Thursday, November 3, 2016

White House Weddings: Alice Roosevelt


During Theodore Roosevelt's presidency, the White House hosted what is considered the grandest wedding ever held there. It drew media attention and the curiosity of the nation, and the bride was one of America's greatest celebrities: Roosevelt's oldest child, Alice.  
Alice Roosevelt by Frances Benjamin Johnston.jpg
Alice Roosevelt by Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1903
Alice was born in New York in 1884. Within two days, her mother Alice died of Bright's disease and her paternal grandmother succumbed to typhoid fever. Theodore Roosevelt was so distraught that he insisted no one would ever speak of his wife Alice again. As a result, his daughter was called "Little Lee" instead of Alice, and he left her in the care of his sister, Anna Cowles, aka Auntie Bye.

Roosevelt returned two years later, married his childhood friend Edith Carrow, and reclaimed Alice, but the little girl had a strained relationship with both of them (although Edith nursed Alice through a mild case of polio). Edith reportedly told Alice her mother would have bored Theodore to death had she lived. Perhaps in response to the tension, Theodore spoiled Alice and gave her anything she wanted. She had little education but enjoyed reading and had a sparkling wit.
Alice as a young girl
Alice was 17 in 1901 when her father assumed the presidency after the assassination of President McKinley (when, in her own words, she experienced "sheer rapture" and danced a jig). She was a beauty, she was bold, and the press dubbed her "Princess Alice." At her debut the following year, she wore a gown of pale blue; thereafter, the shade was known as "Princess Alice Blue." Songs were written about her, including "Alice Where Art Thou?"

Alice did not behave like the typical young lady of her time. She smoked, chewed gum, drove a car, placed bets with bookies, kept a pet snake, and went out with men, unchaperoned--all in public.  

Mindful of his daughter's celebrity, President Roosevelt sent Alice on a delegation with Secretary of War Taft to Japan, Hawaii, China, the Philippines, and Korea in 1905. Sailing to Japan, Alice jumped fully clothed into the ship's swimming pool and invited an Ohio congressman, Nicholas Longworth, to jump in with her.
Nicholas and Alice crossing the Pacific
In Korea. Alice in center, Nicholas on the right
That December, Alice and Nicholas became engaged. Nicholas was 14 years her senior and had a reputation as a drinker and a playboy, but he played the violin and had money. Alice was smitten. 

The wedding on February 17, 1906, was a grand affair. The House of Representatives adjourned for the day. A thousand guests came, fighting for parking spots for their new automobiles. People lined Pennsylvania Avenue for a glimpse of the bride, who was determined to marry in her own way.
Alice Roosevelt Longworth in her wedding dress, 1906:
The wedding gown
The 22-year-old bride wore a blue dress with an 18-ft long train of silver brocade to the East Room Ceremony. She refused bridesmaids, apparently because she didn't wish to be upstaged, and was walked down the aisle by her father. 
alice-roosevelt.jpg
Nicholas and Alice Longworth with President Roosevelt
Later, she cut the cake with a sword she took from a military aide. When the newlywed couple left the White House, Edith bid her stepdaughter farewell with these words: “I want you to know I am glad to see you leave. You have never been anything but trouble.” 

The couple honeymooned in Cuba, where Alice declared the hills her father had conquered as a Rough Rider to be "mildly sloping." A few years later, when Theodore left the White House, Alice buried a voodoo doll of Taft's wife, Nellie, in the front yard. (She was banned from the White House by Taft, as well as by Woodrow Wilson due to her bawdy jokes.)

Alas, Nicholas did not leave his playboy ways behind when he married. Although he eventually became Speaker of the House, politically-minded Alice was disappointed that he supported Taft's re-election. Both parties had extramarital affairs.

Alice kept busy with politics. She opposed the League of Nations and her cousin Franklin Roosevelt. When Alice was 41, she gave birth to a daughter, Paulina, and both Alice and Nicholas knew the baby's father was Idaho senator William Borah. Alice joked that the baby should have been named Deborah, and apparently some of Alice's friends called the baby "Aurora Borah Alice."
Alice on her 43rd birthday with her daughter, Paulina

The Longworths, 1926
While Nicholas claimed Paulina as his own, he died when she was six, in 1931. Alice and Paulina continued to live on Embassy Row in Washington. Nicholas was buried in Cincinnati, but Alice refused to someday be buried alongside him, as it "would be a fate worse than death itself."

Alice continued to stay active politically, but made money by appearing in tobacco advertisements and publishing a candid autobiography. Paulina married, but her husband died when she was 26. She died five years later of an overdose of sleeping pills, leaving a daughter, Joanna, to Alice's care.

Being a grandmother didn't slow Alice, however. She remained a favorite dinner party guest at political events and lived how she wished. On the February 17, 1974 broadcast of the program "60 Minutes" (on what would have been her wedding anniversary), Alice told Eric Sevareid she was a "hedonist."

She died in 1980 at age 96.

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Susanne Dietze began writing love stories in high school, casting her friends in the starring roles. Today, she's the award-winning author of almost a dozen historical romances who's seen her work on the ECPA and Publisher's Weekly Bestseller Lists for Inspirational Fiction. Married to a pastor and the mom of two, Susanne lives in California and enjoys fancy-schmancy tea parties, genealogy, and curling up on the couch with a costume drama and a plate of nachos. You can visit her on her website, www.susannedietze.com


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Susanne's latest release is The Rails to Love Collection
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7 comments:

  1. Intriguing story about Alice Roosevelt. She had spunk even when women were not recognized. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Hi Marilyn! She certainly did have spunk, didn't she? She wasn't afraid to speak her mind, and she had a fascinating life.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. This was interesting, to say the least. Some things are better left not knowing about. I pray that her granddaughter turned out healthy and happy and lived a long, good life. Fascinating life, yes, but not a life I would ever envy.

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    1. Hi Chappydebbie! Thanks for coming by. I agree that her life was interesting, but sad, too.

      Apparently, Alice was much closer to her granddaughter Joanna than she was to her daughter, Paulina. Joanna was born in 1946 and had a daughter in 1987. She is a philanthropist and historian.

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  3. Susie, I enjoy your posts about the lives of the American presidents, but in this case, I feel very sorry for Alice. If I could hazard a guess, I would say that she was looking for a love she never received at home. How very sad. Thanks for giving me a glimpse into her life.

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    1. I feel sorry for Alice, too, Anita. I put off writing this post about her, to be truthful, because it's so sad. Hers was probably the most lavish and famous White House wedding, however, and couldn't be left out of the series.

      I think so many folks struggle all of their lives because they didn't receive the love or affection they needed as children.

      Thanks for stopping in and sharing, Anita!

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    2. I forgot to include that I always wonder about babies like Alice who were left in the car of a relative and then reclaimed by parents a few years later. This happened a lot after mothers died in childbirth (even in my own family history), but it must have been frightening to be a toddler bonded to an aunt or caregiver, with no memory of one's father, to be returned to that father a few years later. It must have been so traumatic.

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