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The Young Presidents
The men who led the United States started out as ordinary kids.
by David Holzel
 

There’s a saying that in America anyone can grow up to be president. And while that is becoming truer all the time, so far only 42 people have grown up to be president of the United States.

Maybe you or someone you know will be president one day, but is there a way to know that now? Imagine a time when the presidents were in the same situation. We think of them as old or dead – frozen in paintings or scratchy photographs.

But think of them as kids. As students in a school. No more special than the person who sits

 
Imagine them as kids: (clockwise from top left) Franklin Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush
 
The presidents in the exhibit are:


Herbert Hoover
31st president 1929-1933

Franklin D. Roosevelt
32nd president 1933-1945

Harry S Truman
33rd president 1945-1953

Dwight D. Eisenhower
34th president 1953-1961

John F. Kennedy
35th president 1961-1963

Lyndon B. Johnson
 
36th president 1963-1969

Richard M. Nixon
  
37th president 1969-1974

next to you in class.

An exhibit in Washington, DC, looks at 12 presidents from that point of view. The exhibit is called “School House to White House,” and it’s at the National Archives, the same building that houses the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and other important documents.

“School House to White House” shows how children’s lives have changed in the last century – and how they’ve stayed the same.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who became the 35th president, missed 65 of 88 days of kindergarten in 1922 because he was sick so often. His mother kept 

 

  Gerald R. Ford
 
38th president 1974-1977
 
 Jimmy Carter
 
39th president 1977-1981
 
 Ronald Reagan
 
40th president 1981-1989
 
 George H.W. Bush
 
41st president 1989-1993
 
 Bill Clinton
 
42nd president 1993-2001

track of his illnesses on a note card: whooping cough, measles, chicken pox, scarlet fever. These were all once common childhood diseases, and they could be deadly. Could someone who often was sick still be a good president?

If those diseases are gone, those other afflictions of childhood – report cards – are still with us. Examples of the presidents’ report cards from elementary school, high school and university show that you don’t have to be an A student to reach the White House.

At Harvard University, John F. Kennedy got mostly B’s and C’s. Richard Milhous Nixon, the 37th president, got all A’s – except a B in PE – according to

 


What were the presidents' favorite snacks?


Information provided by the National Archives.

one university report card. Gerald Rudolph Ford, who followed Nixon as the 38th president, had just about the opposite record. On one high school report card his highest grade was for “physical training.”
 
Most of the presidents in the exhibit grew up poor, or in families where there wasn’t money for luxuries. They attended public schools, which are free. Wealthy parents a century ago might hire tutors to teach their children at home. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who became the 32nd president, was home schooled in this way until he was 14. Then he went away to a boarding school, where he lived as well as studied.
 
Children at boarding schools kept in touch with their families by writing letters. Roosevelt’s enthusiastic personality came through in a letter he wrote in 1900.
 
My Darling Mama and Papa,
Joyful news!
I have a part in the play at last and entirely by accident.

 
He explained that his classmate Jimmy Jackson became sick with “rheumatic fever and water on the knee.” Jimmy was so sick he had to go home and miss school for the rest of the year. So Roosevelt took Jimmy’s part in the school play.
 
I suppose it is criminal to rejoice but I can’t help it!!!!
 
Would you vote for someone who gloats like this? Franklin Roosevelt was elected president four times, and served longer than any other president.
 
The schools the presidents attended taught subjects that schools no longer offer. Harry S Truman, the 33rd president, had a class called “hygiene.” George H.W. Bush, the 41st president and father of President George W. Bush, studied “citizenship.” Most of the presidents in the exhibit studied Latin.
 
One hundred years from now, historians will know which of today’s kids grew up to be president. Which of the classes you’re taking do you think will seem odd and old-fashioned to the people of the future?
?
 
Copyright © 2007 by David Holzel

   


A Different Kind
 of Library

The photos, papers and other elements of  the exhibit -- as well as the information about favorite snacks -- came from these presidents' presidential libraries.

A presidential library is an institution built to house a president's official papers and, sometimes, personal belongings.

 

 
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