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Theodore Roosevelt and His Birds

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), the 26th president of the United States from 1901 to 1909, is remembered for his progressive domestic policies and his brash actions on the international stage.  He is also known for his love of the natural world and for conservation projects large and small.   Roosevelt was called the “Great Conservationist.”  He was a renowned outdoors man.  A letter written by Roosevelt to Rev. Richard H. Tierney, S.J., a Jesuit priest, on November 17, 1914, provided evidence for Roosevelt’s belief in the stewardship of the natural world.  Specifically, Roosevelt shared his interest in birds. The letter is preserved in the Presidential Autographs collection.  That particular collection includes documents signed by presidents from George Washington to Ronald Reagan, and it contains other letters written by Theodore Roosevelt, too.

Theodore Roosevelt 1914 LetterIn his letter sent to Fr. Tierney in 1914, Roosevelt indicated his desire to naturalize the black thrush and the skylark on Long Island, New York, and would like to see more bobolinks there.  After making a reference to his article about English birds, Roosevelt noted that he wrote about the birds around his country estate of Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay, Long Island, in his autobiography.

At Sagamore Hill, Roosevelt spent many hours studying birds both by reading books about them and by observing them in their natural environment.  He learned to recognize a plethora of birds by sight and sound.  He also enjoyed studying birds at various locations during his famed travels and hunting excursions.  As suggested by his letter to Fr. Tierney, Roosevelt was knowledgeable about the birds of England.  In fact, Roosevelt spent time bird-watching in England.  

The recipient of Roosevelt’s letter, Rev. Richard H. Tierney, S.J. (1870-1928), was a noted editor of the Jesuit magazine America, which was published in New York City.  Founded in 1909, the magazine provided religious and political commentary for contemporary American society.  The periodical is still published today.

In 1911, America moved its headquarters to 59 East 83rd Street in New York City.  Roosevelt sent this letter to Fr. Tierney’s attention at that address.  Fr. Tierney was the periodical’s third editor-in-chief from 1914 to 1925.  Prior to his arrival at America, Fr. Tierney was a professor of philosophy at the Jesuit seminary in Woodstock, Maryland.  The Booth Family Center for Special Collections houses the extensive America Magazine archives.  Correspondence, notes, clippings, and other materials in the magazine’s archives document Fr. Tierney’s tenure as editor-in-chief.

This letter from 1914 reflects Theodore Roosevelt’s passion for birds and his conservation ethic.  Theodore Roosevelt died on January 6, 1919 at Oyster Bay.

--Scott Taylor, Manuscripts Archivist

April 26, 2017