abercrombie], Daily Advertiser newspaper article 3 September 1792

Daily Advertiser (New York, New York), 3 September 1792, page 2

British Camp Followers of the “Paper Army”

Military camp followers have participated in almost every war, here and abroad. This 1885 newspaper article gives an account of a British “Paper Army.” It reports that during a recent inspection, the actual number of men was much lower than official reports had indicated, so “cooks, servants, and camp followers were hastily crowded into the ranks to satisfy the inspectors.”

A [British] Paper Army, Wisconsin State Journal newspaper article 13 February 1885

Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wisconsin), 13 February 1885, page 5

Red Cross Camp Followers

This 1911 newspaper article gives a report from the Mexican War. After one battle, supply wagons that had been left on the battlefield were inspected by Americans protected by a Red Cross flag.

The historical newspaper article reports: “However, after the Americans demonstrated that it was safe to approach the wagons, the Mexican commander sent a detail under protection of machine guns to bring the wagons into camp. The supplies were evidently a welcome addition to the commissary department of the federals, and were received with handclapping on the part of the women camp followers.”

article about the Mexican War, Salt Lake Telegram newspaper article 10 April 1911

Salt Lake Telegram (Salt Lake City, Utah), 10 April 1911, page 6

Clara Barton, the “Angel of the Battlefield”

One female camp follower who did achieve fame was Clara Barton (1821-1912), founder of the American Red Cross Society.

pictures of Clara Barton, from the Trenton Evening Times 13 April 1912 & the Fort Worth Star-Telegram 12 April 1912

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 13 April 1912, page 3 (left);
Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas), 12 April 1912, page 1 (right)

Because of her nursing work on the front lines during the Civil War, Barton was known as the “Angel of the Battlefield.” After the war, she traveled to the infamous Confederate prisoner-of-war camp Andersonville in Georgia, where she researched the graves of thousands of Union soldiers, identifying the dead and writing letters telling Northern families what had happened to their missing loved ones. (See National Park Service article at Later, she provided nursing services in Europe during the Franco-Prussian War, then came home to promote formation of the American Red Cross.  Barton’s long career of service began as a nurse camp follower.

As the following 1912 newspaper obituary mentions, Clara Barton “gave her life to humanity, and humanity mourns at her death…Not till she was 40 years old did Miss Barton start upon her notable life work. Then came the conflict between the American states, calling every patriot to duty. Miss Barton could not shoulder a musket, but she could and did [do] what was as essential; she went to the front as a nurse.”

The Death of Clara Barton, Plain Dealer newspaper obituary 13 April 1912

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 13 April 1912, page 6

Eleanor Guckes, My WWII Red Cross Ancestor

This photograph of my grandmother Eleanor (Scott) Guckes shows her wearing an American Red Cross uniform in 1942 during WWII. According to our family records, she assisted in the war effort by driving an ambulance while her husband was serving with the Navy in the Pacific Theatre.

photo of Eleanor Guckes

Credit: from the photographic collection of Mary Harrell-Sesniak

Do you have a female family member who served in the Red Cross or assisted as a camp follower during one of our nation’s wars? If so, please share your ancestor’s story with us in the comments section.