June 24, 2014

Alice Roosevelt's Sad, Amazing Life

Alice Roosevelt being the boss.
Theodore Roosevelt's oldest daughter, Alice, is a fascinating character. Her life cries out — cries out — to be made into a movie.

Theodore married Alice Hathaway Lee when he was 22. Four years later, she died after giving birth to their daughter, Alice Lee Roosevelt. TR was devastated, and after depositing baby Alice with his sister, left for North Dakota for a few years.

When he came back East, he had regained his good spirits and soon married Edith, his childhood sweetheart. For the rest of his life he never mentioned his first wife again, even to their daughter, and he omitted any mention of her from his autobiography.

Except of course he had a daughter with the exact same name, which hurt his pretend-that-never-happened strategy. After he and Edith got married, she insisted that they take Alice back from her aunt and raise her, starting a long cycle of Alice getting shuttled from house to house (aunt, parents, grandparents for the summer, cousins), really strengthening the impression she had that no one really wanted her around, and that her father saw her as little more than a sad reminder. But, she worshiped her father, and wanted his attention as much as she wished she could be independent of him.

Then she grew into her good looks, which thank heaven she got from her mother, and became a TEENAGE DYNAMO. Beautiful, attention-starved, and largely left to her own devices by her father and stepmother, she became America's first daughter at the age of 17. AWESOME. (Guess who didn't like her: her cousin Eleanor, obviously.)

She quickly befriended the niece of the Russian ambassador (except she wasn't really his niece she was his mistress lol), who taught her to smoke and drink. Alice had a pet snake that she carried around with her, and would sometimes smoke on the White House roof where everyone could see her. She was one of the first women in Washington to drive a car, which she did recklessly and very fast. Teddy once said, "I can either run the country or I can attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both."

It hurt her deeply to see her father dote on her 5 younger half-siblings — attention she had never received from him at the same age. It's ironic that, neglected by him because of who her mother was, she was more his daughter than any of them.

She was immensely popular with the American public, of course, and was sent on an official delegation to Asia during TR's second term. There she charmed all the royalty in Japan, China, and Korea, and spent the ship voyage there and back making out with Congressman Nick Longworth, whom she would marry soon after.

They married while TR was still in office, meaning that Edith got to enjoy the last 2 years of his term with Alice living somewhere else. Their wedding photo is something else. TR, usually the life of the party, was stiff and quiet on his daughter's wedding day. In the photo he took with her and her new husband, he's visibly leaning away from her. Morris surmises that this might have something to do with Alice's dress being made out of material from her mother's wedding dress, and TR's memories of marrying that Alice. FATHER OF THE YEAR, TR!

Alice and Nick were happy for a few years, but in 1912 they took opposite sides in a presidential primary and the rift was permanent. Nick had a long string of affairs for the remainder of their marriage, and Alice had one big one, with Senator William Borah, who was the father of her only child (a fact she admitted to in her autobiography because you can't keep Alice in a corner).

Nick died in 1931, after 25 years of marriage, and Alice outlived him by almost 50, continuing to be a fixture of Washington social and political life until her death in 1980. It was once noted that she knew every president from Benjamin Harrison to Jimmy Carter personally. She was close friends with Bobby Kennedy and Richard Nixon, until the latter quoted her father in his resignation speech.

As the grande dame of Washington, she's described as malicious, intimidating, and quick-witted. She was banned from both the Taft and Wilson White House for being rude. All will fear her and despair, essentially. Her daughter Paulina died from an overdose of sleeping pills at age 32, and Alice got custody of her granddaughter Joanna, whom she raised with much more care and attention than she had her own daughter, or than her parents had with her.

I'm fairly certain Alice would reject my pity, but I can't help but think of her as poor Alice every time she comes up.

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