Hobbies and Pastimes of the Presidents

This quiz will test your knowledge on all American presidents. Begin with the first president, George Washington!

The “what are barack obama’s hobbies” is a question that has been asked many times. The answer to the question is that he enjoys reading, golfing, and basketball.


The concept of “self-care” — doing activities to look after your own mental, emotional, and physical health — has been more popular in recent years. At first, the phrase seemed cringey and self-indulgent, a term popularized by women’s lifestyle bloggers to justify scheduling a spa day and by the health sector to peddle pampering items.

However, although self-care has been abused as a catchphrase, its underlying principle remains solid. The aggravating, unpleasant, anxiety-ridden, existential-angst-producing nature of modernity may wear a person down at any moment, and the last year has only served to emphasize this reality even more. As a result, many people have come to believe that practicing self-care is critical for both women and men in order to keep their heads above water.

If you still feel that self-care is sissified, indulgent, or just not something you have time for, it’s good to remember that guys with probably the most stressful job on the planet — acting as leader of the free world – found time for it. Many American presidents engaged in habits, interests, and hobbies that were specifically meant to relieve stress and revitalize their mental and physical capabilities, even if they wouldn’t call it that. They did so not because of, but because of, the demanding nature of their jobs; rather than being selfish, these activities helped presidents to “sharpen the saw,” restoring their capacity to operate in their demanding roles.

Below are five instances of former Presidents’ self-care practices to serve as inspiration for prioritizing your own.

Theater — Abraham Lincoln

Until he became President, he had never seen Shakespeare performed on stage. He seldom wasted a chance after that. He took time off from his responsibilities in February and March 1864, at one of the war’s most perilous times, to see the famous tragedian Edwin Booth appear in Richard III, Julius Caesar, The Merchant of Venice, and Hamlet. David Herbert (davidherb[email protected]) Lincoln, Donald

Though Abraham Lincoln developed a devotee of literary theatre, particularly Shakespeare, as a result of his assiduous self-education as a young man, he had few opportunity to see these works performed on the stage until coming in Washington to serve as president. Theatergoing, on the other hand, became a regular source of escape and enjoyment from then on, even while, and particularly as, the Civil War raged on. Lincoln is said to have seen approximately 100 plays during his presidency, or roughly once every other week on average. 

Lincoln avoided his security detail’s near-constant cautions about being in crowds of any kind by always going to the theater with a friend or advisor. These trips weren’t ostensibly about politics or strategy; they were about socializing and giving Lincoln a break from the war. “Theatres were places where people might forget about their ordinary lives and problems,” according to a Ford’s Theatre Foundation article. 


Consider how intense a theatrical experience is: the darkness, mixed with the stage lights, focuses your attention like blinders on a horse. You walk out of the theater nearly dazed at the conclusion of a lengthy concert, wondering what time it is and how the hours flew so swiftly — and ideally enjoyably. One can see the lanky president leaving the theater with a grin on his face, his tension alleviated, even if only for a few hours. Of course, it’s the cruelest irony that his life was ripped from him in a theater – a place he loved — just as he was beginning to appreciate the war’s end. 

Genealogy of Rutherford B. Hayes

I’m suffering from a case of genealogy mania. It started approximately ten days ago, and was triggered by reading a family tree supplied to me by a friend. It is now in a violent state, but I am certain that it will soon subside. — In a letter to a relative, Rutherford B. Hayes

It’s understandable if you did a second take when you heard the name of our 19th president. In most surveys, he is one of the least well-known of our country’s 44 presidents. From 1877 to 1881, he served a single term in the middle of Reconstruction, which he chose. Hayes was the first candidate to lose the popular vote yet win the electoral college until 2000, and his victory was one of the most contentious and fraudulent in history. The country was still recovering from the Civil War, and the Gilded Age of full-fledged industrialism was only getting started (literally, in the form of the steam engine). Hayes had a lot on his plate, yet he still found time to pursue his longtime interest, genealogy. 

It’s easy to think of genealogy as a primarily sedentary activity these days; just go to ancestry.com and let the computer perform the majority of the work for you. It wasn’t quite as passive in the nineteenth century. Hayes’ interest in his own lineage began at an early age, when he first met his extended relatives, and eventually evolved to include an interest in his wife Lucy’s family tree as well. This included drafting a slew of letters to strangers in far-flung locales, as well as extensive travel to libraries and genealogy clubs. Hayes’ study wasn’t just about collecting names and filling in blanks on his family tree; he also wanted to meet and speak with the ancestors he discovered. It was a hobby that filled his spirit to the full, particularly when he was able to travel away for family reunions and cultural festivals. 

While his pre-political life and retirement were the most profitable eras for his pastime, he did find full days to explore the countrysides and locate additional genealogical branches during his governorship of Ohio and as president. Though he wasn’t a terrific president, Hayes’ awareness of his family’s heritage may have helped to his upbeat personality and fairly corruption-free presidency. “It makes you think more about the decisions you’re making today and how they can effect your posterity,” Brett and Kate wrote of the practice of genealogy.


Fishing — Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover was never happier than when he was fishing for rainbow trout in an Oregon stream or trolling off the coast of Florida for battling fish. His job was public service, but fishing was his escape from a frantic environment. Senator Mark Hatfield (R-Iowa) 

Perhaps none of the presidents were as dedicated to and enthralled with their hobbies as Herbert Hoover was with fishing. Hoover’s love affair with fishing began when he was a child, when he would traverse the Iowan grasslands and streams where he grew up, catching over 100 fish in a single expedition. Those encounters solidified a lifetime devotion that lasted until his death in his late eighties. Hoover was no ordinary fisherman; he “mastered practically every sort of freshwater and saltwater fishing,” according to one biographer, and even authored a book about it, Fishing For Fun — And to Wash Your Soul. 

While his presidency is widely mocked, Hoover was a brilliant businessman and one of World War I’s genuine administrative heroes prior to that. His calm demeanor and optimism, which suited him well before to becoming president but not so well during the Great Depression, may be linked to his time spent in nature. “This civilization is going to rely on what we do in our [own] time more than what we do while we work,” he remarked. The quality of the former is influenced by how we spend the latter. Hoover honestly felt that the traits fostered by the great fisherman reflected those required in larger society: patience, hope, realism, humility, and respect in fishing.

Nightly Cocktail Hour with Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin Roosevelt required a lot of recuperating time after serving for more than 13 years and in the middle of two of America’s most significant crises — the Great Depression and World War II — particularly given his already terrible health. He enjoyed one- and two-week fishing excursions on a regular basis, read mystery books at night, and, most notably, held a weekly cocktail hour where any mention of war and politics was prohibited. Franklin made his own cocktails (even during Prohibition), making them strong and experimenting with various liquors and mixers rather than adhering to one favorite. 

These get-togethers enabled FDR to “lay aside the constraints of his position and mingle with friends and acquaintances,” as one scholar described it. Eleanor was not a fan of her husband’s cocktail hours, believing that the time should be better spent discussing crucial ideas and goals for the country, due to both a background steeped in drinking and her more dour disposition. Franklin, on the other hand, believed them to be so helpful to his mental health that he continued to host them until his death in office. 

As one would anticipate, the restriction prohibiting any political or strategic discussion was not fully adhered to every day. If you get a group of enough politicians together, the issue will inevitably come up. Nonetheless, the very fact that it existed kept the heavier themes at bay; more lighthearted topics of conversation included the newest books/movies, DC social gossip, and whether the local Senators baseball club had a shot of winning the pennant (the answer, in those years, was a confident “no”). 


Doris Kearns Goodwin was such a fan of FDR’s practice, which she discovered while writing a biography of him, that she adopted it herself; one of the ways the historian and author escapes the stresses of work is by planning social events with friends and family on a nearly nightly basis, with the same rules in place: no talk of work or politics for a few hours each evening.

Golfer Dwight D. Eisenhower 

He’d be like a caged lion without golf, with all those pressures building up within him. I’d have a crazy case on my hands if this guy couldn’t play golf. — Eisenhower’s personal physician, Major General Howard Snyder 

While William Howard Taft wasn’t the first president to play golf, he was the first to openly admit it, introducing the game to the public when it had previously only been recognized as a pastime for the upper crust. Only two presidents have avoided the ties since then: Truman and Carter. 

The criticism that presidents get for golfing is as prevalent as the ubiquity of golfing among them. Disparagement of a president for golfing excessively, to the point that critics claim it must obstruct his official responsibilities, has grown increasingly prevalent in the previous 12 years, but Ike wasn’t immune to it throughout his more than half-century as president. He did, in fact, golf more than President Trump on a yearly basis (and far more than President Obama, for those keeping score). He went to the golf course twice a week and spent most of his afternoons on the White House lawn. 

Democrats exploited this picture of Eisenhower on the golf course to call him a “do-nothing president.” “To condemn the President… because he plays a game of golf is unfair and picayunish,” Harry Truman, who had criticized Ike’s lackadaisical attitude to leadership, backed his successor on this score: “To criticize the President… because he plays a game of golf is unreasonable and picayunish.” He has the same right as any other guy to unwind from the stresses of office.” 

Indeed, golf served as a necessary release valve for one of Ike’s flaws: a notoriously fiery temper. His stress and rage would often build up to the point that his mental anguish manifested itself in a variety of bodily ailments, ranging from recurrent gastrointestinal issues to repeated heart attacks later in his public career. Golf, as Jean Edward Smith points out, was “as vital to [Eisenhower’s] mental health as a good night’s sleep” for him to relax. 

And it wasn’t just a pastime for him; he had a “Gang” with him on the links for almost 20 years. They were a close group of friends who were aware of his health and temper issues and wanted to make those few hours outside as pleasurable as possible. Though political discourse was unavoidable, it cannot be argued that golf boosted his mood, decision-making, and physical health, allowing him to solidify his position among America’s top ten presidents. 


Finally, a few words of wisdom  

In my study on these guys, I discovered that their self-care methods had a few significant qualities that may teach us a few things:

1) Do activities that are different from your regular job. These presidents’ self-care routines provided a diversion from the job they had to accomplish as President of the United States to a different kind of activity. From directing the real-life drama of battle to seeing the imaginary drama of theater, I’ve done it all. From sitting in an office to sitting on the side of a river From politics to baseball, we’ve covered it all.

When leisure time is too similar to work time, it doesn’t give enough of a refreshing change of pace: moving from gazing at a computer to update spreadsheets to staring at a screen to browse through social media doesn’t provide enough of a refreshing change of pace.

It’s also worth noting that these presidents’ hobbies weren’t wholly passive; they took work, talent, and/or attention (even Lincoln’s theatrical habit meant going out rather than staying in). The purpose of a self-care practice isn’t always physical or mental relaxation, but rather to relieve the stress of whatever is giving you anxiety – to shift your focus from one issue to another. “A change is as good as a rest,” as the proverb goes.

2) Include socialising in your self-care routine. The majority of these activities were done socially, and in some instances, that was the whole goal. The activity itself was enjoyable for Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Eisenhower, but it was incomplete without the social and conversational aspects. Our responsibilities are lessened when we have social relationships. So, although hobbies and self-care in general are often thought of as lonely pastimes, and they absolutely should be, don’t underestimate the value of doing them with others.

3) Find a variety of ways to take care of yourself. While most individuals have a favorite pastime, living a well-rounded and psychologically robust life necessitates cultivating a diverse “portfolio” of interests. Though I only highlighted one activity for each of the individuals named above, there were more that may have been included: Eisenhower liked to paint and play bridge; Lincoln loved to read and share stories/jokes (particularly bawdy ones! ); and Roosevelt, as previously said, enjoyed periodic fishing trips. The presidents also put effort into their personal lives, such as their ties with family and friends. Their lives were built on a foundation of many pillars of support.

4) Establish your own self-care regimen. Each of these gentlemen’s activities was distinct, as were their personalities. Instead of copying the precise activities of these routines (unless you’re also interested in those things), embrace the general idea that every man needs time to revitalize his soul – frequently quite an amount of time, or at least more than you may imagine. Find a few activities you like and go after them, understanding and appreciating that they are solely for your mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

Walking and hiking, baking, reading (a lot!) and writing my newsletter are some of my favorite ways to take care of myself (though I also read and write a lot for my job, reading and writing for pleasure instead of work offers a satisfying change of pace). Individual and societal characteristics are included in each of these pastimes: I frequently walk around the neighborhood alone, but hike the local mountain trails with my wife, kids, and other friends and family; I almost always read alone, but I share what I’m reading in my weekly newsletter and discuss it in a book club with local friends; and, while baking is almost always just me in the kitchen with a beer and a podcast, the baked goods are always distributed far and wide. 


Even while it might seem selfish and frivolous at times, and as if there isn’t enough time to do something just for myself, those are generally the most refreshing and renewing moments of my days and weeks. I become tight, worried, and grumpy when I neglect them on a regular basis, and my family notices. Those “selfish” self-care rituals are just as important to your health and that of your family as everything else you do.


David Herbert Donald’s Lincoln

Hans Trefousse’s portrait of Rutherford B. Hayes

Hal Elliott Wert’s Hoover the Fishing President

Robert Dallek’s portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s novel No Ordinary Time

Jean Edward Smith’s book, Eisenhower in War and Peace, is a biography of Dwight D. Eisenhower.



The “what did president arthur do with belongings of former presidents?” is a question that has been asked many times. The answer to the question is that President Arthur wanted the belongings of the former presidents to be put in a museum.

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