Rob Hardy
Theodore Roosevelt and the Masculine/Feminine Complex

My wife and I were waiting in line to speak to our son’s math teacher at parent–teacher conferences when I noticed the poster on the wall of the middle school cafetorium:

              Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.
                                                                        —Theodore Roosevelt

      I pointed out to my wife that the exhortation comes from Roosevelt’s Autobiography, where he is actually quoting someone named Squire Bill Widener of Widener’s Valley, Virginia, who was in turn quoting an anonymous bit of homespun folk wisdom. I told her I found it interesting how Roosevelt gave certain ideas like this, that were not necessarily his own, the force of a personality. He embodied a certain idea of America, I said.


      In the centennial year of Roosevelt’s 1904 election to the presidency, the Library of America issued a new edition of Roosevelt’s The Rough Riders and also An Autobiography (2004), as well as a companion volume of his Letters and Speeches (2004). David McCullough, whose 1981 biography of the young Theodore Roosevelt, Mornings on Horseback, remains extremely valuable, claims that Roosevelt’s Autobiography is “particularly interesting to read with a view to all that it left out.” For example, McCullough observes, “not only does he make no mention of Alice Lee or their marriage, he neglects to mention his sisters by name and devotes all of three sentences to his mother.” The feminine influence on his life is almost entirely elided.
      As I read through Roosevelt’s Autobiography, I was curious to see if I could uncover any traces of that influence. Surely the influence was there. Writing about his own son, Roosevelt told a correspondent: “I know perfectly well that all my training him will only amount to one element in the many that will go to determine who he is in the future. As you say . . . , the mother has much more to do than the father with the children’s future.” My investigation of this pervasive presence began with Roosevelt’s childhood reading, and focused on his fondness for a children’s magazine called Our Young Folks.
      “As a small child,” Roosevelt notes in his Autobiography, “I had Our Young Folks, which I firmly believed to be the best magazine in the world—a belief, I may add, which I have kept to this day unchanged, for I seriously doubt if any magazine for young or old has ever surpassed it. Both my wife and I have the bound volumes of Our Young Folks which we have preserved from our youth.”
      An illustrated magazine for boys and girls, Our Young Folks began publication in January 1865, when little “Teedie” Roosevelt was five years old. The magazine was published by Ticknor and Fields and edited by John Townsend Trowbridge, Lucy Larcom, and Abigail Dodge (“Gail Hamilton”). Over the course of its eight-year run, Our Young Folks featured stories and poems by some of the most popular authors of the day, including Louisa May Alcott, Charles Dickens (“A Holiday Romance,” 1868), Harriet Beecher Stowe, Horatio Alger, Jr., Edward Lear, John Greenleaf Whittier, Edward Everett Hale, and Mary Mapes Dodge.
      Thinking back over his reading, Theodore Roosevelt remembered a special fondness for stories for boys—like “Cast Away in the Cold,” by Arctic explorer Dr. Isaac Israel Hayes—that he considered “first-class, good healthy stories, interesting in the first place, and in the next place teaching manliness, decency, and good conduct.” He particularly enjoyed the contributions of Captain Mayne Reid, whose stories combined hunting and natural history with lessons in sturdy self-reliance. Of course, this is just the sort of thing one would expect to have appealed to a young Theodore Roosevelt, the future Rough Rider, big game hunter, and conservationist. But Roosevelt made an interesting admission: he also enjoyed reading the stories for girls.
      “At the cost of being deemed effeminate,” he wrote, “I will add that I greatly liked the girls’ stories—‘Pussy Willow’ and ‘A Summer in Leslie Goldthwaite’s Life,’ just as I worshipped Little Men and Little Women and An Old-Fashioned Girl.”
      We find other boys of Roosevelt’s generation confiding a similar fondness for Little Women. For example, Roosevelt’s younger contemporary, William Lyon Phelps, recorded in his diary for July 13, 1879 (he was fourteen), that he had just finished reading Little Men, and had already read Little Women. But Phelps, like Roosevelt, was careful to balance his acknowledged reading of Louisa May Alcott with solid evidence of more masculine enthusiasms. Accordingly, in his Autobiography, Phelps followed the diary excerpt about reading Little Men with an entry about going out into the woods with his rifle and a hatchet, felling two trees, and shooting a ground sparrow, a downy woodpecker, a warbler, a bluebird, and an English sparrow.
      “Had perfectly splendid fun,” young Phelps concluded.


      Harvey Mansfield, in the March 2005 issue of The New Criterion, asserts that Roosevelt’s “manliness” is central to his politics. The philosophical roots of this version of manliness Mansfield locates in the pragmatism of William James, which emphasized the power of the will and the commitment to “tough-mindedness” in the construction of an active masculine life. Mansfield rather admires Roosevelt’s “assertive manliness,” finding in it a bracing contrast to the “sensitive males of our time who shall be and deserve to be nameless.”
      Similarly, but in less positive terms, Sarah Watts in her book Rough Rider in the White House (2003) focuses her attention on the “aggressively insurgent manhood” of Roosevelt’s generation. She sees Roosevelt’s construction of masculinity as a reaction against a “feminine” side of his own nature that had the potential to expose him as soft and weak. Roosevelt, she argues, acknowledged his “dark and feminine self” and incorporated it into his “vision of manhood” by deploying “his Rough Rider self in a lifelong assault against it.” As the journalist William Allen White observed, there lurked in Roosevelt “the shadow of some inner femininity deeply suppressed.”
      A comparable observation was made of Roosevelt’s father, Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. The elder Roosevelt’s friend Howard Potter wrote of him that he was “a singular compound of feminine and masculine qualities, lovable as a woman, and as strong as a man.” The younger Roosevelt himself later remarked: “I was fortunate enough in having a father whom I have always been able to regard as an ideal man . . . [H]e really did combine the strength and courage and will and energy of the strongest man with the tenderness, cleanliness, and purity of a woman.” Robust and benevolent, Theodore, Sr., was his son’s idol, the man who drove him to toughen his body and who taught him that “we are not placed here to live exclusively for ourselves.” In his view, the “ideal man” combined both masculine and feminine qualities.
      Let me make it clear that when I use the word “feminine” I am following the familiar practice of the nineteenth century, which divided men and women, masculine and feminine, into two separate spheres. The common nineteenth-century understanding of these separate spheres is neatly summed up by the English novelist E. Lynn Linton in an article reprinted in America in 1886: “As things have hitherto been in the world, men have been the leaders and women the aids; men have been the fighters in the open and women the healers in the tents. To men has been apportioned the rough, rude, hardening work, to women the softening and refining care of details; to men command, to women influence. To men have been given, by nature and sex, heroic qualities and the larger crimes and vices; to women gentle virtues and smaller faults, and the restraining influence which comes by the very fact of their innocence, their goodness, their purity, their unselfishness.” Society, Linton said, was “purified and refined by [women’s] sweetness, their devotion, their charm—in a word, by their feminineness, working in its assigned sphere.” Theodore Roosevelt himself would remain a firm believer in this Victorian doctrine of “separate spheres,” even while he came to recognize masculine and feminine qualities combined within his own personality.
      In his Autobiography, Roosevelt follows his admission that he enjoyed reading stories for girls with an immediate qualification. “This enjoyment of the gentler side of life,” he writes, “did not prevent me from reveling in such tales of adventure as Ballantyne’s stories, or Marryat’s Midshipman Easy.” Domesticity and adventure, feminine gentleness and rough-and-tumble masculinity, stood side by side on Roosevelt’s childhood bookshelf, and in the persistent dualities of his adult personality. As an adult, he was both hunter and conservationist, outdoorsman and book-lover, warrior and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. He was willing to make a candid admission of his feminine side, but he was prepared to fight anyone who might take such an admission as a sign of weakness.
      The stories for girls in Our Young Folks sought, above all, to teach their young readers the importance of protecting the weak and the duty of each individual to live his or her life for others. These were, in large part, the same lessons Theodore Roosevelt learned from his father, lessons that would later become crucial to Roosevelt’s own political life. In his view, it was a political duty to protect the weak, but it was important to do so without showing weakness oneself—to speak softly and carry a big stick. “The men who have stood highest in our country, as in the history of all countries,” Roosevelt later wrote, “are those who scorned injustice, who were incapable of oppressing the weak, or of permitting their country, with their consent, to oppress the weak, but who did not hesitate to draw the sword when to leave it undrawn meant inability to arrest triumphant wrong.” Above all, it was important to live for others: to protect the public interest against the private interests of corporations, to serve one’s country regardless of the personal costs that that might involve.
      One of the most common words used by nineteenth-century women to describe their role in society was “influence.” Although they wielded no direct political power, they could, it was often asserted, have an enormous influence on the men who did. The “girls’ stories” in Our Young Folks provided the women who wrote them with a means of exerting that influence on their young readers, both girls and boys, and it is evident that from early on Theodore Roosevelt felt that influence.

      The first issue of Our Young Folks, appearing in January 1865, opened with a story by Harriet Beecher Stowe called “Hum, the Son of Buzz,” which is concerned with an injured hummingbird who is taken in by the narrator and carefully nursed back to health. She feeds him with a tablespoon (from which he eats with “a Christian-like decorum”) and makes a little bed for him in her sewing box. As Hum’s health improves, the narrator often has to engage in “a sort of maternal struggle to make him go to bed in his box.” Like other nineteenth-century women writers (for example, Sarah Trimmer and Susan Fenimore Cooper), Stowe routinely anthropomorphizes birds, and sees in her relationship with nature an extension of feminine domesticity. In this way, Stowe advances the suggestion that women are always and everywhere homemakers and caregivers, even in relation to the natural world.
      It is revealing that “Hum, the Son of Buzz” should be followed, in the first issue of Our Young Folks, by the first installment of Captain Mayne Reid’s novel, Afloat in the Forest, in which two adventurous boys float down the Amazon on a raft.
      The recurrent theme of woman as nature’s caregiver is also taken up in Louisa May Alcott’s one contribution to Our Young Folks, the story “Nelly’s Hospital,” which was published in the April 1865 issue. The story presents the situation of a little girl, Nelly, whose older brother is home on leave after being wounded in the Civil War. Having heard his stories of the army hospital, Nelly decides to start her own hospital—for wounded animals. She sets up the hospital in a barn and turns a small wagon into an ambulance. Her first patient is a fly rescued from a spider’s web. As she carries out her plan, little Nelly is assisted by Tony, the gardener’s son, who has “grown up with [plants] as if they were brothers and sisters.” She is also assisted by her wounded brother, Will, who gives her lessons in natural history and trains her in the use of a microscope. He finds that this cheers him up and speeds his convalescence.
      Nelly’s hospital gives the little girl an opportunity to extend not only her caregiving, but also her Christian ethics, to the natural world. When she comes upon a wounded snake, she reflects on whether she should take him into her hospital.
      “He is a rebel. I wonder if I ought to help him,” thought Nelly, watching the reptile writhe with pain. “Will said there were sick rebels in his hospital, and one was very kind to him. It says, too, in my little book, ‘Love your enemies.’ I think snakes are mine, but I guess I’ll try and love him because God made him.” Most remarkably, at this point the snake in the garden, woman’s primordial enemy and the biblical symbol of man’s fallen state, becomes the special object of Nelly’s care.
      As Nelly’s example spreads throughout the neighborhood, “rough boys” of the neighborhood agree not to “stone birds,” as they were accustomed to do simply for entertainment. As a result, the local bird population increases. In this account, the positive influence of one little girl spreads outward from her household, extending into her neighborhood and the natural world.
      Nelly clearly exemplifies the nineteenth-century image of woman as a helper and caregiver who inspires others by her Christian example. As Our Young Folks editor Lucy Larcom declared: “[A girl’s] real power, the divine dowry of womanhood, is that of receiving and giving inspiration. In this a girl often surpasses her brother; and it is for her to hold firmly and faithfully to her holiest instincts, so that when he lets his standard droop, she may, through her spiritual strength, be a standard-bearer for him.” Expressing a similar view in The American Woman’s Home, written with her sister Catharine Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe emphasized women’s special duty to minister to the less fortunate: “[T]his is the divine labor to which the pitying Saviour calls all his true followers: to lift up the fallen, to sustain the weak, to protect the tempted, to bind up the broken-hearted, and especially to rescue the sinful. This is the peculiar privilege of woman in the sacred retreat of a ‘Christian home.’ And it is for such self-denying ministries that she is to train all who are under her care and influence, both by her teaching and by her example.”
      The protection of the weak is a recurring theme in the pages of Our Young Folks, which began publication in the last months of the Civil War, as the nation came to the end of its long conflict regarding the institution of slavery. In the June 1865 issue, editor J. T. Trowbridge contributed a story in which a father spoke to his children about the lessons of that conflict. “Children,” he tells them, “there are two principles at work in the world: one is that of liberty and love to all men; the other is that of force, and the tyranny of the strong over the weak.”
      In its efforts to strike at the roots of this tyrannical behavior in young children, especially young boys, Our Young Folks makes the humane treatment of animals a special mission. Throughout 1865, Harriet Beecher Stowe ran a series of stories about dogs, intended to teach her young readers that animals are “a sacred trust to us from our Heavenly Father.” In the September 1865 installment, “Aunt Esther’s Rules,” she particularly addresses the boy readers of Our Young Folks: “I can’t help hoping that, in these stories about different pets, I have made some friends among the boys, and that they will remember what I have said, and resolve always to defend the weak, and not permit any cruelty where it is in their power to prevent it.” Like Nelly, whose example prevents the neighborhood’s “rough boys” from stoning birds, Stowe hopes to implant some of her feminine gentleness in the hearts of her male readers, who are understood to have a boyish tendency toward cruelty.
      In many ways, this concern for the ethical treatment of animals seems to have emerged as a logical corollary of the antislavery movement. In her Letters from New-York, originally written for the National Anti-Slavery Standard in 1841, Lydia Maria Child speaks out against the killing of stray dogs in the city:
Twelve or fifteen hundred of these animals have been killed this summer; in the hottest weather at the rate of three hundred a day. The safety of the city doubtless requires their expulsion; but the manner of it strikes me as exceedingly cruel and demoralizing. The poor creatures are knocked down on the pavement, and beat to death. Sometimes they are horribly maimed, and run howling and limping away. The company of dog-killers themselves are a frightful sight, with their bloody clubs, and spattered garments. I always run from the window when I hear them; for they remind me of the Reign of Terror. Whether such brutal scenes do not prepare the minds of the young to take part in bloody riots and revolutions is a serious question.

      As such statements would suggest, Child believed that, in nature, “everything is interlinked.” Accordingly, the cruelty of slavery was symptomatic of man’s general “discord with the harmony of nature,” which also found expression in other forms of cruelty and other uses of force. “Would that Force,” she declared, “were banished to the unholy region, whence it came, and that men would learn to trust more fully in the law of kindness.” As someone who earlier in her career had edited the children’s magazine Juvenile Miscellany (1826–34), and who would later contribute to Our Young Folks (1865–66), Child was typical of nineteenth-century reformers who saw cruelty and the use of force as the root of most social evils.
      After the abolition of slavery and the end of the Civil War, cruelty to animals began to receive more concentrated attention as a persistent symptom of man’s inhumanity. In 1868, after an incident in Boston in which two horses were literally raced to death, George T. Angell brought together a number of community leaders to form the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (mspca), the first organization of its kind in the country. The mspca lobbied hard for laws against the inhumane treatment of animals and, among other things, sponsored the publication of children’s books that preached sympathy and kindness toward animals. The most famous of these was Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty (1877), which Angell, making a clear connection between abolitionism and animal rights, called “the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of the horse."*      
      Insisting on what he took to be the underlying logic of his position, Angell is often quoted as saying, “I am sometimes asked, ‘Why do you spend so much of your time and money talking about kindness to animals when there is so much cruelty to men?’ I answer, ‘I am working at the roots.’” His opposition to cruelty in all its forms led him to oppose the Spanish-–American War—Roosevelt’s war—as “piratical.” For his part, Roosevelt believed that “it is incumbent upon every true man to be gentle and tender with the weak—with women and young children, and with dumb animals”—but he had no use for what he considered sentimental pacifism. War was often justified, he believed, precisely in the interests of protecting the weak. In a speech at London’s Guildhall in 1910, Roosevelt warned: “Weakness, timidity, and sentimentality may cause even more far-reaching harm than violence and injustice. Of all broken reeds sentimentality is the most broken reed on which righteousness can lean.”


      In his book The Feminine Fifties (published in 1940), Fred Lewis Pattee asserted that, in the 1850s, “emotionalism [was] in the saddle.” Considering the example of Walt Whitman, he claimed: “No era was it for thinking; all was feeling. Reason by itself never would have brought the Civil War . . . And completely was Whitman in tune: all was he of heart and little of head. He voiced the soprano fifties that smothered intellect with emotion.” Emotionalism, in Pattee’s estimation, was above all “a feminine endowment,” though it could be shared by men like Walt Whitman.


      In a brief chapter of his Autobiography (1939) devoted to the treatment of animals, William Lyon Phelps argues that the humane treatment of animals is a sign of advanced civilization and intellectual maturity, but cautions against allowing children to become “over-sentimentalized”:

This attitude is well indicated by the familiar anecdote of the small boy looking at the picture of the Christian martyrs delivered to the lions: “Oh, look, Mama, that dear little lion in the corner isn’t getting anything!” When I was a child, I woke up one night, and wept when I thought of the warm comfort of my bed and my kitten on the hard kitchen oilcloth. In the same way, those who condemn quail, partridge, and duck-shooting are, I think, over-sentimental. The only consistent attitude would be that of the vegetarian to abstain from fish, flesh, and fowl. And even then it would require only a slight stretch of the imagination to sympathize with potatoes which possibly suffer horribly when torn up by the roots.

      This reductio ad absurdum of the animal rights position hints at a masculine discomfort with sentiment and with the politics of sentiment. The novelist Ouida, though, also expressed her doubts about women’s suffrage when she wrote in the North American Review (1885) that female legislators would pass tyrannical legislation “in their moments of panic” and “in their hysterical hours,” because “women are more tyrannical and self-absorbed than men.” The result of women’s suffrage, she concludes, “will scarcely be other than the emasculation and the confusion of the world of politics.”
      E. Lynn Linton, a woman who, like Ouida, did not favor women’s suffrage, argued that essential feminine qualities, such as “pity and delicacy,” were dangerous when expressed in the political sphere. “Excellent as restraining influences,” she wrote, “as governing powers they would be, and are, destructive of all true manhood . . . Rough and cruel and ghastly things must be done in the world, and pity for the individual must not be suffered to interfere with the general good—for the most part brought about by the sacrifice of any individual.” For Linton, the problem is women’s overidentification with others—the “individualizing faculty” of women that resists the sacrifice of an individual for the general good. Women, in other words, see individuals, while men, presumably, see general principles which often outweigh the good identified with the individual.
      At the root of this uneasiness over women’s participation in politics was a worry about their emotionalism. Men of Roosevelt’s generation like Pattee and Phelps were wary of the politicizing of sentiment, the increasingly emphatic “emotionalism” that, in Pattee’s words, always comes before revolution. This concern was also shared by some women, like Ouida and Linton, who argued that women were either too self-absorbed (Ouida) or too absorbed in the individual other (Linton) to govern effectively. But an influential counterargument was made by numerous women writers who argued that the particular gift of women was, in fact, that of self-sacrifice.
      Lucy Larcom, for example, one of the editors of Our Young Folks, included in her memoir A New England Girlhood this advice for young girls who aspired to be poets: “Don’t sentimentalize! Write more of what you see than of what you feel, and let your feelings realize themselves to others in the shape of worthy actions.” She complained of the banality of sentimental fiction, and remarked: “There are so many more books of fiction written nowadays, I do not see how the young people who try to read one tenth of them have any brains left for every-day use.”
      For Larcom, the danger of sentimentality was precisely that it could lead women to become too self-absorbed—to focus inward (on “what you feel”), rather than outward (on “what you see”). “One result of my infantile novel-reading,” she recalled, “was that I did not like to look at my own face in a mirror, because it was so unlike that of heroines always pictured with ‘high white foreheads’ and ‘cheeks of a perfect oval.’ Mine was round, ruddy, and laughing with health; and, though I practiced at the glass a good deal, I could not lengthen it by puckering down my lips.” Too much novel-reading resulted in an unhealthy self-absorption. Larcom admitted that she began to be called a “book worm,” a title that she “did not at all relish.”
      “It was fortunate for me,” Larcom noted, “that I liked to be out of doors a great deal . . .” In a manner that would have resonated with Theodore Roosevelt, Larcom sought to balance a tendency toward bookishness with a healthy experience of the outdoors as a means of getting outside of herself.
      Expressing similar convictions, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Little Pussy Willow, the serial that Roosevelt especially enjoyed in Our Young Folks, contrasts the healthy and self-sacrificing country girl, Pussy Willow, with the wealthy and self-absorbed city girl, Emily Proudie. Emily, the tight-corsetted hot-house plant, is sent by her doctor to live in the country to improve her health. Her contact with the country air, and with the example of Pussy Willow, makes a better woman of her. By coming out into the open air, Emily comes out of herself. As an antidote to the self-absorbed emotionalism of girls like Emily Proudie, Stowe preached the discipline of self-sacrifice as a means of directing one’s sympathies outward for the common good.
      Larcom instructed the readers of A New England Girlhood?—the “dear girls, for whom these pages were written”—that “the meaning of life is education,” and that “education is growth, the development of our best possibilities from within outward.” Education was not merely a matter of reading novels and gazing into the mirror—it required engagement with others and with the larger world. “The real satisfaction of living is, and must forever be, the education of all for each, and of each for all.” This philosophy of education is often reflected in Our Young Folks. In a poem that appeared in the April 1865 issue, for example, Larcom writes:

                        One heart encircles all that live,
      And blesses great and small,
     And meet it is that each should give
     His little to the all.

      For Larcom, the young Christian ladies who worked with her in the Lowell mills provided an example of “belonging to the Whole.” Their feminine employment provided her with a metaphor for collective action. In her view, “Every little thread must take its place as warp or woof, and keep in it steadily. Left to itself, it would be only a loose, useless filament. Trying to wander in an independent or a disconnected way among the other threads, it would make of the whole web an inextricable snarl. Yet each little thread must be as firmly spun as if it were the only one, or the result would be a worthless fabric.” As this metaphor makes clear, Larcom considered individualism important, but only insofar as it contributed to the strength of the Whole. Self-reliance must be balanced by self-sacrifice.
      Sharing this assessment, Harriet Beecher Stowe emphasized that the origins of self-sacrifice were to be found in the home. In The American Woman’s Home, she observed that “the distinctive feature of the family is self-sacrificing labor of the stronger and wiser members to raise the weaker and more ignorant to equal advantages.” She concludes from this that “the family state, then, is the aptest earthly illustration of the heavenly kingdom, and in it woman is its chief minister. Her great mission is self-denial, in training the members to self-sacrificing labors for the weak and ignorant.”
      In this era, women and men may have been seen to occupy different spheres (“I do not believe that equality of right means identity of function,” Roosevelt told Harriet Taylor Upton in 1908), but the ideology of self-sacrifice was the same. As Harriet Beecher Stowe had written in The American Woman’s Home: “The father undergoes toil and self-denial to provide a home, and then the mother becomes a self-sacrificing laborer to train its inmates.” Masculine and feminine self-sacrifice were reciprocal gestures, each made within its proper sphere. Reflecting on this general assumption, instead of drawing on the feminine example of mill girls to illustrate collective action, as did Lucy Larcom, Roosevelt drew on his own masculine experience of the unselfish cowboys on his Dakota ranch, who combined rugged individualism with an ability to work together for the common good. “Everybody worked,” he wrote in his Autobiography, “everybody was willing to help everybody else, and yet nobody asked any favors.”
      Many of these cowboys later became the core of Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. And indeed, for this future president, war was the ultimate opportunity for sacrificing oneself to promote the common good. In Sarah Watts’s interpretation: “For Roosevelt, acts of sacrifice spurred men to reach deep into their psyches for new definitions of an authentic self, what he described to Minnesota state fairgoers in 1901 as the ‘daring, endurance, [and] desire for victory [that] make up the essential manliness of the American character.” War enabled a man to prove his individual worth while sacrificing his individual life for the common good.
      Another of Lucy Larcom’s favorite metaphors for an ideal feminine life was the brook that ran serenely between its “soft banks” and eventually lost itself in “Love’s wide ocean.” For Roosevelt, the ideal masculine life was one lost in the tide of battle.


      In discussing Roosevelt’s style of raising his son Ted, Sarah Watts quotes from a letter that Roosevelt sent to his friend Edward Sanford Martin in 1900. Watts uses the letter to show that “Roosevelt understood his father’s regime of fear, and . . . used the same disciplinary techniques on his own sons.” She emphasizes the passages in the letter where Roosevelt speaks of training Ted to be a fighter. Roosevelt writes, emphatically: “Now, do you want to know the real underlying feeling which has made me fight myself and want Ted to fight? Well, I summed it up to Ted once or twice when I told him, apropos of lessons of virtue, that he could be just as virtuous as he wished if only he was prepared to fight.”
     What is mostly elided from Watts’s selective account of this letter are the acknowledgments Roosevelt makes of his own, and of his father’s, gentler side. “I am not naturally at all a fighter,” Roosevelt says. “So far as any man is capable of analyzing his own impulses and desires, mine incline me to amiable domesticity and the avoidance of effort and struggle and any kind of roughness and to the practice of home virtues.” The clear implication is that Roosevelt worked at proving his masculinity, because his nature normally inclined him to gentler pursuits. Indeed, as he evidently recognized, “My ordinary companions in college would, I think, have had a tendency to look down upon me for doing Sunday School work if I had not been a corking boxer, a good runner, and a genial member of the Porcellian Club.”
     Because he was himself the object of bullying as a child, Roosevelt understood very well the need to protect the weak. In his letter to Martin, he declared: “I loathe cruelty and injustice. To see a boy or man torture something helpless whether in the shape of a small boy or little girl or dumb animal makes me rage. So far as I know my children have never been cruel, though I have had to check a certain amount of bullying. Ted is a little fellow, under the usual size, and wears spectacles, so that strange boys are rather inclined to jump on him first. When in addition to this I have trained him so that he objects strongly to torturing cats or hurting little girls, you can see that there are chances for life to be unpleasant for him when among other boys.”
      Roosevelt, who was himself an undersized and spectacled child, felt the need to train himself to be a fighter in order to protect himself against bullying, and he wanted Ted, also undersized and spectacled, to have the same training. Toughness, combined with a readiness to fight, provides a necessary means of self-defense for a sensitive and emotional nature. Roosevelt told Martin: “When [Ted’s] aunt goes to see him at school, he flings his arms around her neck and is overjoyed with her companionship and has the greatest difficulty to keep from crying when she goes away. Now there are certain of his companions who would be inclined to think him a mollycoddle for betraying such emotion over a female relative; but they won’t think him a mollycoddle if he shows an instantaneous readiness to resent hostile criticism on the subject.”
      Less than two months later, Roosevelt was writing to Ted himself about a hunting expedition in which he had killed a cougar using Ted’s knife: “I ran in and stabbed him behind the shoulder, thrusting the knife you loaned me right into his heart. I have always wanted to kill a cougar as I did this one, with dogs and the knife.”


      Theodore Roosevelt continues to fascinate us, in part, because he embodies some of the enduring contradictions of the American character, in which belligerence and compassion seem at times strangely intertwined. Roosevelt brought this combination of impulses into sharp focus when, in 1899, he told a correspondent: “I am as intolerant of brutality and cruelty to the weak as I am intolerant of weakness and effeminacy.”
      To Edward Sanford Martin, Roosevelt admits that the “brute” attracts less contempt than the “mollycoddle,” although he deserves more. In the end, it seems that Roosevelt spent his life attempting, with mixed success, to steer a course between these two extremes, seeking to balance powerfully conflicting elements in his own nature. “One of the prime needs,” he wrote in his Autobiography, “is to remember that almost every duty is composed of two seemingly conflicting elements, and that overinsistence on one, to the exclusion of the other, may defeat its own end.” For Roosevelt, true manliness was understood to be the middle course between brutishness and effeminacy. In his Nobel Prize speech in 1910, he declared: “We despise and abhor the bully, the brawler, the oppressor, whether in private or public life, but we despise no less the coward and the voluptuary. No man is worth calling a man who will not fight rather than submit to infamy or see those that are dear to him suffer wrong. No nation deserves to exist if it permits itself to lose the stern and virile virtues; and this without regard to whether the loss is due to the growth of a heartless and all-absorbing commercialism, to prolonged indulgence in luxury and soft, effortless ease, or to the deification of a warped and twisted sentimentality.”
      Aware of the potential massive risks of being deemed effeminate, Roosevelt appeared to some people to overcompensate with behavior verging on brutishness. Mark Twain considered him “clearly insane . . . and insanest upon war and its supreme glories.” His former Harvard professor William James spoke of his “flood of abstract bellicose emotions.”       A letter to The New York Times in 1909 complained of “the slaughterings in Africa by Mr. Roosevelt” and argued that “hunting for ‘big game’ may be the sport of Kings, but not of men worthy of the name.” On that 1909 safari, Roosevelt killed nine endangered white rhinos, the first of which he shot in its sleep.


* Roosevelt’s successor as President, three-hundred pound William Howard Taft, came in for criticism from Angell for his treatment of horses. During the 1908 Presidential campaign, Angell told the New York Times: “It is outrageous cruelty to animals for a big 300-pound man like Taft to ride a horse about the country . . . Something should certainly be done about it. No man weighing 300 pounds has any business on a horse’s back. If he must ride let him use an automobile or an elephant.”