century ago, Pomona was one of many brief stop-overs in the Western treks
of Theodore Rex...
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 smallfrom Los Angeles, San Francisco, and
Sacramento to Paso Robles, Pajaro and Dunsmuirand 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 cest 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 Roosevelts next stop. In The History of Pomona
College, 18871969, Pomona Colleges sixth president, E.
Wilson Lyon, writes that: The officers of the college, the student
body, and a large group of townspeople met President Roosevelts
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 worlds 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 Colleges 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 Colleges 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 andoh yesa new tree.
Paul Eckstein 62 is
an attorney and a member of the
Pomona College Board of Trustees, living in Phoenix, Arizona.