About this Famous Person
37th President of the United States
Nixon was born to Francis A. Nixon and Hannah Milhous Nixon, in a house his father built in Yorba Linda, California. His mother was a Quaker (his father converted from Methodism after his marriage), and his upbringing was marked by conservative Quaker observances of the time, such as refraining from alcohol, dancing, and swearing. Nixon had four brothers: Harold (1909–33), Donald (1914–87), Arthur (1918–25), and Edward (born 1930). Four of the five Nixon boys were named after kings who had ruled in historical or legendary England; Richard, for example, was named after Richard the Lionheart.
Nixon's early life was marked by hardship, and he later quoted a saying of Eisenhower to describe his boyhood: "We were poor, but the glory of it was, we didn't know it." The Nixon family ranch failed in 1922, and the family moved to Whittier, California. In an area with many Quakers, Frank Nixon opened a grocery store and gas station. Richard's younger brother Arthur died in 1925 after a short illness. At the age of twelve, Richard was found to have a spot on his lung, and with a family history of tuberculosis, he was forbidden to play sports. Eventually, the spot was found to be scar tissue from an early bout of pneumonia. Young Richard attended East Whittier Elementary School, where he was president of his eighth-grade class.
Frank and Hannah Nixon believed that attendance at Whittier High School had caused Richard's older brother Harold to live a dissolute lifestyle before the older boy fell ill of tuberculosis (he died of the disease in 1933). Instead, they sent Richard to the larger Fullerton High School. He received excellent grades, even though he had to ride a school bus for an hour each way during his freshman year—later, he lived with an aunt in Fullerton during the week. He played junior varsity football, and rarely missed a practice, even though he was rarely used in games. He had greater success as a debater, winning a number of championships and taking his only formal tutelage in public speaking from Fullerton's Head of English, H. Lynn Sheller. Nixon later remembered Sheller's words, "Remember, speaking is conversation ... don't shout at people. Talk to them. Converse with them." Nixon stated that he tried to use the conversational tone as much as possible.