The early and personal life of Dr. Seuss

Theodor Seuss Geisel

Theodor Seuss Geisel

Theodor Robert Geisel and wife Henrietta gave birth to Theodor Seuss Geisel on March 2, 1904 in Springfield, MA. While the name Theodor Seuss Geisel may not sound familiar, it is the real name of Dr. Seuss, that is known the world over.

Seuss’s father and grandfather owned and operated a brewery in Springfield that was highly successful and profitable allowing Seuss and his sister, Marnie, to have a happy and prosperous childhood. Prohibition did present setbacks to the family but never enough for concern as the family continued to prosper. According to Seuss himself, it was his mother who he gave credit to for his unique ability to rhyme and create stories as she would talk to the children in rhymes as they fell asleep each night.

At the encouragement of his father, Theodor attended Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire where he began writing for the first time professionally. The Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern was the college’s humor magazine and after a time as a writer, Theodor rose in the ranks rather quickly as he became editor-in-chief but he would only hold that title a short while. Like most college students, Theodor attended parties but in the early 1920s the dynamic was different as there was prohibition to contend with. The party ended prematurely when Theodor and his friends were caught with alcohol, and since they were in violation of the prohibition laws as well as the schools strict policy on drinking, Theodor was confronted by the Dean. A forced resignation of all extra-curricular activities, including the magazine, was all the punishment that Theodor received but it was this event that started Theodor on the road to being known as Seuss.

Theodor with first wife Helen

Theodor with first wife Helen

Since editor-in-chief was no longer a possibility, Theodor took it upon himself to continue as a writer, even though that was also not allowed due to his punishment. He took up the name of Seuss, as it was his middle name, as well as his mother’s maiden name, so no one would know it was him who was writing since the college had known him only as Theodor Geisel.

Graduating in 1925, Theodor continued his education at Oxford University in England when his father insisted that he become a college professor. While working towards a PhD in English literature, Theodor met the woman who would become his first wife, Helen Palmer. Palmer convinced Theodor to pursue a career in drawing when she realized that he did not have a passion for becoming a professor. Theodor did the rational thing at this point, he left Oxford before earning his PhD and returned to Springfield in February of 1927 to focus on fulfilling his dreams.

While back at home, Theodor began sending his drawings to various publishing houses where he found success with his first cartoon being published in The Saturday Evening Post. The cartoon earned him $25 which gave him confidence enough to pursue other ways to earn money with his drawings, including an advertising campaign for Standard Oil that would last for over 15 years. With enough income coming in after accepting a full-time position with the magazine, Judge, Theodor finally felt stable enough to marry Helen. The two married in New Jersey in the living room of Helen’s brother on November 29, 1927. The two continued to be married for another 40 years until Helen committed suicide by an overdose of barbiturates after struggling with not only depression but cancer, partial paralysis and other pains. It is also suggested that part of the reason for the suicide was Theodor’s intimate involvement with an Audrey Stone Diamond. Helen was 69 years old when she died on October 23, 1967.

Back in 1927, Helen and Theodor moved to New York City where he continued to publish work for Judge and six months after he started working for the magazine, he published the first work by the name Dr. Seuss. Theodor continued his work with various magazines until the start of World War II when he shifted his aim towards the war movement. While he was too old himself at this point to join the military, he instead started making training videos for the Army using animation for the first time.

When the war finally came to a close, Theodor and Helen moved to La Jolla, California, in 1948 where he was determined to work on children’s books full-time instead outside contract work, and while Seuss already had 5 books published, he was now able to produce books more regularly, in fact he published nearly one per year from 1947 until 1975 thanks to his dedication and vision. This dedication showed forth in his first published work “And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street” when it was finally accepted after a total of 27 rejections.

Theodor with second wife Audrey

Theodor with second wife Audrey

Less than a year after the death of Helen, Theodor and Audrey were married in Reno on August 5, 1968. This was the second marriage for both Theodor and Audrey and while Theodor never had any children of his own, Audrey did have 2 children from her previous marriage. The two were married until Theodor’s death on September 24, 1991 at the age of 87 when he did not wake up in the morning. The official cause of death was jaw cancer.

Charlotte