Theodore Roosevelt on Race and Gender

By Skidmore, Max J. | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

Theodore Roosevelt on Race and Gender


Skidmore, Max J., Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Theodore Roosevelt held many attitudes that the social thought of the 1990s quite correctly rejects. Some of his convictions can be especially troubling to those who view him with inadequate understanding, or without considering the Victorian world out of which he emerged. He was a white supremacist. Women, he believed, had an obligation to breed prolifically. The couple who chose not to have children-- many children-was committing a crime against the nation. He was a staunch nationalist, a big-game hunter, and glorified war.

It is understandingly tempting to evaluate Roosevelt's views according to the standards that have emerged as the twenty-first century approaches. Clearly his attitudes, especially those on race, suffer from such an evaluation. He was a product of his time, certainly, and in his time racist attitudes were more overt than today. But he had no use for the crude racism of his contemporaries (and would have no use for similar beliefs in ours).

His time was also one in which the legal system continued in many ways to treat women more as children than as adults. Neither genetic science nor sociology was sufficiently advanced during Roosevelt's day to contribute constructively to existing attitudes, let alone to provide enlightenment. Nevertheless, long before most men, TR accepted women fully as equals and championed their rights. His glorification of war grew from an era in which personal valor and individual heroism still carried the day. Even so, he was profoundly grieved by the death in World War One of Quentin, his youngest son. He was shattered to recognize that his successful urging of each of his four sons not only into war but into combat was substantially to blame.

Examining Roosevelt's attitudes by standards that had not emerged during his lifetime gains us little in the way of understanding; evaluating them against the standards of his own day can provide greater insights. By so doing, not only does one discover that many of his positions were far advanced, but that to a considerable extent his approach prepared the way for the later standards that the modern world-at least officially-- has adopted.

In addition to assessing TR against the standards of his own day, it is important to view him in a well-- rounded manner.

Not many persons are heroes, but nearly any person regardless of manifest inadequacies can be made to appear in at least a favorable light-and many can even be made to appear heroic. All that is needed is to concentrate on certain things and carefully ignore others. An obvious example of this was the ability of Robert Caro, in expressing his distaste for Lyndon Johnson, to elevate LBJ's early opponent Coke Stevenson (of all people) to political sainthood. The contrary is even more true: any person can be made to appear base, foolish, or generally unsavory if the focus is entirely upon the least favorable qualities. Abraham Lincoln (again of all people) has been subjected to such treatment.

So it hardly is astonishing that the boisterous, vigorous, and outspoken Theodore Roosevelt has been the target of attempts to portray him in the worst possible light. As might also have been expected, there have been numerous portrayals purporting to be objective that nevertheless emphasize the unfavorable in a manner that clearly is less than balanced. Roosevelt's reputation at times has suffered because his flaws were as open for public view as were all his other qualities, and the flaws are ready grist for literary mills.

An early biographer, for example, Henry F. Pringle (whose work won him the Pulitzer Prize) appears to have labored diligently-and without notable success-to be fair to a subject whom he manifestly disliked. Thomas G. Dyer, to provide another example, has produced the most comprehensive study to date of TR's ideas on race. Dyer presents exhaustive and well-balanced detail, but he was so preoccupied with this least satisfactory side of Roosevelt's character that his work-however well-- intentioned-seems overly harsh in its conclusions. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Theodore Roosevelt on Race and Gender
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.