Yes, there really was a Dr. Seuss. He was not an official doctor, but his prescription for fun has delighted readers for more than 60 years. Theodor ("Ted") Seuss Geisel was born on March 2, 1904, in Springfield, Massachusetts. His father, Theodor Robert, and grandfather were brewmasters and enjoyed great financial success for many years. Coupling the continual threats of Prohibition and World War I, the German-immigrant Geisels were targets for many slurs, particularly with regard to their heritage and livelihoods. In response, they were active participants in the pro-America campaign of World War I. Thus, Ted and his sister Marnie overcame such ridicule and became popular teenagers involved in many different activities.
Despite some financial hardship the Geisels encountered due to Prohibition, Ted enjoyed a fairly happy childhood. His parents were strict, but very loving. His mother, Henrietta Seuss Geisel, had worked in her father's bakery before marrying Ted's father, often memorizing the names of the pies that were on special each day and ‘chanting' them to her customers. If Ted had difficulty getting to sleep, she would often recall her ‘pie-selling chants'. As an adult, Ted credited his mother "for the rhythms in which I write and the urgency with which I do it." (Morgan, p. 7)
If you've never seen a photograph of Dr. Seuss, you probably picture him as a young child or a grandfatherly gentleman. You may not have considered his robust years as a college student.
Ted attended Dartmouth College and by all accounts was a typical, mischievous college student. According to Judith and Neil Morgan, co-authors of Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel and personal friends of his, "Ted grew to respect the academic discipline he discovered at Dartmouth—not enough to pursue it, but to appreciate those who did." (Morgan, p. 28) He worked hard to become the editor in chief of Jack-O-Lantern, Dartmouth's humor magazine.
His reign as editor came to an abrupt end when Ted and his friends were caught throwing a party that did not coincide with school policy. Geisel continued to contribute to Jack o, merely signing his work as "Seuss." This is the first record of his using the pseudonym Seuss, which was both his middle name and his mother's maiden name. It was a perfectly innocent pseudonym; it squeaked Ted's work past unsuspecting college officials, yet clearly identified him as the creator.
Graduation from Dartmouth was approaching, and Ted's father asked the question all college students dread: what was Ted going to do after college?
Ted claimed to have been awarded a fellowship to Oxford University and the elder Geisel reported the news to the Springfield paper, where it was published the following day. Ted confessed the truth—Oxford had denied his fellowship application—and Mr. Geisel, who had a great deal of family pride, managed to scrape together funds to send him anyway. Ted left for Oxford intending to become a professor. (He couldn't think of anything else to do with an Oxford education). It would be the first of many turning points in his career.
Sitting in his Anglo-Saxon for Beginners class, his doodling caught the eye of a fellow American student named Helen Palmer. Helen suggested that he should become an artist instead of a professor. He took her advice and, eventually, he took her hand in marriage as well.