Handedness Preferences

A Step in the Left Direction

You may have seen photographs of President Obama signing documents. Did you notice that he is left-handed? Since only about one in ten adults is left-handed, the odds are that only four past presidents would have been left-handed. But this is not the case. In fact, five out of the last seven presidents have been left-handed.

Have you ever heard that left-handed people are more creative than right-handers? Or maybe you’ve heard that they are better in math. While some scientists feel they have proved such theories, others remain on the fence. But these kinds of beliefs show a shift in the way left-handers are seen by society. For many left-handers, being connected with a positive trait is a welcome change from the past.

There was a time when it was not considered acceptable to be left-handed. Throughout history, the roots of Latin, French, Italian and Portuguese words equate “left” with words like sinister, awkward, clumsy, evil and unlucky. In English, the expression “to have two left feet” refers to clumsiness in dancing or in sports. In China, the phrase “left path” stands for obtaining something through illegal means.

It was once common for left-handed people to keep the fact that they were left-handed a secret whenever possible, for fear of being discriminated against. Children were often forced to learn how to write with their right hands. Before the World War II, historians rarely recorded whether or not a president was left-handed, as it was considered a disability.

If there was a way to determine which presidents were left-handed, going all the way back to George Washington, we might be surprised by what we would discover! What if fifty percent of our presidents were actually left-handed? How would scientists explain the odds of such a thing happening?

Most of what scientists have discovered about left-handedness is still not considered fact. A lot more research has to be done. But many scientists now agree that any random group of left-handed people is likely to have more than its fair share of successful people. There are many theories floating around as to why left-handers might be more successful on average than right-handers. One thing that left-handed people seem to have in common is an understanding, from an early age, that they are different from their peers. Whether their parents and teachers saw this preference as good or bad, these young people were aware that they were special, and that’s a quality that is often found in leaders.

Left-handers still face challenges in everyday life that right-handers never have to experience. In many ways, it is still a right-handed world. But being left-handed no longer means that a person cannot reach their full potential in life, and that is a step in the right (make that left!) direction.

Five Left-Handed Presidents (The Early Years)

What do the last five left-handed presidents all have in common? They all showed an impressive amount of potential as children or young adults. Most of them excelled in school from an early age, and began working while they were still in school.

Barack Obama (#44) – President Obama is a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, where he was the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review. He worked as a community organizer and practiced as a civil rights attorney in Chicago before entering politics.

Bill Clinton (#42) President Clinton excelled as a student and as a saxophone player. He once considered becoming a professional musician. He graduated from Georgetown University. He won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University. He received a law degree from Yale University.

George H.W. Bush (#41) President Bush became a student leader at Phillips Academy in Andover, MA. The youngest pilot in the Navy when he received his wings, he flew 58 combat missions during WWII. At Yale University, he excelled both in sports and in his studies. He was captain of the baseball team and a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He had a career in the oil industry before becoming a politician.

Ronald Reagan (#40) President Reagan worked his way through college. He studied economics and sociology at Eureka College in Illinois. He also played on the football team and acted in school plays. He became a radio sports announcer. As an actor he appeared in 53 films. He served as President of the Screen Actors Guild.

Gerald Ford (#38) President Ford starred on the University of Michigan football team. He went to Yale University, where he served as assistant coach while earning his law degree. During WWII, he attained the rank of Lieutenant Commander in the Navy. He practiced law in Grand Rapids, MI before going into politics.


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“A Vast Left-Handed Conspiracy.” 06 July 2008. 04 Mar. 2009 <washingtonpost.com/wp-dyb/content/article/2008/07/03/AR2008>.