Dr. Seuss, Sig Ep? Yep!

Theodor Seuss Geisel aka Dr. Seuss, Dartmouth College Class of 1925, was a member of the New Hampshire Alpha Chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon. Dartmouth College was founded in 1769 by Rev. Eleazar Wheelock (1711-1779).  When I first heard this fact in a History of Higher Education class taught by Dr. Jeffrey Aper, I could not help but think of good old Mr. Sneelock of If I Ran the Circus fame. I have often wondered if Geisel took inspiration for Sneelock from the time he spent on the campus of the college Rev. Wheelock founded. It’s pure speculation on my part, but it’s a fun point to ponder when the situation warrants.

Dr. Seuss is one of my favorite authors and given the chance I will recite the first several pages of the The Cat in the Hat by memory, decades after I stopped my bedtime parental reading duties. Dr. Seuss’ first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, almost did not get published. Turned down by publisher after publisher, Geisel  contemplated the burning of the manuscript. A chance encounter with a former Dartmouth classmate, Vanguard Press editor Marshall “Mike” McClintock, resulted in the book’s 1937 publication. In gratitude, Geisel dedicated the book to McClintock’s wife, Helene, and the book’s main character was named after the their son  Marco.

Geisel told the story himself, “I was on a long, stormy crossing of the Atlantic, and it was too rough to go out on deck. Everybody in the ship just sat in the bar for a week, listening to the engines turn over: da-da-ta-ta, da-da-ta-ta, da-da-ta-ta….

“To keep from going nuts, I began reciting silly words to the rhythm of the engines. Out of nowhere I found myself saying, ‘And that is a story that no one can beat; and to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street’

“When I finally got off the ship, this refrain kept going through my head. I couldn’t shake it. To therapeutize myself I added more words in the same rhythm.

“Six months later I found I had a book on my hands, called And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. So, what to do with it?

“I submitted it to twenty-seven publishers. It was turned down by all twenty-seven. The main reason they all gave was there was nothing similar on the market, so of course it wouldn’t sell.

“After the twenty-seventh publisher had turned it down, I was taking the book home to my apartment, to burn it in the incinerator, and I bumped into Mike McClintock coming down Madison Avenue.

“He said, ‘What’s that under your arm?’

“I said, ‘That’s a book that no one will publish. I’m lugging it home to burn.’

“Then, I asked Mike, ‘What are you doing?’

“He said, ‘This morning I was appointed juvenile editor of Vanguard Press, and we happen to be standing in front of my office; would you like to come inside?’

“So, we went inside, and he looked at the book and he took me to the president of Vanguard Press. Twenty minutes later we were signing contracts.

“That’s one of the reasons I believe in luck. If I’d been going down the other side of Madison Avenue, I would be in the dry-cleaning business today.” [1]

I am saddened to think that Dr. Seuss almost was silenced before he became a national treasure. I am oh so grateful that he persisted in the face of repeated rejection.  Cheers to those Dartmouth ties! Theodor Geisel may no longer be with us, but Dr. Seuss will  live on.

(There is a rumor going around that Kurt Vonnegut and Dr. Seuss were college roommates. Not true. Ted Geisel was a Sigma Phi Epsilon at Dartmouth and Kurt Vonnegut was a Delta Upsilon at Cornell.)

Theodor Seuss Geisel, 1925, while a Dartmouth student (courtesy of the Dartmouth College Library)



Early Sig Ep house




© Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2012. All Rights Reserved.

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