Our 26th U.S. President, Theodore Roosevelt, was indeed a champion of children.
Let’s look first at his own family. He had six children and he loved them all deeply, devoting many hours to activities where the children could participate. Roosevelt once brought a pony into the White House and gave the pony a ride in the elevator, no doubt to the delight of his children. Their names are interesting. First born was Alice Lee, named for her mother, Theodore’s first wife, Alice Hathaway Lee, who died suddenly only two days after her baby was born in 1884. Theodore married his second wife, Edith, and they produced five children: Theodore, Jr., Kermit, Ethel, Archie, and Quentin.
Here they are: President Theodore Roosevelt and family on the lawn at Sagamore Hill, 1903; Quentin leans on father’s shoulder while Archie, still in short pants, claims father’s knee. TR’s second wife Edith sits leaning against her daughter, Ethel. In the back row we see Ted, Jr, the oldest boy, oldest daughter Alice (whose mother was TR’s first wife) and Kermit. This frequently published photo of the family also appears on many postcards from the era.
Because of his deep love of all children, Roosevelt wanted to help the large number of American children who had become orphans for one reason or another. Also, he was concerned about child labor, and about children whose parents could not provide for them. Thus, before he left office in 1909, and encouraged by reformers in the national child welfare cause, he organized the first White House Conference on Children and Youth. It was titled “The Care of Dependent Children.” Conference participants focused on the health and welfare of children engaging forced labor, orphaned children, and children of the poor.
Below is a photo of the concluding banquet, held at the Willard Hotel in D.C., for the 1909 White House Conference on Children and Youth.
Now take a closer look. Get out your magnifying glass. Recognize anyone?
Among the well-known child welfare advocates seated at the head table with President Roosevelt at the end of the 1909 White House Conference on Children and Youth were Jane Addams, James E. West, Homer Folks, and Theodore Dreiser. (The banquet was held at Washington’s Willard Hotel.) (Dwight D. Eisenhower Library)
President Teddy Roosevelt’s 1909 Conference on Children and Youth was a landmark initiative destined to improve the welfare of children in need. Perhaps one of the most important recommendations of the conference was the call for the formation of a federal bureau which would focus on issues directly related to children. Thus, the U.S. Children’s Bureau was established in 1912 under the Department of Labor.
Theodore Roosevelt knew this truth and we know this truth: when we help children, we build a stronger, healthier world.