School & Writing

Central High School Recorder staff
Ted Geisel (second from right in the back row) with the Central High School yearbook staff.
Photo from the archives of the Wood Museum of Springfield History

Ted entered Kindergarten at the age of four and a half in the fall of 1908. There are few records of his primary years, but he attended Forest Park School and Sumner Avenue School located in the neighborhood of the neighborhood of the Geisel family home on Fairfield Street. Ted read a lot as a child, loving books that had a creative use of language and humor.

“O Latin” from the Central High School RecorderHis first published piece was a parody of Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!” (1865) called “O Latin.”

Ted’s creativity with both words and images began to emerge during his high school years. At Central High School (later renamed Classical High), Ted enjoyed many extra-curricular activities and began submitting work to the school’s newspaper, The Central Recorder. His first published piece was a parody of Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!” (1865) called “O Latin,” which appeared in the February 7, 1919 issue of The Recorder. Ted was 14 when he wrote this clever piece about the difficulty and dread of Latin class, and it demonstrates his witty skill with rhythm and words.

Later as a “boys’ news editor” for The Recorder, Ted wrote reports about the school’s debate club and other events. He also produced several creative items that reflected his developing skills as a writer and illustrator. Ted’s clever sense of wit emerged in the one-line jokes known as “grinds” that he wrote for the newspaper, and he was the grind and joke editor for the high school yearbook, Pnalka. Ted also drew cartoons and wrote short paragraphs under the name Pete the Pessimist during his high school years.

It was at this time that Ted first began using a pseudonym that would carry into his professional career. He signed the satire “A Pupil’s Nightmare,” which appeared in The Recorder on January 21, 1920, with the pseudonym T. S. LeSieg – a pen name later used for all published children’s books that Ted wrote but did not illustrate. Young Ted wasn’t the first in his family to sign as LeSieg, which is the name Geisel spelled backwards. To appease his mother, Ted’s father signed tickets this way whenever he played the numbers games, so that his reputation wouldn’t be ruined if he won and his name was announced. This playful use of language must have appealed to Ted, who loved witty and interesting names.

In the senior yearbook for 1920 1/2, Ted’s fellow classmates voted him both Class Artist and Class Wit. The early works that Ted produced in high school certainly suggest how he would have earned these titles. Educator Edwin “Red” Smith, who taught at Central High School and was a graduate of Dartmouth College, recognized Ted’s talent and was the first teacher to make Ted consider writing as a career. Ted went on to attend Dartmouth College, where he continued to develop his writing and artistic skills.

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