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Naming the National Parks with purpose.
Naming the National Parks with purpose. 

PRESIDENTS LOVE TO PUT THEIR NAMES ON THINGS, which is perhaps why, in 1908, Theodore Roosevelt couldn’t understand why William Kent donated a huge swath of land to the government for the purposes of preservation and didn’t want to name it after himself. In corresponding with Kent, though, Roosevelt learned an important lesson about philanthropic humility.

19o8 | Washington, D.C.

Making the Introductions

Kentfield, CA
January 30, 1908

My dear Mr. Roosevelt:
I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your message of appreciation, and hope and believe it will strengthen me to go on in an attempt to save more of the precious and vanishing glories of nature for a people too slow of perception.

Your kind suggestion of a change of name is not one that I can accept. So many millions of better people have died forgotten that to stencil one’s own name on a benefaction seems to carry with it an implication of mandate immortality, as being something purchasable.

I have five good, husky boys that I am trying to bring up to a knowledge of democracy and to a realizing sense of the rights of the “other fellow,” doctrines which you, sir, have taught with more vigor and effect than any man in my time. If these boys cannot keep the name of Kent alive, I am willing it should be forgotten.

I have this day sent you by mail a few photographs of Muir Woods, and trust that you will believe, before you see the real thing (which I hope will be soon), that our nation has acquired something worthwhile.
Yours truly,
William Kent
 
The White House
Washington, DC
February 5, 1908

My dear Mr. Kent:
By George! you are right. It is enough to do the deed and not to desire, as you say, to “stencil one’s own name on the benefaction.” Good for you, and for the five boys who are to keep the name of Kent alive! I have four who I hope will do the same thing by the name of Roosevelt. Those are awfully good photos.
Sincerely yours,
Theodore Roosevelt

 

EXCERPT FROM

PHILANTHROPY
Summer 2015

THEODORE ROOSEVELT and WILLIAM KENT, from a correspondence. In 1905, as president, Roosevelt created the U.S. Forest Service. That same year, William Kent purchased 611 acres of forest in Northern California to save its redwoods from logging interests. A devastating earthquake in San Francisco in 1906 destroyed the city’s access to water reservoirs, and eminent domain proceedings began for a reservoir on forestland. Kent mailed a deed for 295 acres to Secretary of the Interior James R. Garfield in late 1907, knowing that the recently passed Antiquities Act, by which Roosevelt had created national monuments of Devils Tower and the Grand Canyon, could allow for the land’s preservation. 

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