I have been reading a lot about Theodore Roosevelt lately. He was President during the time of my story, and my character, Clara, comes to identify with him. So I wanted to know more about him.
Theodore Roosevelt was the 26th president of the United States, serving from 1901 to 1909. I have always admired him for his work against corruption in business and government, and his drive to preserve the natural beauty of our forests and wild lands. He created five National Parks, including Wind Cave in South Dakota and Crater Lake here in Oregon. He hiked with John Muir in Yosemite.
I also admired his philosophy of personal responsibility. He was a great believer in taking charge of your own life and making it the best you could. “It is hard to fail, but harder still to never have tried,” he said. This idea that you make your life , one act at a time, echoed my own father’s belief, which I was brought up with.
But Mr. Roosevelt had some other ideas I don’t agree with. He was a ‘big game hunter’, which meant he traveled all over the world, killing animals and having them stuffed as trophies. I hate this about him. It turns this man I admire into a macho dude I can’t respect.
I knew that he invited African American educator Booker T. Washington to dinner at the White House in 1901. This led me to believe he was ahead of his time in his racial thinking, and that he saw other races as equal to his own.
But reading more of his own writings and policies, I realize that in his dealings with Native Americans, Filipino people, Hawaiians, Japanese and African Americans, he fully believed that white people were the superior ‘race’.
He wrote that “The world would have halted, had it not been for the Teutonic conquests in alien lands.”
In other words, he believed that white people taking over North America, the South Pacific, India, and other places, made those places better. This belief is called “American Imperialism”.
So Teddy Roosevelt did not grant to different-looking people the respect he claimed as his own. He believed that you were the master of your fate, but only if you were a white, male American. Not exactly what I was hoping for.
So now, I have some decisions to make. Do I continue to have my character admire and relate to Teddy, with all his faults? Do I even mention his short comings? Or do I find a way to include my own ambivalence about him?
Being a teacher, I want to get the information right. Being aware of human failings, I know that any ‘hero’ I set up, upon the closest of looks, will be found to have faults. And I had not expected the story to have to deal with any of this.
I guess it’s back to the drawing board, as they say. I’ll keep you posted.