Three days after the death of Theodore Roosevelt in January 1919, the Roosevelt Permanent Memorial National Committee came into being. The founders called for a week of special events throughout the U.S. culminating on October 27, which would have been Roosevelt’s 61st birthday. The response was inspiring, and set the new Association on a long path of service to Roosevelt’s ideals and memory.
Renamed the Roosevelt Memorial Association (RMA), the organization on May 31, 1920 was formally incorporated as a non-stock non-profit corporation by an Act of Congress [41. Stat.691, 1920]. Congress charged the RMA “to perpetuate the memory of Theodore Roosevelt for the benefit of the people of the United States and the world.” Specifically, Congress gave the RMA the objectives of establishing a memorial in Washington, DC; creating a park at Oyster Bay, NY; and establishing and maintaining “an endowment fund to promote the development and application of the policies and ideals of Theodore Roosevelt for the benefit of the American people."
More than a year before, the Women’s Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association had been incorporated under the membership corporations law of the state of New York, “to commemorate the life of Theodore Roosevelt by establishing and maintaining a permanent memorial in the City of New York.” That permanent memorial was, and is, the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace, 28 East 20th Street in Manhattan: the reconstructed brownstone house where Roosevelt was born in 1858, which opened to the public on his birthday, October 27, 1923.
The RMA in 1923 opened a research library in New York City, and in 1943 presented the library’s sizable holdings—which included 12,000 books and pamphlets, 10,000 photographs, and thousands of letters, manuscripts, and other items—to Harvard University, Roosevelt’s alma mater. This became the Theodore Roosevelt Collection, now housed in Harvard's Houghton and Widener libraries.
In 1928, the RMA completed Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park, and in 1942 gifted it to the town of Oyster Bay, New York, Roosevelt’s home for more than three decades. On May 21, 1953 the RMA officially changed its name to the Theodore Roosevelt Association (TRA) by amendment approved by Congress (67 Stat.27-28, 1953), and less than one month later—on June 14, 1953—the TRA opened Roosevelt’s Oyster Bay home, Sagamore Hill, to the public. Three years after that—on January 6, 1955—the TRA and the Women's Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association signed an agreement for consolidation. On March 29, 1956, Congress approved an amendment (70 Stat.60, 1956) to the TRA's charter giving "the power at any time to consolidate with the Women's Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association." The New York State Commissioner of Education on April 30, 1956 gave consent for this consolidation, and days later, on May 3, 1956, the New York State Supreme Court approved the merger, forming the present TRA.
In 1962, Congress passed Public Law 87-547 establishing both Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site in New York City and Sagamore Hill National Historic Site in Oyster Bay. The legislation authorized the National Park Service to accept both the Birthplace and Sagamore Hill as gifts from the TRA along with a $500,000 endowment to support the management and operation of the properties. The TRA also donated to the National Park Service Theodore Roosevelt Island in Washington, DC, which was dedicated on October 27, 1967. In addition, the TRA in 1960 established the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Fund at the American Museum of Natural History, providing research grants in conservation and natural history; and donated to the Library of Congress the Theodore Roosevelt Association Motion Picture Collection with more than 140,000 feet of film.
In 1975, the TRA launched the Theodore Roosevelt Association Journal, a quarterly publication that highlights new scholarship about Roosevelt’s legacy, life and times, and in the 1980s began sponsoring Theodore Roosevelt Police Awards, which honor law enforcement officers who have experienced serious illness or injury yet continued to render outstanding service. The first award was given in 1983 in New York City to mark the 125th anniversary of TR’s birth, and since then have been bestowed in numerous other cities. The 1980s also marked the start of our Teddy Bears for Kids program, which has given more than 80,000 bears to hospitalized children nationwide to help them smile and feel safe in an unfamiliar and even frightening healthcare environment. In the 1990s, the TRA launched Theodore Roosevelt Public Speaking contests in which high school students present five-minute oratory about aspects of Roosevelt’s life and legacy, and like the Police Awards, these competitions are held in several locations.
During 1975-77, the TRA sponsored and paid for the East 20th Street Revitalization Project to improve the block in Manhattan where the Roosevelt Birthplace is located. Buildings were cleaned and painted, trees planted, and a new brick walk laid in front of the historic house. More recently, the TRA contributed some $15,000 to the Theodore Roosevelt Bird Sanctuary in Oyster Bay. The TRA also has supported Youngs Memorial Cemetery in Oyster Bay—site of Roosevelt’s grave—and over the years has contributed $100,000 to Harvard University to pay for improved facilities to house the Theodore Roosevelt Collection. More recently, the TRA was instrumental in purchasing and stabilizing the cabin known as Pine Knot, TR's presidential retreat in Albemarle County, Virginia, just outside Charlottesville, and for seeing that the non-profit Edith and Theodore Roosevelt Pine Knot Foundation had the leadership and resources to take over ownership and management of this unique property.
Since its earliest days, the TRA has awarded the Theodore Roosevelt Distinguished Service Medal to men and women who have achieved the highest levels of public service, scholarship and discovery, in the spirit of TR’s selfless service, strenuous endeavor, patriotic idealism, and practical accomplishments. In the 2000s, the Association established the Theodore Roosevelt Medal of Honor to recognize individuals who have contributed substantially to American public life, letters and science. In partnership with the Roosevelt Study Center in Middelburg, The Netherlands, the TRA also supports the Theodore Roosevelt American History Award, which annually recognizes the three best Masters theses in American history written by Dutch graduate students in the previous academic year.
Since 1982, the TRA occasionally has bestowed the Bertha Benkard Rose Award for outstanding service to the Association, in honor of Mrs. Rose, a leader in historic preservation and in the restoration of Sagamore Hill, who served on the TRA Executive Committee for 26 years until her death. One month after she died, the TRA Executive Committee established the Rose Award to recognize officers and members of the Association who have followed the example of Mrs. Rose’s energetic leadership, hard work and inspired efforts on behalf of the TRA.
Today the TRA continues to support the Theodore Roosevelt Collection at and the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Fund at the American Museum of Natural History. We also consult and collaborate with the National Park Service on the use of endowed funds for the Birthplace and Sagamore Hill.
In the late 2000s, the TRA briefly pursued then ended plans to establish in Oyster Bay the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Museum and Research Center. The Executive Committee ultimately decided the TRA could best meet its mission without investing in and operating a major site. Today we are continuing to promote Roosevelt’s ideals and legacies with a particular emphasis on America’s youth.