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Spring 2003
Volume 39, No. 3
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Sarah Dolinar

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A Bully Centennial

A century ago, Pomona was one of many brief stop-overs in the Western treks of Theodore Rex...

One hundred years ago this spring, President Theodore Roosevelt took his bully pulpit west of the Mississippi for eight weeks. His Western trek included 25 states and 150 towns and cities. During his eight weeks away from Washington, Roosevelt gave 262 speeches, admired and explored the wilderness at the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Yellowstone, and when not speaking or taking in the sights, ate heartily.

The President ate so well in fact, as Edmund Morris writes in Theodore Rex, that he returned to Washington 17 pounds heavier than when he left. Mrs. Roosevelt was not happy and had a tennis court installed at the White House to inspire her husband to lose his extra weight.

Roosevelt spent one quarter of his great Western adventure in California, where he gave 52 speeches, planted trees, dedicated monuments and buildings, laid cornerstones and in his own words, had a “bully time.” His journey began in Barstow on May 7 and ended in Hornbrook on May 20. In between, Roosevelt spent four days enjoying the splendors of the Yosemite Valley with naturalist, writer and conservationist John Muir. The President spoke at places big and small—from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento to Paso Robles, Pajaro and Dunsmuir—and to varied audiences including forest rangers in Santa Barbara and veterans of the Spanish American War in Oakland.



Roosevelt also spoke on two university campuses, Leland Stanford Junior University and the University of California in Berkeley, and on May 8, 1903, at 16-year old Pomona College. Roosevelt came to Pomona at the special invitation of its third president, George Augustus Gates, who was seeking ways to enhance the national reputation of the College. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Roosevelt began the morning of May 8 in Riverside where, the day before, he had spoken “of the fertility of your soil, the beauty of your scenery [and] the wonderful manner in which the full advantage of that soil had been taken by man.”

After his address, Roosevelt followed his own advice to take full advantage of the soil by replanting a Washington Navel orange tree in the courtyard of the Mission Inn. That tree died in 1922, three years after Roosevelt himself passed away at the age of 61.

Claremont was Roosevelt’s next stop. In The History of Pomona College, 1887–1969, Pomona College’s sixth president, E. Wilson Lyon, writes that: “The officers of the college, the student body, and a large group of townspeople met President Roosevelt’s train at the Santa Fe station. He was drawn in a carriage by students up College Avenue to Pearsons Hall where a platform had been built and decorated with the Harvard and Pomona colors.” The local newspaper reported that thousands came in “carriages, bikes, tally hoes, automobiles and farm wagons” to hear the young President. They were not disappointed.

Roosevelt spoke for 25 minutes and without a microphone. Roosevelt opened by recognizing (to cheers and applause) “the men of the Grand Army. … I always envy you men of the Grand Army because you do not have to preach; you practiced.”

The Civil War was hardly a distant memory even though it had ended 38 years before Roosevelt came to Claremont, and Pomona College was not the only place that Civil War veterans (who were then in their 50s, 60s and 70s) gathered to catch a glimpse of the President. Whenever and wherever Roosevelt saw these old warriors in the crowd he paid tribute to them as he did in Claremont on May 8.

After recognizing “the men of the Grand Army,” and remarking on the Harvard colors “and the blue and white of yours,” Roosevelt observed what a “pleasure [it was] to be in this college town today.” In contrast to his appearances at Stanford and Berkeley, where Roosevelt spoke warmly of his old friends who were serving as the presidents of those universities, Roosevelt failed to acknowledge President Gates (who was not an old friend) or even mention the name of the new college (of which he undoubtedly knew little) at which he was speaking.

Ever pragmatic and ready to sermonize, Roosevelt made clear that the new college he was addressing could not erect “the superstructure of intellectual, moral and spiritual well-being” without “material prosperity” but that “if we are to count in the long run we must have built upon the material prosperity the power and desire to give to our lives other than a merely material side.” These words surely must have pleased the Board of Trustees and professors of the College, a number of whom (like President Gates) were ordained ministers.

Having recognized that material prosperity was not enough, Roosevelt exhorted “colleges like this, in these great new States [to] add to the purely American type of American scholarship...to deal in so fresh a way that the net outcome shall be an addition to the world’s stock of wisdom and knowledge...and to strive to bring to development among the students the capacity to do good original work.” The message is timeless, even if the language is not.

After these few preliminaries, Roosevelt moved to the heart of his sermonizing as he made clear that the College’s responsibility did not end with the development of its students’ minds or bodies. Nothing, said Roosevelt, was more important than development of persons with great character: “Brilliancy, genius, cleverness of all kinds do not count for anything like as much as the sturdy traits that we group together under the name of character,” which Roosevelt defined as “decency, morality, virtue, clean living [and]...hardihood, resolution, courage, the power to do, the power to dare, the power to endure.” When you have this combination, he said, you “get the proper type of American citizenship.” It was a message he was to deliver often and forcefully. Roosevelt closed his remarks to great cheers and applause.

Before Roosevelt left the campus, he planted a great California oak tree in front of the three-year old Pearsons Hall of Science. Roosevelt was then escorted to the Santa Fe station and headed off for Pasadena before ending the day in Los Angeles.

The oak Roosevelt left behind on the Pomona campus has long since died. For years it was believed that the Roosevelt Tree lived until the 1970s when, suffering from oak root fungus, it was removed in the dead of night by employees acting at the direction of the College administration. Undoubtedly the administration was worried about how the campus would react to the uprooting of the College’s most famous tree. They need not have worried. In fact, the original Roosevelt Tree was removed by two Pomona students several weeks after it was planted.

In 1974, Edith Hinckley wrote a short letter revealing that when her late husband George Hinckley (Class of 1903) and a classmate noticed that the Roosevelt Tree was dying, they “replaced the tree with a healthy tree in the dead of night.” It seems that in 1903 as well in the 1970s, landscaping was best done at night.

One hundred years after his May 8, 1903, address, Theodore Roosevelt is the only sitting President of the United States to have stood and spoken before an audience at Pomona College. Although the original Roosevelt Tree did not survive more than a few weeks, Pearsons still stands, soon to reopen, refurbished and resplendent, as the home for the history, religious studies and philosophy departments. With the renovation of Pearsons and the dawning of the century, perhaps it is time for a new speech from a new President and—oh yes—a new tree.

—Paul Eckstein ’62 is an attorney and a member of the
Pomona College Board of Trustees, living in Phoenix, Arizona.