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From D.C. to N.W.: The Roosevelts in Washington State

From Roosevelt High School in Seattle to Roosevelt Elementary in Spokane and Lake Roosevelt in Hunters, the legacy of this historic family is ever-present in Washington. Even places not bearing the name of the once powerful trio, such as Grand Coulee Dam and Olympic National Forest, show the impact of the monumental decisions of the former First Family.

The connection the Roosevelts—Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor—had to the Pacific Northwest was strong. Theodore and Franklin often made visits to Washington for presidential duties, with Eleanor accompanying her husband on many occasions. The family visited all areas of the Pacific Northwest, from Victoria, B.C., to the Olympic Peninsula, to Bonneville Dam. Though the Washington area was a go-to spot for presidential campaigns, speaking engagements and government projects, it was also a second home to Franklin and Eleanor.

Thanks to MOHAI’s extensive collection, you can now take a closer look at the Roosevelts’ impact and visits in Washington.

April 6, 1911—Seattle

Theodore Roosevelt was the third president to have ever made a visit to Seattle during his presidency. Even after his presidential term, he would often make visits to the Pacific Northwest to continue his efforts in conserving national forests. At this visit, the popular president spoke at University of Washington about conserving forests and fisheries, the importance of studying history, and the responsibility of citizens to elect good leaders. 


President Theodore Roosevelt always drew a crowd when he came to visit. Upon one of his visits to Seattle, his ship docked to find 10,000 residents waiting to catch a glimpse and have the chance to wave at the iconic leader.

March 4, 1908—Seattle

Here Theodore stands with Richard Achilles Ballinger. Ballinger’s name is recognized in Washington today thanks to streets, parks and lakes named for this local leader. He was mayor of Seattle from 1904-1906 and during the time of this photo was Commissioner of the General Land Office from 1907-1908. Late he would become U.S Secretary of the Interior from 1909-1911. 

September 1932—Seattle

When this photo was taken, Franklin was known as New York’s governor and was on his presidential campaign for the 1933 elections. Like his distant relative, Teddy, Franklin could draw a crowd. On this particular visit, about 12,000 people packed the platform of King Street Station cheering for the presidential candidate’s arrival. Over 100,000 people lined up along the city streets throwing flowers and confetti as Franklin and city officials rode down the streets. The future president met with press, local government officials and residents.

December 1932—Puyallup

As part of his presidential campaign, future president and New York Governor Franklin Roosevelt paid a visit to the Puyallup Fair. Here he is making a radio speech from his flower-decked car as Chief Cowash and warrior Many War Dance of the Yakima tribe, as well as members of the American Legion, wait to meet him. 

August 3, 1934—Grand Coulee Dam

After a trip to Portland, where he was viewing the construction on the Bonneville Dam, Franklin made his way to Washington’s Grand Coulee Dam. Though work was not yet underway, he spoke to a crowd of 25,000 about the future of electrical power at the future site of the dam.  

December 1941—Tacoma

Known as an activist for human rights, Eleanor was at the forefront supporting Japanese-Americans when they became the topic of discussion after the Pearl Harbor attack. Though Eleanor voiced her opposition to Executive Order 9066, the mass removal and incarceration of all Japanese Americans on the West Coast, it was still passed and put into effect.  Eleanor showed her support by speaking and working with Japanese Americans to resolve issues. Here she is discussing problems of Nisei—children born to Japanese people in a new country, considered second generation—with members of the Japanese-American Citizens Defense Committee in Tacoma.

March 1938—Seattle

Eleanor and Franklin made frequent visits to Seattle as their daughter, Anna, lived in the city with her husband, John Boettiger, and her children. The couple lived on Mercer Island with their children; John worked as the publisher of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Here is Eleanor being greeted by her daughter, Anna, her son-in-law, John, and her grandchildren, Eleanor and Curtis. 

April 3, 1943—Seattle

A celebrity in her own right, Eleanor often made appearances and hosted special events throughout the 12 years she was first lady. She served as her husband’s ambassador as polio limited his travels. In this trip to Seattle, Eleanor pins medals on the jackets of four enlisted African American men honored at a special ceremony in front of Seattle’s County-City Building. The men received the honor when several months earlier they rescued numerous individuals after a bomber on a test run crashed into the Frye Packing Plant. 

September 28, 1937—Seattle

During their many visits to Washington, the Roosevelts mingled and met with many well-known Washington state officials. Here are Franklin and Eleanor in a car with Seattle Mayor John F. Dore and Governor Clarence D. Martin at King Street Station.

January 29, 1938—Seattle

In honor of Franklin’s birthday, cities across the nation would host dances in honor of the president and to raise money for the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation, a hospital for polio patients founded by Franklin in 1927. The National Committee for Birthday Balls sponsored the dances, which raised about a million dollars each year. The birthday balls ended in 1945 with the death of Franklin, but their legacy lives on in the March of Dimes. In the photo, dancers at the 1938 President’s Birthday Ball fill the floor of Seattle’s Civic Auditorium, now known as McCaw Hall. 

The Roosevelts: An Intimate History from Ken Burns airs Sunday, September 14, through Saturday, September 20, at 8pm and 10pm. The complete series is now available to watch via Roku, Apple TV and online streaming:

For more on The Roosevelts' legacy, click here to read The Roosevelts: Life In and Out of the White House.



All images credited to Post-Intelligencer Collection, Museum of History & Industry with the exception of Theodore Roosevelt and RA Ballinger image credited to Museum of History & Industry.


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