On Friday, March 2nd, we celebrate another National Read Across America Day — a day we’ve been celebrating since elementary school. The holiday purposely coincides with famed poet Dr. Seuss’s birthday. This year, Dr. Seuss (1904-1991) would be 113 years old.
Dr. Seuss created a plethora of children’s literature that has been enjoyed by generations of kids since the 1930s. And just like his whimsical and fantastical characters, Dr. Seuss lived a pretty colorful life. We’ve compiled a few facts about Seuss that might surprise you.
Some of you might know Dr. Seuss best for his books Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat, or Horton Hears a Who!, to name just a few of his bestsellers. But throughout his career, Dr. Seuss compiled a repertoire of about 45 books. Some of his earlier works even remained unpublished.
When we were kids, Dr. Seuss was a man of mystery with a wild imagination. He spoke to us via kooky characters who somehow understood us. But now, the veil has been lifted and we can dive into the man, the myth, and the legend that is Dr. Seuss — the cartoonist who taught us, “You find magic wherever you look. Sit back and relax. All you need is a book.”
1Dr. Seuss isn’t his real name.
Well, it kind of is, kind of isn’t. “Seuss” is actually the poet’s middle name and his mother’s maiden name. Dr. Seuss was born Theodor “Ted” Seuss Geisel. In 1925, Geisel, a senior at Dartmouth College, was caught drinking with his pals in his dormitory (therefore violating Prohibition laws). As punishment, he was stripped of his editorship from the Dartmouth humor magazine Jack-O-Lantern, according to Philip Nel, author of Dr. Seuss: American Icon, via PBS.org.
But Seuss could not be thwarted by the higher-ups. He continued to publish cartoons in the magazine under fake names like “T. Seuss” and “Dr. Theophrastus Seuss.” The latter was shortened to his now-famous “Dr. Seuss” and “the doctor” ran with it. So, that means…
2No, Dr. Seuss wasn’t a real doctor.
Nope. Dr. Seuss was not a doctor. As Judith and Neil Morgan explain in their book, Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel, via the Seussville website, Geisel did pursue a Ph.D. in English at Oxford. His graduate school education didn’t last long, though. He spent more time doodling than studying and soon dropped out and returned to the states.
But in 1955, Dr. Seuss earned an honorary doctorate from Dartmouth, alongside other honorary degrees from various other prestigious institutions like Princeton.
3Although his career centered around children, Dr. Seuss had none of his own.
Seuss married his first wife Helen in 1927 after they met at Oxford. The two were married for 40 years, but sadly Helen was told by doctors she would not be able to have children. Seuss would supposedly joke to friends that he and Helen had a daughter named Chrysanthemum-Pearl and even dedicated his second book, The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, to the imaginary girl, according to the Morgans.
Seuss tragically lost Helen to suicide in 1967. He then married Audrey Dimond in 1968 and acquired two step-daughters, 15-year-old Lark and 11-year-old Lea.
4He was an advertiser before he was an author.
In 1928, Seuss published a cartoon in Judge magazine which revolved around Flit bug repellent. He was then hired by Flit to create ads for the company. Seuss’s Flit slogan, “Quick, Henry, the Flit!” became a national phrase and was comically used in any emergency scenario. His success with Flit landed him other advertising opportunities at NBC, Ford, and General Electric.
5Dr. Seuss illustrated wartime cartoons and propaganda films.
According to PBS.org, in 1941, Seuss began submitting cartoons to the New York-based left-wing newspaper, PM. His cartoons were pro-WWII, and often critiqued anti-Semitism and racism. Although, as PBS.org points out, Seuss was known to depict his Japanese characters with exaggerated and problematic features.
In 1942, Seuss signed on to co-write and illustrate Private Snafu with famous directors of the time: Frank Capra, Mel Blanc, and Chuck Jones. It was a comedic training video for soldiers enlisting in WWII.
Furthermore, Seuss’s 1958 book Yertle the Turtle was inspired by Hitler’s regime and rise to power. Anti-Semitism also inspired his 1961 book, The Sneetches. And 1954’s Horton Hears a Who! draws a connection between the Whos facing annihilation and the Japanese facing the atomic bomb drop at the end of WWII.
6Seuss wrote and illustrated two adult books.
According to Philip Nel, Seuss wrote The Seven Lady Godivas: The True Facts Concerning History’s Barest Family, which included nude drawings of the main female characters. It was a total fail. Seuss himself said it most likely failed because “he couldn’t draw sexy, naked ladies,” as Nel stated. When you think about Dr. Seuss-style nude drawings, we can see his point.
His other adult book was a 1986 picture-book entitled You’re Only Old Once.
Dr. Seuss, or Ted Geisel, inspired so many of us to read, write, draw, and use our imaginations. If you want to learn more about his life, we recommend you read (especially for National Read Across America Day) Judith and Neil Morgan’s Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel, as well as Philip Nel’s Dr. Seuss: American Icon.