"I Remain" - A Digital Archive of Letters, Manuscripts, and Ephemera
Contributions >> Digital Writing Course >> Student Work: Transcription | Research Materials | Video

For: [Letter] 1905 August 14, Oyster Bay (N.Y.) [to] Cecilia Beaux, East Gloucester (Mass.) / Theodore Roosevelt.

Edward J. Gallagher
Dept of English
Lehigh University

Notes on the August 14, 1905, letter in the "I Remain" collection from Theodore Roosevelt to Cecilia Beaux about Henry Sturgis Drinker

Beaux (1855-1942) is a famous American portrait painter. She painted Roosevelt's wife and daughter in 1902 and sketched him at that time as well (see the Tappert and the Carter books). So they knew each other before the time of this letter exchange. In the Roosevelt Papers microfilm at the Library of Congress (Shippensburg and Penn State have microfilm copies that should be available on Interlibrary Loan; see below for citation to the Index to the papers), there are letters prior to this exchange from Roosevelt to Beaux dated April 29, 1902 [reel 328], and May 10, 1904 [reel 334], which I have copied for Lehigh.

Beaux's brother-in-law referenced here is Henry Sturgis Drinker (1850-1937), who was president of Lehigh University (the 5th) from 1905-1920 (not to be confused, when doing research, with his son, Henry Sandwith Drinker, also a noteworthy person). Beaux, whose sister was Drinker's wife, painted Drinker in 1898, a painting known both as "Man with a Cat" and "At Home" (see the Tappert and the Carter books). She also painted his official presidential portrait hanging in Alumni Hall. Lehigh art galleries say we own two Beaux paintings of Drinker, apparently the hanging portrait and one similar, and two Beaux paintings of well known benefactor (and alumnus?) Charles Taylor (Taylor Stadium, Taylor Hall, etc.). I have only seen the Alumni Hall painting.

Roosevelt's immediate major political activity at the time of writing this letter was negotiating the Portsmouth Treaty ending the Russo-Japanese War, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906. The treaty conference began August 9 (Roosevelt was not there at the beginning; ironically, the Bethlehem Globe notes that he made a whistle-stop appearance in Bethlehem that day on the way to giving a speech in Wilkes-Barre) and was concluded September 5. On the day that Roosevelt wrote this letter treaty talks stalemated over Russia's refusal to pay an indemnity or to cede Sakhalin Island, and one is tempted to read Roosevelt's comments about the "mean and sordid" he sees in life through the frame of the "back-channel" negotiating he had to do. But the reason given below relating to public service is more likely. (See daily stories in the New York Times regarding the state of treaty negotiations surrounding the writing of this letter.)

Drinker's appointment as president of Lehigh was announced June 15, 1905, as evidenced by stories in the Globe (available on microfilm in the Bethlehem Public Library) and various Phila newspapers (see clippings and an array of congratulatory letters from friends and business associates in a scrapbook in the Drinker Family Papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Phila -- call #'s 1934b and 1934c). Drinker's inauguration was Founder's Day in October 1905.

Beaux's letter with clippings to Roosevelt dated August 12, 1905 [reel 58], which I have copied for Lehigh, triggered the August 14 letter from Roosevelt to her that we have. Beaux's letter and clippings (which specific clippings are not known), to which Roosevelt refers, are about Drinker's decision to take the presidency.

Several newspaper articles such as the one from the Philadelphia Inquirer entitled "Lehigh University's New President" (June 16, 1905), which I have copied for Lehigh, and letters to Drinker in the Drinker Family Papers call attention to the loss of income in Drinker's decision. The presidency was not a financial step up for this well-paid lawyer for the Lehigh Valley Railroad but a definite financial step down, and thus was considered an act of public service, the "good deed" that Roosevelt talks about.

The Inquirer, in fact, calls Drinker's decision "almost unparalleled . . . . one of the most conspicuous instances of the existence of altruism." Also, Judge Ellis Orvis wrote Drinker how he saw Drinker's "strong sense of responsibility to his fellow man" eclipsing the "very material pecuniary loss" (Drinker Family Papers). And in his remarks at the Founder's Day inauguration, Frank Howe called attention to the "immediate pecuniary sacrifice" Drinker made, turning "his back upon the material rewards that surely would be his" (Founder's Day booklet in the Lehigh Drinker file).

My conclusion, then, is that it was Drinker's commitment to public service over wealth that was what Roosevelt saw as the "good deed" in his election. That conclusion is bolstered by his use of the – in terms of this letter – vague but intriguing and unexplained reference to the "mean and sordid" aspects of this life. To me, that phrase doesn't sound perfunctory, just tossed off – it seems to have some deeper resonance. To what could Roosevelt be referring?

In fact, Roosevelt used that very phrase in his "American Ideals" essay (originally published in 1895 and appearing in several editions in the next decade), lashing out at the bad, even evil, priorities of business men and the idle rich in the so-called Gilded Age: "The people who pride themselves upon having a commercial ideal are apparently unaware that such an ideal is as essentially mean and sordid as any in the world" (12).

The phrase "mean and sordid" to characterize the corrupt rich appears elsewhere in this time period, notably in a speech by Cornell President Jacob Schurman in a similar context (the "unscrupulous doings on the part of businessmen") the following year (June 22, 1906) -- a speech linked with Drinker's June 1906 graduation speech at Central High School in Bethlehem in an article in Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine by Richard Watson Gilder (Sept 1906, pp. 795-96). Schurman blasts the "idle rich" as "an excrescence in any properly organized community." Gilder compares Schurman and Drinker in regard to optimism about the future.

Drinker did a privately printed autobiography in 1931 (only 12 copies according to his son Henry Sandwith Drinker in a document in the Drinker Family Papers), but I have not been able to locate a copy. This work might shed light on Drinker's specific motives for leaving the Lehigh Valley Railroad to take the Lehigh job, and it is unfortunate not to have it as context for this letter. Interestingly, in her Family Portrait, Catherine Drinker Bowen says her father came to Lehigh because he wanted sons to take care of, his boys mainly grown (16).

I also was not able to consult the Cecilia Beaux Papers at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art. Beaux apparently was an avid diary-keeper, and it is equally unfortunate not to have the 1905 diary as well for possible reference to her motivation in sending the clippings to Roosevelt.

So, some future researcher might further contextualize this letter by continuing the search for the Drinker autobiography and visiting the Beaux Papers (nobody was willing to lend the microfilm).

An undated Globe newspaper clipping in the Drinker Family Papers (which, unfortunately, I did not copy) marks Drinker giving this letter -- plus letters from presidents Wilson, Harding, and Taft -- to the Lehigh library, so that accounts for how we got the letter.

Drinker himself had prior and succeeding correspondence directly with Roosevelt. See the Drinker Family Papers and the Roosevelt Papers (I have copied some of the letters for Lehigh from the Library of Congress microfilm; compare with the complete list in the Index to the Theodore Roosevelt Papers to see what is missing). Ironically, Catherine Drinker Bowen says that her father hated Roosevelt (113).

Bailey, Elizabeth. "The Cecilia Beaux Papers." Journal of the Archives of American Art 13 (1973): 14-19.

Beaux, Cecilia. Background with Figures. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1930.

Bowen, Catherine Drinker. Family Portrait. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1970.

Carter, Alice A. Cecilia Beaux: A Modern Painter in the Gilded Age. New York: Rizzoli, 2005.

Cecilia Beaux Papers. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Dennett, Tyler. Roosevelt and the Russo-Japanese War. Gloucester: P. Smith, 1959 [c1925].

Drinker Family Papers. Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. 1934b, 1934c.

[Gilder, Richard Watson]. "Topics of the Time." Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine Sept 1906, 795-96.

Henry Sturgis Drinker File. Special Collections, Lehigh University Library, Bethlehem, Pa.

"Henry Sturgis Drinker the President of Lehigh University." The Globe 15 June, 1905: 1

Index to the Theodore Roosevelt Papers. Washington: Library of Congress, 1969.

"Lehigh University's New President." Philadelphia Inquirer 16 June, 1906.

Roosevelt, Theodore. American Ideals, and Other Essays, Social and Political. Temecula: Classic Bookshop, 2001.

"Schurman's Warning to the Idle Rich." New York Times 22 June, 1906: 6.

Sharf, Frederic A., Anne Nishimura Morse, and Sebastian Dobson. A Much Recorded War: The Russo-Japanese War in History and Imagery. Boston: MFA Publications, 2005.

Tappert, Tara Leigh. "Aimée Ernesta [Drinker's wife] and Eliza Cecilia [Cecilia Beaux]: Two Sisters, Two Choices." Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 124.3 (July 2000): 249-91.

---. Cecilia Beaux and the Art of Portraiture. Washington: Smithsonian Press, 1995.

powered by CONTENTdm

Lehigh University Digital Library

Conditions of Use