Monday, October 24, 2016

“Ready for Teddy:” Theodore Roosevelt's 1912 Campus Visit

While campaigning for the 1912 presidential election, Theodore Roosevelt embarked on a 22-town whistle-stop tour of North Carolina, arriving in Greensboro on April 22nd. Roosevelt’s exuberant and charismatic personality made him a natural campaigner, and he toured the country widely.

The Greensboro stop came only two months after he decided to "throw his hat into the ring" for the 1912 election. Roosevelt served as the 26th President of the United States, from 1901 to 1909, but opted not to run for another term. Instead, he groomed his close friend William Howard Taft to follow him in 1908. Yet after Taft won the presidency, Roosevelt became increasing frustrated by his conservative policies. He decided to challenge the incumbent for the Republican nomination during the 1912 presidential election cycle. Loosing the nomination to Taft, Roosevelt ultimately ran on the Progressive, or “Bull Moose,” Party ticket. His third-party candidacy split the Republican Party, allowing the Democrats to win both the presidency and Congress.

Theodore Roosevelt in Front of the Students' Building with State Normal President Julius Foust

But on this rainy April morning, Roosevelt was still a hopeful presidential candidate. Although his train was not scheduled to reach Greensboro until 2 o’clock, a crowd had begun to gather. As if on cue, when the train arrived at the station the rain stopped and by the time he began to speak, the sun was out. Addressing an audience of over 5,000 men and women, Roosevelt made a brief speech before traveling by car to the State Normal and Industrial College (now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro). In anticipation of his visit, 700 students donned their best white dresses and waited patiently in the auditorium of the Students’ Building. On his arrival, “Colonel Roosevelt” was introduced by his campaign manager, John Dixon. Perhaps a bit overwhelmed by his female audience, Roosevelt immediately stated, “I always had very great difficulty in speaking to young ladies.”

Theodore Roosevelt on a Later Whistle-Stop Tour to Greensboro, 1912*

Not surprisingly, he chose to talk about women’s education. Roosevelt praised the college for not only offering a teaching curriculum, but also business classes. Predicting that education would undergo significant changes during the next fifty years, he stressed the value of practical as well as cultural coursework for both young men and women. Typical of his pragmatic nature, Roosevelt believed that the goal was to be more efficient and “more fit to do the actual work of life.” Yet he also emphasized the importance of scholarship. An ardent naturalist, he specifically used the dogwood tree to make his point. Recounting his trip through North Carolina, he described the mountains as being “aflame with dogwood blossoms.” He counseled the students to appreciate nature and when possible, to put this appreciation “vividly and truthfully on paper, in books, and in magazines.” Before he departed, Roosevelt encouraged the young women to take advantage of their great educational opportunities, reminding them, “To you much has been given, and from you much will be expected.”


Students' Building at the State Normal and Industrial College

Roosevelt's choice to visit the State Normal was an interesting one, since his audience was not comprised of voters. It would not be until the 1920 election, following the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1919, that women could actually cast a ballot for a United States president. But on the afternoon of April 22, 1912, Roosevelt captivated his audience with talk of women’s education, the importance of scholarship, and dogwood blossoms.

*Image courtesy of Greensboro Historical Museum

No comments:

Post a Comment