His Tragic Valentine
|Alice Lee and Theodore Roosevelt|
On his twenty-second birthday, October 27, 1880, Theodore Roosevelt married nineteen-year-old Alice Hathaway Lee. He had been relentlessly courting her for a year and a half. "See that girl over there?", he once asked a friend, "I am going to marry her. She won't have me, but I am going to have her!"
The marriage was a successful one and both Alice and "Thee" (as he was known to his friends and family) were desperately in love with one another. By the late winter of 1884, the couple were expecting their first child.
On February 12, 1884, while Theodore, in his capacity as Assemblyman, was attending a session of the New York State Legislature in Albany, he received a telegram that Alice had given birth to a baby girl. A few hours later, he received a second, more ominous wire telling him to return to New York City at once.
When he arrived at his home at 7 West 57th Street, he was met at the front door by his younger brother, Elliot.
"There is a curse upon this house. Mother is dying and your wife is dying, too."
His mother, Martha Bulloch Roosevelt, age forty-eight, died in the early morning hours of the fourteenth. Alice died late that afternoon while her husband held her in his arms. It was the fourth anniversary of their engagement. It was Valentines Day.
A few months later, an inconsolable Theodore Roosevelt memorialized his beloved Alice:
"She was beautiful in face and form, and lovelier still in spirit; as a flower she grew, and as a fair young flower she died. Her life had always been in the sunshine; there had never come to her a single great sorrow; and none who ever knew her did not love and revere her for her bright, sunny temper and her saintly unselfishness. Fair, pure and joyous as a maiden; loving, tender. and happy as a young wife; when she had just become a mother, when her life seemed to be but just begun, and when the years seemed so bright before her - then, by a strange and terrible fate, death came to her. And when my heart's dearest died, the light went from my life forever."
He virtually never spoke Alice's name for the rest of his life. He would never even mention her to the daughter who was named for her. Over thirty years later when President Woodrow Wilson remarried two years after the death of his first wife, Roosevelt was harshly critical of Wilson for doing so. It apparently evaded his memory that he had done the same thing when he married Edith Carrow in 1886; so completely had he wiped Alice Hathaway Lee Roosevelt from his memory.
Poor old Teddy thought his life was over on St. Valentine's Day 1884. He had no idea that the mountaintop was yet to come.
When death finally came to him on January 6, 1919, he was young by today's standards; less than three months past his sixtieth birthday. And yet Theodore Roosevelt would pack ten lifetimes into those sixty years.
|TR in 1912|
Edmund Morris' MASSIVE three-volume biography of Theodore Roosevelt was over thirty years in the making. I'm smack-dab in the middle of it at this writing. As you probably know (or have guessed) by now, Franklin Roosevelt is my favorite president. But if you gave me a choice as to which man I would prefer to spend the evening with sitting before an open fire and talking to, Teddy's my choice. FDR preferred small talk and gossip. TR talked about things that mattered - and everything else. He is - in my opinion - the most interesting person in American history - and the most brilliant.
Here is the voice of Theodore Roosevelt from the long ago campaign of 1912:
Can you imagine a Republican talking this way today? I can't.
My friend, Abbey Arletto, has started a blog that showcases photography from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. If she hasn't exactly strapped us into time machine, she has done the next best thing. Here's a link:
Once Upon a Town
It's like communicating with the dead.