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Money, brains and the Roosevelts

By Laurie Bennett

September 3, 2013 at 11:44am

Is it better to be rich or to be smart?

The affluent certainly have access to better colleges and more advanced degrees. And educational attainment is correlated to income. On the other hand, a fool and his money…

Our research on American dynasties, and our scant personal assets, lead us to believe that inherited intelligence is more enduring than inherited wealth.

The Roosevelts are a case study. (The interactive map above is much clearer in the larger version.)

Although both Theodore Roosevelt and fifth cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt were among the wealthiest U.S. presidents, their heirs are better known for smarts than for vast fortunes or political achievements.

Theodore Roosevelt and family
Theodore Roosevelt and family.

Mark Roosevelt, Teddy’s great-grandson, is president of Antioch College and a former superintendent of Pittsburgh schools.

Another great-grandchild, Margot Roosevelt (better known to some by her former married name, Margot Hornblower), wrote for the Washington Post, Time and the Los Angeles Times She joined the Orange County Register in 2012.

Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt III, a great-great-grandson, is a University of Pennsylvania Law School professor who clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt III, grandson of FDR, was an economics professor at Sarah Lawrence College. (His mother was the great-granddaughter of E.I. du Pont, founder of DuPont.)

Another FDR grandson, John Boettiger, was a professor of human development at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA.

The Roosevelt patriarchs, one a Republican, the other a Democrat, had differing intellects.

Theodore Roosevelt, known for a wide-ranging curiosity and incredible memory, was admitted to Phi Beta Kappa, the prestigious academic honor society, at Harvard.

FDR, though an average student, was president of the Harvard Crimson. He was self-deprecating about his own intellectual abilities. “I’m not the smartest fellow in the world,” he once said, “but I can sure pick smart colleagues.”

He also picked a smart spouse. Eleanor Roosevelt, Theodore’s niece, was known for her intelligence and her abilities as a political partner and fellow strategist.

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