Editor’s note: The following is extracted from Letters to His Children, by Theodore Roosevelt (published 1919).
When Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., entered Harvard as a freshman he had to pay the penalty of being a President’s son. Newspaper reporters followed all his movements, especially in athletics, and he was the victim of many exaggerated and often purely fictitious accounts of his doings. His father wrote him indignant and sympathetic letters, two of which are reproduced here.
White House, October 2, 1905.
BLESSED OLD TED:
The thing to do is to go on just as you have evidently been doing, attract as little attention as possible, do not make a fuss about the newspaper men, camera creatures, and idiots generally, letting it be seen that you do not like them and avoid them, but not letting them betray you into any excessive irritation. I believe they will soon drop you, and it is just an unpleasant thing that you will have to live down. Ted, I have had an enormous number of unpleasant things that I have had to live down in my life at different times and you have begun to have them now. I saw that you were not out on the football field on Saturday and was rather glad of it, as evidently those infernal idiots were eagerly waiting for you, but whenever you do go you will have to make up your mind that they will make it exceedingly unpleasant for you for once or twice, and you will just have to bear it; for you can never in the world afford to let them drive you away from anything you intend to do, whether it is football or anything else, and by going about your own business quietly and pleasantly, doing just what you would do if they were not there, generally they will get tired of it, and the boys themselves will see that it is not your fault, and will feel, if anything, rather a sympathy for you. Meanwhile I want you to know that we are all thinking of you and sympathizing with you the whole time; and it is a great comfort to me to have such confidence in you and to know that though these creatures can cause you a little trouble and make you feel a little downcast, they can not drive you one way or the other, or make you alter the course you have set out for yourself.
We were all of us, I am almost ashamed to say, rather blue at getting back in the White House, simply because we missed Sagamore Hill so much. But it is very beautiful and we feel very ungrateful at having even a passing fit of blueness, and we are enjoying it to the full now. I have just seen Archie dragging some fifty foot of hose pipe across the tennis court to play in the sand-box. I have been playing tennis with Mr. Pinchot, who beat me three sets to one, the only deuce-set being the one I won.
This is just an occasion to show the stuff there is in you. Do not let these newspaper creatures and kindred idiots drive you one hair’s breadth from the line you had marked out in football or anything else. Avoid any fuss, if possible.
White House, October 11, 1905.
I was delighted to find from your last letters that you are evidently having a pretty good time in spite of the newspaper and kodak creatures. I guess that nuisance is now pretty well abated. Every now and then they will do something horrid; but I think you can safely, from now on, ignore them entirely.
I shall be interested to hear how you get on, first of all with your studies, in which you seem to have started well, and next with football. I expected that you would find it hard to compete with the other candidates for the position of end, as they are mostly heavier than you; especially since you went off in weight owing to the excitement of your last weeks of holiday in the summer. Of course the fact that you are comparatively light tells against you and gives you a good deal to overcome; and undoubtedly it was from this standpoint not a good thing that you were unable to lead a quieter life toward the end of your stay at Oyster Bay.
So it is about the polo club. In my day we looked with suspicion upon all freshman societies, and the men who tried to get them up or were prominent in them rarely amounted to much in the class afterwards; and it has happened that I have heard rather unfavorably of the polo club. But it may be mere accident that I have thus heard unfavorably about it, and in thirty years the attitude of the best fellows in college to such a thing as a freshman club may have changed so absolutely that my experience can be of no value. Exercise your own best judgment and form some idea of what the really best fellows in the class think on the subject. Do not make the mistake of thinking that the men who are merely undeveloped are really the best fellows, no matter how pleasant and agreeable they are or how popular. Popularity is a good thing, but it is not something for which to sacrifice studies or athletics or good standing in any way; and sometimes to seek it overmuch is to lose it. I do not mean this as applying to you, but as applying to certain men who still have a great vogue at first in the class, and of whom you will naturally tend to think pretty well.
In all these things I can only advise you in a very general way. You are on the ground. You know the men and the general college sentiment. You have gone in with the serious purpose of doing decently and honorably; of standing well in your studies; of showing that in athletics you mean business up to the extent of your capacity, and of getting the respect and liking of your classmates so far as they can be legitimately obtained. As to the exact methods of carrying out these objects, I must trust to you.