Since You Asked

This one might stump the Since You Asked staff. I noticed that both President Barack Obama and the departed President George W. Bush are left-handed. How many presidents have been left-handed? Is this the first time we have had back-to-back lefties in the White House?

— Bob W., Jacksonville

You can't stump the nimble-fingered crew at Since You Asked headquarters that easily, Bob, no matter which hand you use.

George W. Bush is right-handed, so he actually interrupted a string of lefties (we're talking about handedness, not politics) in the White House.

Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton constituted a streak of southpaws in the Oval Office, according to the Left Handers Club, a British organization promoting research and products for lefties. Reagan's inclusion is a matter of some debate because he wrote with his right hand — likely switched from his natural tendencies by strict schoolteachers — but did other tasks with his left hand, so he is sometimes listed as ambidextrous or right-handed.

James Garfield, Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman and Gerald Ford round out the list of left-handed presidents. Truman also is often listed as ambidextrous, probably because his parents pushed him to learn to write with his right hand, despite natural tendencies. Hoover is also seen in photos writing with his right hand sometimes.

Garfield, who reportedly worked as a penmanship tutor at one time, was supposedly so ambidextrous that he could write a sentence in Latin with one hand while writing it in Greek with the other.

Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt, who wrote about the handedness of presidents in The Washington Post back in July, noted that through the ages left has signified all sorts of negative things — from Biblical references to sinners being sent to the Savior's left into hell to words such as "gauche" and "sinister" coming from French and Latin words for left.

A trait so undesirable it was sometimes considered a disability, left-handedness prompted stern, and, if we might say, narrow-minded, teachers to turn them into righties well into the 20th century. That likely accounts for the few presidents before World War II listed as left-handed and the burgeoning number of them in more recent decades.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

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