Theodore’s Dutch legacy: DSU symposium highlights U.S. president’s roots

North Dakotans have a special affinity for Theodore Roosevelt and his relationship to the Badlands. But few are aware of the 26th president's international connections, particularly to the Netherlands. The family had Dutch roots stemming back to ...

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Press Photo by Nadya Faulx Hans Krabbendam, assistant director of the Roosevelt Study Center in the Netherlands, speaks in front of a poster of Theodore Roosevelt at Dickinson State University’s Theodore Roosevelt symposium Friday. Krabbendam’s presentation at the conference highlighted the Roosevelt family’s Dutch roots and connection to the country, which audiences often overlook.

North Dakotans have a special affinity for Theodore Roosevelt and his relationship to the Badlands.
But few are aware of the 26th president’s international connections, particularly to the Netherlands.
The family had Dutch roots stemming back to the 16th century, though Roosevelt, unlike his nephew Franklin, “almost denied he had Dutch roots,” said Hans Krabbendam, assistant director at the Roosevelt Study Center in Middelburg, the Netherlands, which studies the Roosevelt family from a European perspective.
The Dutch take pride in the connection, even today. Though not quite as endeared as Franklin or Franklin’s wife Eleanor, the elder Roosevelt holds a special place in Dutch and European memory as an “all-around president,” Krabbendam said.
“Theodore Roosevelt is less known, but for the Dutch, he is even more American than the other two Roosevelts,” he said. “He knew the country inside out … His Americanness makes him much more interesting for European students to get to know.”
Krabbendam spoke Friday as part of the Dickinson State University Theodore Roosevelt Center’s annual symposium, which began Thursday and will wrap up Saturday. As part of the symposium’s look at Roosevelt’s role in World War I, Krabbendam presented on the environmental impacts of the “quick violence” of the war and its seeming contradiction with the president’s commitment to conservation.
Krabbendam, whose background is in immigration studies, is relatively new to the study of Theodore Roosevelt, having only decided to fully explore the topic a few years ago. In his role at the Roosevelt Study Center, which has received thousands of microfiche letters from DSU’s own center, he lectures to international students at the center’s liberal arts Roosevelt Academy.
“We realized it was time to look at the Roosevelt legacy from a European perspective, what they contributed to globalization,” he said. “The Dutch legacy is part of the Roosevelts’, and the Roosevelt legacy is part of the Netherlands’.”
Speaking earlier this week, TR Center project manager Sharon Kilzer said she met Krabbendam at a similar symposium in Buffalo, NY, last year, and decided to invite him to speak at the center’s ninth symposium.
“I was so taken by him,” she said. “I saw this as an opportunity to get a European view of war.”
Though Roosevelt had “a lot to offer European history,” Krabbendam said Roosevelt’s storied anti-isolationist push to involve the U.S. in the war was not well-known throughout the Netherlands at the outbreak of the war. He was known more for his presidency, particularly after a trip to Europe in 1910, which made Roosevelt “a star.”
“Many people started to realize that this presence of Theodore Roosevelt was a symbol of the growing power of the United States,” Krabbendam said. “They connected the economic and trade strengths of the 59 states and saw that mirrored by the personality of Theodore Roosevelt.”
Krabbendam said he was “delighted” to be able to open a new window on a familiar topic for scholars and an interested audience, the bulk of whom Friday were local history buffs from the Dickinson community. His trip to North Dakota, however, is about more than just academics.
Krabbendam’s week-long stay will include visits to the Badlands and Theodore Roosevelt National Park, as well as a trip to Zeeland, which he suspects was settled by immigrants from the Dutch province of the same name.
“To get to see what Roosevelt saw when he came here in the Dakotas cannot be replaced,” he said. “The trip itself is an education.”

Faulx is a reporter with the Press. Contact her at 701-456-1207

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