In this Harper’s Weekly cartoon President William Howard Taft tries to stop Theodore Roosevelt from winning the affection of the Republican Party and gaining its presidential nomination. Taft is the floor manager of a high-class club, where his rival and Miss G.O.P. are performing a scandalously intimate dance called the “Grizzly Bear,” to the shock of a bust of Abraham Lincoln in the background.
There had been dancing throughout American history, of course, but it surged in popularity during the first two decades of the twentieth century. Ragtime music and dances developed in the black community and were adopted by urban dance bands and their young, white patrons. The “polite society” of older whites was often horrified at the fast “jassed up” (jazzed up) music, loose steps, and close positions of the dancing partners. Controversial, too, was ragtime’s association with black Americans, which may be indicated in this cartoon by Roosevelt’s dark face. Many of the dances were imitative of animal gestures, including the turkey trot, bunny hug, bullfrog hop, chicken scratch, and monkey glide.
The grizzly bear may have originated in the dives of San Francisco’s Barbary Coast section, notorious for its crime and vice. The dance is featured in this cartoon for two reasons. After the male partner walks like a ferocious bear, he gives his female partner a bear hug, which in the cartoon allows the artist to represent the former president’s grasp on his party. Moreover, Roosevelt was known for his big-game hunting and was famously the namesake of the popular doll, the Teddy bear. The grizzly bear dance gave rise to a piano rag written by George Botsford, with lyrics added by Irving Berlin for the Broadway show, “The Ziegfeld Follies of 1910.” Fanny Brice sang the number. The first verse includes the lines, “Talk about yo’ bears that Teddy Roosevelt shot/They couldn’t class with what/Old San Francisco’s got.”
For decades, the Democratic Party had sometimes been portrayed as an elderly woman by both Republican and Democratic cartoonists, but here E. W. Kemble more unusually applied the symbolism to the Republican Party, emphasizing that it was the “Grand Old Party.”