In honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday and Dr. Seuss’s Read Across America Week, I thought it was time that as adults we learn about the real Dr. Seuss; the man behind the pseudonym who writes crazy rhymes in children’s books. Who is he?
Dr. Seuss was born Theodor Seuss Geisel, but Seuss became his name when he was caught at Dartmouth College during his senior year with gin in his room. At the time he was violating the laws of Prohibition, and the dean of the college put him on probation. As part of Ted’s probation, his editorship at the school’s humor magazine was taken away. Ted published his cartoons in the magazine and could not stand the fact that he was no longer allowed to be a part of it, so he created aliases such as L. Pasteur, D.G. Ressetti ’25, T. Seuss, and Seuss. The publishing of these cartoons is the first time that Ted has ever used his middle name of Seuss to be published.
He shortly got tired of publishing under so many different names and started signing under the title of “Dr. Theophrastus Seuss.” However, he was not a doctor. He did consider getting his Ph.D. and started to pursue that goal at Oxford, but he spent more time drawing characters in his notebook. While at Oxford, he met Helen Palmer, who then became his wife. She is the one who pointed out that he really did just want to draw, and caused Seuss to drop out of Oxford and become a cartoonist in the United States. He shortened his publishing name to Dr. Seuss and stuck with it.
Dr. Seuss took his cartoon drawings to advertising where he worked for companies like Flit, Holly Sugar, NBC, Ford, General Electric, and many more. When World War II began, Seuss starting drawing political cartoons for newspapers. For a little less than two years, he published over 400 cartoons for the New York newspaper PM. His cartoons make fun of Axis Powers Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Hideki Tojo, they are against fascism, poke fun at isolationists, and criticize the discrimination that was happening all over the world.
His cartoons started his political messages and he soon brought them to the children’s books he had been working on. Yertle the Tertle is the tale of a tyrannical turtle who builds his empire on the backs of his suffering citizens; the story took inspiration from the rise of Hitler. The Sneetches tells a story about star-bellied sneetches discriminating against star-less bellied sneetches; an interpretation of Hitler making the Jewish people wear stars to differentiate between who is Jewish and who is not. Horton Hears a Who could suggest two Japanese cities that were facing atomic bombs and annihilation.
Our favorite children’s author, Dr. Seuss, is really disguising his books to be campaigns against discrimination and annihilation. While the stories were very relevant at the time Dr. Seuss wrote them, they are still relevant in today’s society. As he wrote “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” Dr. Seuss wants us to treat others the way we want to be treated, and realize that not everyone is the same, therefore we need to be kind to others, even if they are very different from us. I hope the message stays true to us as adults, and that we always remember Dr. Seuss, the children’s author, really started as a political cartoonist. He took his love of drawing and turned it into books that hold valuable life lessons; we will continue to learn these lessons as long as we have Dr. Seuss’s books to read.
Check out Dr. Seuss at Gale Biography.