Alice Hathaway Lee Roosevelt (July 29, 1861 â" February 14, 1884) was an American socialite and the first wife of President Theodore Roosevelt. Less than two days after giving birth to their only child, Roosevelt died from Bright's Disease.
Early life and courtship by Theodore Roosevelt
Alice Hathaway Lee was born in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts to banker George Cabot Lee and Caroline Watts Haskell. Considered tall for the era at 5'6", she had "blue-gray eyes and long, wavy golden hair" and was described as strikingly beautiful as well as charming. Her family and friends called her "Sunshine" because of her cheerful disposition.
She met Theodore "T.R." Roosevelt, Jr. on October 18, 1878, at the home of her relatives and next-door neighbors, the Saltonstalls; T.R. was a classmate of her cousin, Richard Middlecott "Dick" Saltonstall, at Harvard University. Of their first encounter, he would write, "As long as I live, I shall never forget how sweetly she looked, and how prettily she greeted me."
Lee received a proposal of marriage from Roosevelt in June 1879 but waited eight months before accepting. Their engagement was announce on February 14, 1880.
At age 19, Lee married Roosevelt on October 27, 1880 at the Unitarian Church in Brookline, Massachusetts. The couple's "proper" honeymoon was delayed until the following summer due to her new husband's acceptance into Columbia Law School. After spending the first two weeks of their marriage at the Roosevelt family home in Oyster Bay, the couple went to live with Theodore's widowed mother, Martha Stewart "Mittie" Bulloch.
Along with her new husband, Roosevelt participated in the social world of elite New York and toured Europe for five months in 1881. In October 1882 Roosevelt moved to her husband's Albany boardinghouse and learned about New York state politics. When she became pregnant in the summer of 1883, the Roosevelts planned for a large family and bought land near Tranquility for a large home. She returned to live with her mother-in-law in New York City later that fall.
Birth of her daughter and death
Roosevelt gave birth to the couple's daughter at 8:30 pm on February 12, 1884; the child was named Alice Lee Roosevelt. Her husband, then a member of the New York State Assembly, was in Albany was not present at the birth but attending to business on the Assembly floor. He had been convinced their child would be born on Valentine's Day, the fourth anniversary of their engagement. After Assemblyman Roosevelt received a telegram the morning of the 13th notifying him of the birth, he made arrangements to leave that afternoon and be with his wife. Another telegram was sent and received regarding her ill health, but she was in a semi-comatose state by the time her husband arrived home around midnight.Roosevelt languished for several hours while her husband held her, dying the afternoon of February 14, 1884 from undiagnosed kidney failure. It was determined that her pregnancy had masked the illness. Roosevelt was 22 years old at the time of her death.
Distraught following Alice Roosevelt's death, her husband hardly spoke of her again. Much to the frustration of their daughter, all Theodore Roosevelt revealed following his wife's death was a diary entry and a short, privately published tribute:
She was beautiful in face and form, and lovelier still in spirit; As a flower she grew, and as a fair beautiful young flower she died. Her life had been always in the sunshine; there had never come to her a single sorrow; and none ever knew her who did not love and revere her for the 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 just begun, and when the years seemed so bright before herâ"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.
In the immediate aftermath of Roosevelt's death, her widowed husband turned the care of their newborn daughter, Alice Lee Roosevelt, over to her aunt Anna "Bamie" Roosevelt, the older sister of Theodore Roosevelt. As she grew, Alice Lee learned primarily of her mother from Bamie Roosevelt. Theodore Roosevelt and his second wife, Edith Kermit Carow, took custody of his daughter when she was three years old.
Roosevelt was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, next to her mother-in-law Mittie, who had died just hours before her. The families of each held a joint funeral for the women at New York's Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church.
- The White House Presidents
- Alice Roosevelt Longworth page at the Theodore Roosevelt Association web site
- Theodore Roosevelt Association family biographies