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Franklin Delano Roosevelt for Kids
His Life and Times with 21 Activities
By Richard Panchyk
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 2007 Richard Panchyk
All rights reserved.
THE ROOSEVELT OF HYDE PARK
As Franklin Delano Roosevelt took the presidential oath of office on March 4, 1933, his hand rested on the Roosevelt family Bible. The Bible dated to 1686 and was written in Dutch. In that treasured Bible, Franklin Roosevelt's ancestors had written a record of the long Roosevelt lineage. FDR, as he was known throughout his life, was very proud of his ancestry. Though his ancestors were luminous, FDR's brightness would outshine them all.
The Roosevelt Ancestry
The Roosevelt story begins sometime during the late 1640s, when the New World was still very new to the Europeans. Claes Martenszen van Rosenfelt and his wife, Jannetje, left their home in Holland, stepped onto a ship, and set sail for the mysterious and alluring land of America. Though the English had settlements in Massachusetts and Virginia, among other places, the Dutch had their own foothold in the New World. A few weeks later, Claes and Jannetje set foot in the little Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam, located at the tip of Manhattan Island (the beginnings of what is now New York City). Their name, van Rosenfelt, was Dutch for "from the field of roses." Their coat of arms features three roses at the center.
The thriving town of New Amsterdam, founded only about 20 years earlier, was filled with a few hundred enterprising Dutch and English settlers who, like Claes and Jannetje, had come to America to seek their fortune. Claes and Jannetje soon adjusted to life in the New World. They had six children beginning in about 1650. Unfortunately, Claes died in 1659 and Jannetje soon after.
In 1664, a British fleet sailed into New Amsterdam harbor, and the governor, Peter Stuyvesant, surrendered without any shots being fired. From then on, both the city and the larger colony were to be known as New York. It was a peaceful transition, and the Dutch influence in New York remained strong for the next 100 years. Many of the early Dutch families became very wealthy and respected in social circles.
Though not very much else is known about the early lives of Claes and Jannetje's children, within a few generations, the Roosevelts were among the richest and most respected families in the state of New York.
Claes and Jannetje's son Nicholas Roosevelt (1658–1742) was the common ancestor of two future presidents and a future first lady. The branch of the family from which President Theodore Roosevelt was descended eventually moved to Oyster Bay, in Long Island, New York, and was founded by Johannes Roosevelt. His brother Jacobus (also known as James) was the ancestor of Franklin's branch of the family. Jacobus and Johannes invested money in Manhattan real estate.
Franklin Roosevelt's great-great-grandfather was a sugar merchant who became known as Isaac the Patriot (1726–1794) for his financial support of the American Revolution. He was later president of the first bank in New York and one of its first state senators.
After several generations living in New York City, in 1818, Isaac's son James (1760–1847) sold his land in Manhattan and moved the Roosevelt family about 70 miles north of the city on the east side of the Hudson River, to a house he called Mount Hope. James had a son named Isaac (1790–1863). Isaac was Franklin's grandfather, though he died long before Franklin was born. He attended medical school at Columbia University, but he never actually practiced medicine. Isaac moved back to Mount Hope until he married and had a child, then he moved a short distance away to a home he called Rosedale.
The child was Franklin D. Roosevelt's father, James Roosevelt (1828–1900). After attending the University of New York (in Manhattan) and then Union College in upstate New York, James Roosevelt traveled for a year and a half in Europe when he was in his 20s, even briefly joining the fight for a free Italy in 1848. James was a wealthy lawyer and businessman who was involved in coal, railroad, and canal companies and investments. In 1872, he was elected president of the Southern Railway Security Company. James married Rebecca Brien Howland (1831–1876) in 1853, and the couple had a son named James Roosevelt Roosevelt (nicknamed "Rosy") in 1854.
After a fire gutted Mount Hope in 1866, James Roosevelt and family moved further north, to an estate of several hundred acres at first called Springwood, and then known as Hyde Park (after the town in New York in which it was located). Rebecca Howland Roosevelt died of a heart attack in 1876. James remarried in October 1880, this time to his sixth cousin, the 26-year-old Sara Ann Delano (1854–1941), whom he'd met at a New York City dinner party held by one of his cousins. Sara was the same age as James's son from his first marriage, and was soon to become mother to James's second child, Franklin.
The Delano Ancestry
Sara Delano also came from a long and respected American lineage. Her great-great-great-great-grandfather Philippe de la Noye had arrived in the New World in 1621, not long after the original Pilgrims. Her grandfather Warren Delano and her great-grandfather Ephraim Delano were both sea captains. Sara's wealthy father, Warren Delano II, had built a successful career in the shipping business and spent many years in China and Hong Kong building his fortune. Though James Roosevelt was wealthy, Warren Delano was about three times wealthier.
Though she was born in the United States, Sara Delano spent several years in Hong Kong as a child, before her family returned to the United States after the Civil War. The Delanos were a large family. There were 10 children in all, though four of them died before Franklin was born. The ancestral name de la Noye was not forgotten over the years; one of Sara Delano's brothers was named Philippe de la Noye Delano.
Sara and her siblings grew up on the 60-acre estate (known as Algonac) of her parents, on the west side of the Hudson River near Newburgh, New York, across the river from the Roosevelts. The Delanos were recent transplants from Massachusetts, having only arrived in New York State in 1852. Sara had several sisters — Laura, Annie, Kerrie, and Dora.
On the evening of January 30, 1882, Sara Delano Roosevelt gave birth to a son in an upstairs room in the Roosevelt mansion at Hyde Park. At 10 pounds, he was a big, healthy baby. Still, Sara and her newborn almost died because Sara had been given too much chloroform during the birth. He was named after his mother's uncle, Franklin Delano. By the time baby Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born, his half brother James was nearly 28 years old, so Franklin was essentially raised as an only child. James, nicknamed "Rosy," had by then married a member of the Astor family, one of the richest and most powerful dynasties in the country.
One of Franklin's first memories was from when he was three years old, on a ship with his parents, returning from Europe to New York. During the trip, a huge wave overcame the ship and nearly capsized it. A few men were washed overboard. Franklin had to wait in the upper berth of the cabin as water flooded in. Franklin stayed calm during the crisis. He only grew alarmed once he noticed that his toy jack had fallen into the water. The bad experience on the ship did not discourage his parents, who took Franklin to Europe regularly during his childhood.
As Franklin took his first steps, his devoted parents were there for him. As he grew, his mother enjoyed dressing him in adorable suits, which little Franklin did not care for so much. His mother let his hair grow long until she felt she needed to cut it, even though she would have preferred to keep it long. It was clear early on that young Franklin was a very intelligent child. He could be charming and talkative at times, but he also seemed perfectly content alone. He was confident and independent; though he did not have many friends his own age, he was able to play well by himself. He liked to listen to the stories that his nurse, a woman he called Mamie, told him.
The first documented letter that Franklin ever wrote (at the age of five), was a note [punctuation added] he wrote to his mother hoping she was feeling better:
I am very sorry you have a cold and you are in bed. I played with Mary today for a little while. I hope by tomorrow you will be able to be up. I am glad today that my cold is better.
Your loving, Franklin D. Roosevelt"
When Franklin was five years old, he traveled with his parents to Washington, D.C., where he got to meet President Grover Cleveland (his father knew the president, who was from New York State). The second-term president leaned over to young Franklin and told him, "My little man, I am making a strange wish for you. It is that you may never be president of the United States." Cleveland had gone through a particularly rough campaign against the Republican nominee James G. Blaine in 1884, in which scandals and lies were gossiped.
As a boy, Franklin cultivated an interest in numerous hobbies. For one, young Franklin loved building model ships. He also enjoyed collecting toy soldiers and acting out battles with them. For Christmas one year, he asked for two boxes of soldiers with "two little cannons hitched to horses and 10 little soldiers with white trousers and blue jackets."
One of the pastimes Franklin enjoyed most was stamp collecting. He started this hobby when he was nine years old. He liked to lie on his stomach and examine and catalog his stamps. This childhood hobby was no passing fancy. Franklin continued to take great interest in stamps for the rest of his life.
Though Franklin was schooled at home, his lessons were not conducted haphazardly. He had regular hours of study from 9 A.M. to noon, and then again after lunch until 4 P.M. Though he rebelled against this orderly schedule once, he soon realized that it was better to have a routine than to be left completely to his own devices.
Franklin had a series of governesses and tutors who taught him, among other things, German and French. By the time he was seven, he was able to write a short note to his mother entirely in German, and at the age of 10 he wrote a letter to his parents entirely in French. When he was nine years old, during one of the family's trips to Europe, Franklin spent several weeks attending school in Germany. Another time he took a side trip into Switzerland with his tutor.
Sports and the Great Outdoors
The sprawling country property his wealthy parents owned was a paradise to young Franklin. He was encouraged to explore the grand estate and enjoy the wonders of the outdoors. He was fascinated by the plants and animals that surrounded him, and he would spend hours on end outside.
With the Hudson River practically outside the Roosevelts' door, a love of the water was natural, and Franklin sometimes swam in the Hudson River or in a pond on the estate. In winter, Franklin enjoyed snowshoeing and ice skating. One of his favorite boyhood books was called History of Sea Power. His mother figured that some of his love for the sea and for ships was inherited from the Delano side of the family.
Animals were of special interest to Franklin. He enjoyed playing with his dog, a red setter named Marksman, and riding his pony, Debbie. He had been given his first dog at the age of five, and the pony followed at age seven. Franklin also took an early interest in birds, at first just watching and identifying them, and collecting specimens of their eggs. When he was only 11 years old, he got his own gun. His mother made him promise he would kill only one male and one female of each species, and nothing during nesting season.
Franklin set about to shoot specimens of each of the local birds in the Hudson River Valley. He even tried mounting his catch, but decided that gutting and stuffing the birds was not quite for him, and from then on he had them professionally stuffed. One by one, the trophy birds were added to the display cabinet that sat proudly in the family library. Some of the bird specimens he collected were oriole, heron, robin, hawk, and woodpecker. Before long, he had a complete collection of all the birds that were native to his Hudson River Valley area.
One of Franklin's favorite field trips was to the Museum of Natural History in New York City. There, he could gaze in awe at the many specimens of animals, the gems and minerals, and other natural wonders. Hearing of Franklin's enjoyment, his grandfather Delano bought him a lifetime membership to the museum. When he was 14, Franklin was delighted to get a chance to see birds in the South Kensington Museum in London.
Fishing was another of his favorite activities. He enjoyed catching tiny minnows with his father. Franklin also took an active interest in trees. The huge property at Hyde Park had a great assortment of trees, and Franklin himself planted thousands of trees there over the years.
It seemed that Franklin was always building something. Once, he and a friend built a boat-shaped tree house to play in. Another time, he planned to build a yacht club with his friend.
In addition to the Hyde Park estate, the family owned a beautiful three-story summer cottage on Campobello Island, two miles off the coast of Maine, in the Bay of Fundy (part of the province of New Brunswick, Canada). It was there that the future president learned how to sail, first on his 21-foot boat, and then on the 40-foot Half-Moon (named after the ship the explorer Henry Hudson sailed up the Hudson River in 1609). The wealthy Roosevelts also owned a townhouse in Manhattan, where they spent winters to avoid the cold and snowy Hyde Park area. Franklin also spent time with members of the extended Delano family at the Algonac estate.
Franklin's father enjoyed spending time with him and found peace in the life of a country gentleman tending to his animals and riding around the property. Already in his early 60s by the time Franklin was eight years old, James was no longer as active in business as he had once been.
Off to Groton School
In September 1896, Franklin was sent to a boys-only boarding school at Groton, Massachusetts. His parents were sad to see him go, but they knew it was time to let Franklin get a proper education. The school had been founded in 1884 and included a gymnasium, tennis courts, a chapel, a boathouse, and a schoolhouse. Attendance at a private boarding school was a customary rite of passage for rich families; most of the boys there were from the same social class as Franklin.
However, Franklin was unique in that he joined the school in the third-year class, at age 14, not at age of 12 when most other boys began. It was quite a shock for Franklin, who had been under the protective wing of his mother for many years, to suddenly spend all his days away from home and family. Still, he was able to adjust quickly to life in the simply furnished dormitory. Visits home during the school year were not encouraged, so Franklin did not see much of Hyde Park. Actually, he did have family at Groton. When he got there, he found his nephew Taddy Roosevelt (son of his half brother James) one year ahead of him. This must have been awkward for Franklin, who was sometimes teased and called "Uncle Franklin."
While at Groton, Franklin participated enthusiastically in baseball, football, rowing, and other team sports. Though he was not one of the best athletes at the school, he was competitive and not afraid to get dirty or risk injury. He set a new school record for the running high kick — eight feet and six inches. Franklin participated in other activities as well; he was a formidable member of the debate team and sang in the choir.
Every morning, Franklin awoke at 7:30 A.M. for breakfast, followed by services in the chapel, and then classes. Dinner was followed by another service in the chapel. The goal of schools like Groton was to prepare teenagers for college by giving them a background in the basics such as math and literature, while providing them with knowledge of Greek, Latin, German, and French languages. Groton kids were also expected to develop a strong sense of religion. Franklin was heavily influenced by the Reverend Endicott Peabody, the school's headmaster. In fact, Franklin kept in touch with Peabody long after he graduated.
Excerpted from Franklin Delano Roosevelt for Kids by Richard Panchyk. Copyright © 2007 Richard Panchyk. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
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Table of Contents
ContentsForeword by Tobie Roosevelt (Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr.),
Foreword by Senator Edward M. Kennedy,
1 THE ROOSEVELTS OF HYDE PARK,
2 A PENCHANT FOR POLITICS,
3 OVERCOMING ALL OBSTACLES,
4 THE NATION ASKS FOR ACTION,
5 DEMOCRACY IN PERIL,
6 FINAL VICTORIES,
7 FDR'S LEGACY,