Biography of U.S. President Ronald Reagan Part 1 Family and Early Life

About the United States President Ronald Reagan, biography and early history as well as birth date and place.


40th President



Born: Feb. 6, 1911, in Tampico, Ill., a town of about 1,200. When Reagan's father saw his newborn son, he commented, "For such a little bit of a fat Dutchman, he makes a hell of a lot of noise, doesn't he?" and for the next 25 years Dutch was Reagan's nickname. His brother, Neil, two years older, was called Moon. The family kept on the move to various Illinois cities and towns until Reagan was nine. John Edward Reagan--known as Jack--was a gregarious, sentimental Irish Catholic shoe salesman who, largely because of a drinking problem, had difficulty holding a job. His wife, Nelle Wilson Reagan, a Protestant of Scots-English descent, tolerated her husband's weakness for alcohol with unfailing Christian charity and understanding. She was a spiritual anchor for the family--and sometimes for the community as well--employing her dramatic talents to stage literary and inspirational readings for jails, hospitals, and clubs in most of the small towns where the Reagans lived.

In 1920 they settled in Dixon, Ill., a quiet town about 90 mi. from Chicago. It was the age of Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, and Dixon's 10,000 citizens were mostly orthodox Republicans abiding by the traditional midwestern small-town values. Jack Reagan was a Democrat, a liberal committed to the rights of the working man and with no tolerance for bigotry. He once stalked out of a hotel when he learned that the management refused to admit Jews. A good son, Reagan accepted and respected his parents' convictions. "I don't think he ever saw the inside of a pool hall," said Neil years later. When the family had money problems, the boys went to work. It was not an easy childhood, but a happy one, with a warm home life and hours spent outdoors, exploring the woods.

In high school Reagan was athletic, joining the Dixon High football team as a freshman, even though he was small for his age. He excelled in basketball and track and was popular with his schoolmates. A friendly, outgoing style and a desire for recognition won him parts in school plays, and by senior year he was president of the student body. As a summer lifeguard, Reagan saved a total of 77 people from drowning. Years later he commented that not one of them had ever thanked him: "I got to recognize that people hate to be saved; almost every one of them later sought me out and angrily denounced me for dragging them to shore."

By 1928 he had earned almost enough money to attend Eureka College, a small church-affiliated school near Peoria, Ill. Assisted by a sports scholarship and dishwashing jobs at his fraternity house (Tau Kappa Epsilon), Reagan plunged into college life. Classes had hardly begun when the school announced a massive budget cut and subsequently pared down the curriculum. Reagan was in the forefront of student opposition to the measure. He attacked the school's shortsighted economics in impassioned speeches before his fellow students and sympathetic faculty and assumed leadership of a protest committee, which voted to strike. (Witnesses to the incident remarked later that the protest actually centered on college rules against dancing and smoking.) Whatever the cause, the strike was a success and Reagan was its hero. Within a few days the school president resigned in defeat.

Reagan continued to occupy center stage all through college. He was on the football, swimming, and track teams. He joined the drama club and was president of the Boosters Club and the student council. He won an acting award for his role in an antiwar play, Edna St. Vincent Millay's Aria da Capo. With a decent but undistinguished academic record, Reagan graduated with a B.A. in sociology and economics in 1932.

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