A Conversation With Doris Kearns Goodwin
By Lori Hope Baumel
Originally appeared in Around Wellington Magazine on January 1, 2014
Doris Kearns Goodwin Photo courtesy of MBFI
“There’s nothing that tells you more about what a person’s life might have been like than seeing a house in which they lived.”
– Doris Kearns Goodwin
On November 22, 2013 I had the privilege of interviewing Pulitzer Prize winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin, one of the leading presidential historians of our era, via telephone. Her book, The Bully Pulpit, an accounting of the relationship between Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William H. Taft had recently been released. The very next day she flew in to Miami for the Miami Book Fair International (MBFI) to participate in a panel discussion with A. Scott Berg, author of the new book entitled Wilson.
LHB: What aspect of the MBFI is most appealing to you?
DKG: I think what makes it so much fun and, I’ve done it before… there’s such an energy, an excitement and a chance to meet your fellow authors who are all in various places – and somehow you do run into them. Particularly, in this case, I’m going to be in conversation with Scott Berg, the writer of the Wilson biography. He’s an old friend of mine. I saw him last in California during the award ceremonies for Lincoln. I think we’re looking forward to the chance to do this together. I think that underwrites the whole idea that I know what an extraordinary festival it is. To have so many people coming and so many different authors running from one place to another – you feel the energy and excitement of the whole event.
LHB: What question do you want those who attend your panel discussion to be asking themselves upon leaving your presentation?
DKG: What a great question. I think, hopefully, what they will get from the presentation is my own passion and desire to have created a story, a series of stories actually, about these men and women who lived during the progressive era. I’m hoping that they’ll want to hear the story… delve into it so that period can come alive for them the way it has for me. I would hope that after I give them a sense of what drew me to the story that they themselves will come back to me and say, “I feel drawn into this story too and I’d like to learn more about it.”
LHB: There has been a multitude of books written on Teddy Roosevelt, but The Bully Pulpit has a fresh unique perspective covering his relationship with Taft, their wives, the press and, of course, Archie Butt. I know the cast of characters you had to choose from. Besides Roosevelt and Taft, which character in the book were you most fascinated or intrigued by?
DKG: There are probably two answers to that.
One is that there are three women in the book that attracted my continuing fascination. They each chose, in a different way, how a woman could find her own desires and ambitions met in that period of time. Edith Roosevelt becomes a more traditional wife and mother and finds a deep sense of satisfaction in the family. Nellie Taft, [becomes] an actual partner of Will Taft as his political campaign manager [and] his speechwriter… Ida Tarbell, deciding she could not marry in her own right and still have [her career], becoming the most famous journalist of her era. Those three women – each making a choice differently, depending on what they thought was possible for them in their era – really struck a chord with me.
But, if I had to choose one person, rather than the three of them, and you mentioned him, it would be Archie Butt. The idea that this military aide to both Teddy and Taft was able to chronicle the heartbreak of their rupture (because he was so close to both) and write letters to his family every day, great letters… that’s the treasure of being a historian… you’re looking over their shoulders at their writing at the end of a day. So I guess I would say, besides Teddy and Taft, that the triple women and Archie Butt struck a chord in my heart.
LHB: That’s interesting; I thought you would have said S. S. McClure, the editor of McClure magazine.
DKG: That’s who I probably would have said. It’s really interesting. Your mentioning of Archie Butt just got to me.
DKG: I’m sure, with anybody else, I would have said McClure. There is something about Archie Butt’s character, especially knowing that he comes back from his vacation on the Titanic. His death is such a blow to Taft and really, again, shadows his presidency.
LHB: I have visited Teddy Roosevelt’s birthplace in Gramercy Park (NYC) many times over the years. The docents there are exceptional. Did you have access to that facility for your research?
DKG: Yes, indeed. I love going to the houses. There’s nothing that tells you more about what a person’s life might have been like than seeing a house in which they lived. To be able to go there and see the formal parlor as they had it then and to see that, eventually, they worked in the back – in the patio… where he could exercise so that his asthma would be able to deal with a body that could help to make him stronger.
The whole atmosphere of that period of time, where Edith lived nearby him… I’ve been there a number of times. You’re right, the docents there become as if they’re living in the house at the same time. They tell you details… there was one little chair – I guess most of the chairs had horsehair on them so they weren’t that comfortable. [His parents] made a little chair that had a different kind of texture on it so he’d be comfortable. Maybe velvet? [The docents] know things that you don’t know and you feel like, in their presence, that you learn something every time you go.
LHB: … and the unusual amount of affection given to Teddy and his siblings (by his parents) during the Victorian era. Both of his parents actually shared a room and the children rooms were on the same floor. It reflected what is described in your book, how Teddy wasn’t afraid to hug his children upon stepping off a ship (after a post – presidential trip to Europe). I thought back to the docent who told me how warm Teddy’s parents were. Looking at the setup of their bedrooms, they broke all precedence from the generations before.
DKG: Wow! You have just taught me something. You’re absolutely right. I know about the warmth. They were an unusually expressive family. They did hug each other. They could talk about loving each other… and you’re right, it’s that Victorian era, where normally the parents and the children are separated. Even in terms of structure, where the house is and the servants are somewhere else… there’s not [usually] that open display of affection. But, I hadn’t thought about it in terms of the house itself and the bedrooms being close together.
LHB: During that era, they usually had the father’s private entrance, quite frankly, should he want to bring up a “guest” right at the top of the steps. At the other end of the hallway was the wife’s bedroom and they would “visit” each other upon occasion. That was tradition… But Theodore Roosevelt Sr. loved his wife so much that they shared a bedroom and kept the children’s rooms near them on the second floor (of the brownstone). Also, on the first floor of TR’s birthplace, there’s a museum. It has items like the thick speech that was in Teddy’s pocket that helped him dodge a bullet… and a picture of his wife Edith campaigning for Herbert Hoover against “cousin” Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
DKG: I’m so glad you told me that… that is great!
LHB: I’m a fan of Audible.com and I preordered The Bully Pulpit (narrated by Edward Herrmann) before it was released. Obviously, it’s a very big business.
DKG: I think it’s going to become bigger and bigger and the great thing is, as I talk to people in publishing, that a lot of people are going to want to have both the book [and the audiobook]. If they get up to a certain point and they are going on a trip they can then follow [the story] in the car. [There are so many] modern ways of reading the book: listening, podcasting or watching it on your computer. If they could absorb the story in different ways – either reading or listening – I think it’s all for the good.
LHB: The only thing missing from the audiobook is the illustrations.
DKG: I suppose that’s right.
LHB: … so I’m going to pick up a copy of The Bully Pulpit at the book fair! But, I’m listening to my “mind movie” [the audio book] already.
DKG: That’s a great way of calling it… “Mind movies.”
LHB: You certainly are the presidential historian of our era. Teddy Roosevelt was one of the presidents whose face was placed on Mount Rushmore. How well do you think the presidents on Mount Rushmore would have gotten along?
DKG: [Hearty laugh]. Well, he would argue with Jefferson, I think, because he believed that government and federal government have to deal with the social problems of the day. Jefferson would have believed in a more limited role of government even though as president he did exercise the powers of the government. I think [TR] and Washington would have been fine.
LHB: Although their personalities were very different.
DKG: Absolutely… and I’d like to think that Lincoln and Teddy would have gotten along. Teddy adored Lincoln… read all of Nicolay and Hay’s biographies – that many volume series. [He] quoted Lincoln, thought about Lincoln a lot. I’m sure Lincoln would be the peacemaker of all of them.
LHB: If you were to put a fifth face on Mount Rushmore, I have a feeling I know the answer to this, who would it be?
DKG: It would be Franklin Roosevelt.
LHB: That’s what I thought. I just got a 100% on my test! Last question…
I am a published music composer, but I don’t solely listen to my own music… What book are you currently reading?
DKG: I read mysteries at night. Somebody just gave me Sherlock Holmes mysteries in short story form. I’ve read Mary Higgins Clark [and] Elizabeth George. When I go to bed at night I just want something that I can read for twenty minutes and go to sleep. Now that I’m finished with this book, after the book tour, I’m going to embark on a serious reading program again because normally I have to read the books that relate to what I’m doing during the day. I’m really looking forward, probably to fiction, once this is over.
DKG: Oh, this was such a great treat for me. I’ll see you down there [at the MBFI]… come by and make sure I see you! This was so much fun. I will forever now remember your understanding of the house [TR’s birthplace] and it’s structure… so thank you very, very much.
LHB: You’re welcome. I’ll see you tomorrow.
For More information on Doris Kearns Goodwin go to:
Live… Go… Do!
Top Five List For January 2014
The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism
2) Listen …
To a fascinating podcast of an interview with Doris Kearns Goodwin hosted by National Public Radio’s Diane Rehm.
You can also read an excerpt of The Bully Pulpit on the Diane Rehm Show site.
In November, I extensively covered the Miami Book Fair International for our Around Wellington readers. On November 23, 2013 I was THERE! Now, you can be there too. Watch a Miami Book Fair International videotaped panel discussion on CSPAN’s Book TV:
BookTV.org/ Doris Kearns Goodwin, “The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism” and A. Scott Berg, “Wilson”
For a variety of BookTV panel discussions covering a diverse selection of books and topics visit:
4) Get Jumpin!
Mark your calendars for the Wellington Equestrian Festival 2014:
January 8 – March 30, 2014
It’s time for my favorite Wellington event of the year. Once again, I highly recommend you attend Saturday Night Lights and all of the equestrian events scheduled. It’s “season” and it’s time to see all of the internationally renowned equestrian stars shine. Bring the kids. There’s plenty to do for the entire family.
To whet your appetite, click on the image below to watch a Vimeo video containing highlights of the 2013 Wellington Equestrian Festival:
For more information go to the calendar of events at:
See you there!
5) Love the Beatles? Then check out:
It’s What You See:
Exclusive Luncheon with Harry Benson
Jan 13, 2014 11:30 AM – 2:00 PM
Scottish born photojournalist, Harry Benson, arrived in America with the Beatles in 1964. He knew then he would stay. His 60-year career as a photojournalist included an over 25 year contract with LIFE Magazine and photographs on the covers and inside major magazines worldwide, including: Life, Time, Newsweek, Town & Country, Vanity Fair, Quest, Paris Match, G.Q., Esquire, W, The London Sunday Times Magazine, People, Vogue, Architectural Digest and Vice Magazine.
Benson was twice named NPPA Magazine Photographer of the Year and was also twice awarded the Leica Medal of Excellence. In 2009, Benson was named Commander of the British Empire, (CBE) by HRH Queen Elizabeth II, for his service to photography. He has also received a Doctor of Letters from Glasgow University and the Glasgow School of Art, and is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society.
Benson’s photographs are in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.; Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow and the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. He has enjoyed 40 solo exhibitions and published 17 books including New York New York, The Beatles in the Beginning, President and Mrs. Reagan: an American Love Story and The Beatles on the Road: 1964-1966.
Benson will discuss his incredible experiences and give us insight into how he sees the world and translates his vision into some of the world’s most compelling photos.
Proceeds benefit programs for and about artists in Palm Beach County.
Valet Parking Provided
601 Lake Avenue
Lake Worth, FL 33460
For questions please contact: