October 26, 2009

Alice Roosevelt Longworth

According to the Wikipedia entry, the following images are in the public domain.

Having just finished David McCullough's book about Theodore Roosevelt, Mornings on Horseback, I now find myself sort of crushing on Alice Roosevelt (so look out, Blake Lively). Weird.

The Roosevelt clan in 1903, with Quentin on the left, TR, Ted, Jr., "Archie," Alice, Kermit, Edith, and Ethel.

Alice in 1891

Alice was Theodore Roosevelt's first child, born in 1884, and only offspring with his first wife. She (TR's first wife) would die as a result of Bright's disease, in addition to childbirth complications. It also happened to be the same day (in the same house, on a different floor) TR's mother, Mittie, passed away. In his diary, TR would say about that day: "The light has gone out of my life." He would never speak of his first wife ever again, failing to so much as mention her name in his autobiography.

Alice would be sent away, to live with TR's older sister, Bamie, until he eventually remarried in 1886. And I got the impression from reading Mornings on Horseback, as well as Alice's premature (she wrote it in 1935, and would live until 1980) autobiography, Crowded Hours, and Mrs. L: Conversations With Alice Roosevelt Longworth, that although he loved her, Alice was for TR an unfortunate reminder of a profoundly painful life event. Consequently, the way I read it, he didn't show her much affection, and being as busy as he was, he most likely didn't give her as much attention as she craved. Consequently, Alice could be a bit of handful. This blurb from from the children's book, What to Do about Alice?: How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove Her Father Teddy Crazy!, is probably only slightly hyperbolic:

Theodore Roosevelt had a small problem. Her name was Alice. Alice Lee Roosevelt was hungry to go places, meet people, do things. Father called it running riot. Alice called it eating up the world. Whether she was entertaining important White House visitors with her pet snake or traveling the globe, Alice bucked convention and turned every new experience into an adventure!

With her dog, Leo, in a 1902 White House photo

And according to Wikipedia:

When her father took office following the assassination of President William McKinley (an event that "filled (me) with an extreme rapture"), Alice became an instant celebrity and fashion icon. She was known as a rule-breaker in an era when women were under great pressure to conform. The American public noticed many of her exploits. She smoked cigarettes in public, rode in cars with men, stayed out late partying, kept a pet snake named Emily Spinach (Emily as in her spinster aunt and Spinach for its green color) in the White House, and was seen placing bets with a bookie.

Once, a White House visitor commented on Alice's frequent interruptions to the Oval Office, often because of her political advice. The exhausted President commented to his friend, author Owen Wister, after the third interruption to their conversation and after threatening to throw Alice 'out the window', "I can either run the country or I can attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both."

Alice (looking a bit more like her cousin, Eleanor) christening the sub named after her father, the USS Theodore Roosevelt in 1959

At the end of Theodore Roosevelt's presidency in 1909, she is alleged to have buried a voodoo doll of new First Lady Nellie Taft in the White House lawn. She was such a fixture of the Washington D.C. social circuit, living until 95-years-old, she was sometimes referred to "the other Washington Monument."



Picture from a 1906 postcard related to her wedding

Formal portrait from 1901

Someone was inspired all these decades later to do a YouTube video about her, complete with poetry by Lord Byron:

1 comment:

D.E. Brynelsen said...

I love Alice Roosevelt and wish I could have known her!