Alice Roosevelt Longworth

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Alice Lee Roosevelt Longworth
Alice Roosevelt by Frances Benjamin Johnston.jpg
Hand-tinted photograph of Alice Roosevelt by Frances Benjamin Johnston, taken around her debut in 1903
Born Alice Lee Roosevelt
(1884-02-12)February 12, 1884
New York City
Died February 20, 1980(1980-02-20) (aged 96)
Washington, D.C.
Spouse(s) Nicholas Longworth III
(m. 1906–1931; his death)
Partner(s) William Edgar Borah
Children Paulina Longworth
Parent(s)
Relatives See Roosevelt family

Alice Lee Roosevelt Longworth (February 12, 1884 – February 20, 1980) was an American writer and prominent socialite. She was the eldest child of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and the only child of Roosevelt and his first wife, Alice Hathaway Lee.

Alice led an unconventional and controversial life. Her marriage to Representative Nicholas Longworth III (Republican-Ohio), a party leader and 43rd Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, was shaky, and her only child Paulina was allegedly a result of her affair with Senator William Edgar Borah of Idaho. She temporarily became a Democrat during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and said in a 60 Minutes interview with Eric Sevareid, televised on February 17, 1974, that she was a hedonist.

Childhood[edit]

Roosevelt family in 1903 with Quentin on the left, TR, Ted, Archie, Alice, Kermit, Edith, and Ethel.

Alice Lee Roosevelt was born in the Roosevelt family home at 6 West 57th St. in New York City. Her mother, Alice Hathaway Lee Roosevelt, was a Boston banking heiress. Her father, Theodore, was then a New York State Assemblyman. As an Oyster Bay Roosevelt Alice is a descendant of the Schuyler family. [1] [2]

Two days after her birth, in the same house, her mother died of undiagnosed kidney failure. Eleven hours earlier that day, Theodore's mother Martha Stewart "Mittie" Bulloch died of typhoid fever.[3]

Theodore was rendered so distraught by his wife's death that he could not bear to think about her. He almost never spoke of her again, would not allow her to be mentioned in his presence, and even omitted her name from his autobiography. Therefore, his daughter Alice was called "Baby Lee" instead of her name.[4] She continued this practice late in life, often preferring to be called "Mrs. L" rather than "Alice".[5]

Seeking solace, Theodore retreated from his life in New York and headed west where he spent two years traveling and living on his ranch in North Dakota. He left his infant daughter in the care of his sister Anna, known as "Bamie" or "Bye". There are letters to Bamie that reveal Theodore's concern for his daughter. In one 1884 letter, he wrote, "I hope Mousiekins will be very cunning, I shall dearly love her."[6]

Bamie had a significant influence on young Alice, who would later speak of her admiringly: "If auntie Bye had been a man, she would have been president."[7] Bamie took her into her watchful care, moving Alice into her book-filled Manhattan house, until Theodore married again.[8]

After Theodore's marriage to Edith Kermit Carow, Alice was raised by her father and stepmother. Theodore and Edith's five children were Theodore III (Ted), Kermit, Ethel, Archibald (Archie), and Quentin. They remained married until his death in January 1919. During much of Alice's childhood, Bamie was a remote figure who eventually married and moved to London for a time. But later, as Alice became more independent and came into conflict with her father and stepmother, Aunt "Bye" provided needed structure and stability. Late in life, it was said of her Aunt Bye: "There is always someone in every family who keeps it together. In ours, it was Auntie Bye."[9]

Relationship with Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt[edit]

Alice Roosevelt around 1902 by Frances Benjamin Johnston.
Edith Kermit Carow (circa. 1900)

There were tensions in the relationship between young Alice and her stepmother, who had known her husband's previous wife and made it clear that she regarded her predecessor as a beautiful but insipid, childlike fool. Edith once angrily told her that if Alice Hathaway Lee had lived, she would have bored Theodore to death.[10]

Alice, frequently spoiled with gifts, matured into young womanhood and, in the course, became known as a great beauty like her mother. However, continuing tension with her stepmother and prolonged separation and limited attention from her father created a young woman who was as independent and outgoing as she was self-confident and calculating. When her father was Governor of New York, he and his wife proposed that Alice attend a conservative school for girls in New York City. Pulling out all the stops, Alice wrote, "If you send me I will humiliate you. I will do something that will shame you. I tell you I will."[11]

In later years, Alice expressed admiration for her stepmother's sense of humor and stated that they had shared similar literary tastes. In her autobiography Crowded Hours, Alice wrote of Edith Carow, stating "That I was the child of another marriage was a simple fact and made a situation that had to be coped with, and Mother coped with it with a fairness and charm and intelligence which she has to a greater degree than almost any one else I know." [12]

Father's presidency[edit]

Alice Roosevelt, formal portrait by Theobald Chartran 1901.

When her father took office in 1901 following the assassination of President William McKinley, Jr. in Buffalo (an event that she greeted with "sheer rapture"[13]), Alice became an instant celebrity and fashion icon at age 17, and at her social debut in 1902 she wore a gown of what was to become known forever afterwards as "Alice blue", sparking a color trend in women's clothing.[14] While proud of her father's accomplishments, Alice also was painfully aware that his new duties would give her significantly less of his time even as she longed for more of his attention. Alice 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 after her spinster aunt and Spinach for its green color) in the White House, and was seen placing bets with a bookie.[5]

Alice Roosevelt with her dog, Leo, a long-haired Chihuahua. She was also given a Pekingese named Manchu, by the Chinese Empress Dowager Cixi in 1905

In 1905, Alice, along with her father's Secretary of War, William Howard Taft, led the American delegation to Japan, Hawaii, China, the Philippines, and Korea. It was the largest such diplomatic mission thus far, composed of 23 congressmen (including her future husband Nicholas Longworth), seven senators, diplomats, officials and businessmen.[15]

During the cruise to Japan, Alice jumped into the ship's pool fully clothed, and coaxed Congressman Longworth to join her in the water.[16] (Years later Bobby Kennedy would chide her about the incident, saying it was outrageous for the time, to which the by-then-octogenarian Alice replied that it would only have been outrageous had she removed her clothes.[17]) In her autobiography, Crowded Hours, Alice made note of the event, pointing out that there was little difference between the linen skirt and blouse she had been wearing and a lady's swimsuit of the period.

1902 studio portrait of Alice Roosevelt by Frances Benjamin Johnston.

Once, a White House visitor commented on Alice's frequent interruptions to the Oval Office, often to offer political advice. The exhausted president commented to his friend, author Owen Wister, after her third interruption to their conversation and threatening to throw her 'out the window', "I can either run the country or I can attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both." [18]

Alice was the center of attention in the social context of her father's presidency, and she thrived on the attention, even as she chafed at some of the restrictions such attention placed on her. In this, Alice resembled her father. She later said of Theodore, "He wants to be the bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral, and the baby at every christening." [19]

Married life[edit]

1906 postcard associated with her wedding

In December 1905, after returning to Washington from their diplomatic travels, Alice became engaged to Nicholas Longworth III, a Republican U.S. House of Representatives member from Cincinnati, Ohio, who ultimately would rise to become Speaker of the House. The two had travelled in the same social circles for several years, but their relationship solidified during the Imperial Cruise. A scion of a socially prominent Ohio family, Longworth was 14 years her senior and had a reputation as a Washington D.C. playboy. Their wedding took place the following February and was the social event of the season. It was attended by more than a thousand guests with many thousands gathered outside hoping for a glimpse of the bride. She was dressed in a blue wedding dress and dramatically cut the wedding cake with a sword (borrowed from a military aide attending the reception).[20] Immediately after the wedding, the couple left for a honeymoon that included a voyage to Cuba and a visit to the Longworths in Cincinnati. This was followed by travels to England and the Continent which included having dinners with many notables of the day: King Edward, Kaiser Wilhelm, Clemenceau, Whitelaw Reid, Lord Curzon, and William Jennings Bryan.[21] They bought a house at 2009 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., in Washington, D.C., now the headquarters of the Washington Legal Foundation.[5]

Alice publicly supported her father's 1912 Bull Moose presidential candidacy, while her husband stayed loyal to his mentor, President Taft. During that election cycle, she appeared on stage with her father's vice presidential candidate, Hiram Johnson, in Longworth's own district. Longworth later lost by about 105 votes and she joked that she was worth at least 100 votes (meaning she was the reason he lost). However, he was elected again in 1914 and stayed in the House for the rest of his life.[5]

Alice's campaign against her husband caused a permanent chill in her marriage. During their marriage, she carried on numerous affairs. As reported in Carol Felsenthal's biography of Alice, and in Betty Boyd Caroli's The Roosevelt Women, as well by Time journalist Rebecca Winters Keegan, it was generally accepted knowledge in D.C. that she also had a long, ongoing affair with Senator William Borah, and the opening of Alice's diaries to historical researchers indicates that Borah was the father of her daughter, Paulina Longworth (1925–1957).[22]

Alice was renowned for her "brilliantly malicious" humor, even in this sensitive situation, since she had originally wanted to name her daughter "Deborah," as in "de Borah." And according to one family friend, "everybody called her [Paulina] 'Aurora Borah Alice.'" [23]

On May 11, 1908, Alice similarly amused herself in the Capitol's gallery at the House of Representatives by placing a tack on the chair of an unknown but "middle-aged" and "dignified" gentleman. Upon encountering the tack, "like the burst of a bubble on the fountain, like the bolt from the blue, like the ball from the cannon," the unfortunate fellow leapt up in pain and surprise while she looked away.[24]

Post-Roosevelt presidency[edit]

Alice Roosevelt Longworth and her husband, House Speaker & Ohio Congressman Nicholas Longworth on the steps of the US Capitol in 1926

When it came time for the Roosevelt family to move out of the White House, Alice buried a Voodoo doll of the new First Lady, Nellie Taft, in the front yard.[25] Later, the Taft White House banned her from her former residence—the first but not the last administration to do so. During Woodrow Wilson's administration (from which she was banned in 1916 for a bawdy joke at Wilson's expense), Alice worked against the entry of the United States into the League of Nations.[5]

Alice Roosevelt Longworth on her 43rd birthday in 1927 with her daughter Paulina, age 2. The child's biological father was Senator William Borah.

During the Great Depression, when she, like many other Americans, found her fortunes reversed, Alice appeared in tobacco advertisements to raise money. She also published an autobiography, Crowded Hours. The book sold well and received rave reviews. TIME Magazine praised its "insouciant vitality."[26]

Alice's wit could have a political effect on friend and foe alike. When columnist and cousin Joseph Wright Alsop V claimed that there was grass-roots support for Republican presidential candidate Wendell Willkie, the Republican hope to defeat F.D.R. in 1940, she said yes, "the grass roots of 10,000 country clubs."[27] During the 1940 Presidential campaign, she publicly proclaimed that she'd "rather vote for Hitler than vote for Franklin for a third term."[28] Alice demolished Thomas Dewey, the 1944 opponent of her cousin Franklin, by comparing the pencil-mustached Republican to "the bridegroom on the wedding cake." The image stuck and helped Governor Dewey lose two consecutive presidential elections.[29]

Paulina Longworth married Alexander McCormick Sturm, with whom she had a daughter, Joanna (b. July 1946). Alexander died in 1951. Paulina herself died in 1957 due to an overdose of sleeping pills.

Not very long before Paulina's death, she and Alice had discussed the care of Joanna in case of such an event. Alice fought for and won the custody of her granddaughter, whom she raised. In contrast to Alice's relationship with her daughter, she doted on her granddaughter, and the two were very close. In an article in American Heritage in 1969, Joanna was described as a "highly attractive and intellectual twenty-two-year-old" and was called "a notable contributor to Mrs. Longworth’s youthfulness.... The bonds between them are twin cables of devotion and a healthy respect for each other's tongue. 'Mrs. L.,' says a friend, 'has been a wonderful father and mother to Joanna: mostly father.' "[30]

Political connections[edit]

Alice Roosevelt Longworth with Joanna Sturm, her granddaughter, at Tricia Nixon's wedding in 1971

From an early age, Alice was interested in politics. When advancing age and illness incapacitated her Aunt Bamie, Alice stepped into her place as an unofficial political adviser to her father. She warned her father against challenging the renomination of William Howard Taft in 1912. Alice took a hard-line view of the Democrats and in her youth sympathized with the conservative wing of the Republican Party. She supported her half-brother Ted when he ran for governor of New York in 1924. When Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for president in 1932, Alice publicly opposed his candidacy. Writing in the Ladies' Home Journal in October 1932, she said of FDR, "Politically, his branch of the family and ours have always been in different camps, and the same surname is about all we have in common..... I am a Republican..... I am going to vote for Hoover..... If I were not a Republican, I would still vote for Mr. Hoover this time."[31]

Although Alice did not support John F. Kennedy in the 1960 election, she became very enamored of the Kennedy family and "learned how amusing and attractive Democrats could be."[32] She developed an affectionate, although sometimes strained, friendship with Bobby Kennedy, perhaps because of his relatively thin skin. When Alice privately made fun of his scaling the newly named Mount Kennedy in Canada, he was not amused. She even admitted to voting for President Lyndon Johnson over Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964 because she believed Goldwater was too mean.[33]

Alice developed a genuine friendship with Richard Nixon when he was vice president, and when he returned to California after Eisenhower's second term, she kept in touch and did not consider his political career to be over. Alice encouraged Nixon to reenter politics and continued to invite him to her famous dinners. Nixon returned these favors by inviting her to his first formal White House dinner and to the 1971 wedding of his daughter Tricia Nixon.[5]

Later life[edit]

In 1955, Alice fell and suffered a broken hip. In 1956, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and though she successfully underwent a mastectomy at the time, cancer was found in her other breast in 1970, requiring a second mastectomy.[citation needed]

Alice Roosevelt Longworth christening the submarine named after her father, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, in 1959

Alice was a lifelong member of the Republican party. Yet her political sympathies began to change when she became close to the Kennedy family and Lyndon Johnson. She voted Democratic in 1964 and was known to be supporting Bobby Kennedy in the 1968 Democratic primary.[5]

It is possible her change in political leanings was the result of the social upheavals occurring in American society at the same time. Beginning in the late 1950s and continuing into the 1970s, the struggle of African-Americans for social and legal equality could not have escaped the notice of a woman always known for approaching everyone she first met with respect, without regard for station in life. As an example of her attitudes on race, in 1965 her black chauffeur and one of her best friends, Richard Turner, was driving Alice to an appointment. During the trip, he pulled out in front of a taxi, and the driver got out and demanded to know of him, "What do you think you're doing, you black bastard?" Turner took the insult calmly, but Alice did not and told the taxi driver, "He's taking me to my destination, you white son of a bitch!"[30]

After RFK was murdered in 1968, Alice again supported her friend Richard Nixon, just as she had done in his 1960 campaign against JFK. Her long friendship with Nixon ended at the conclusion of the Watergate Scandal, specifically when Nixon quoted her father's diary at his resignation, saying, "Only if you've been to the lowest valley can you know how great it is to be on the highest mountain top." This infuriated Alice, who spat curse words at her television screen as she watched him compare his early departure from the White House (in the face of probable impeachment and possible criminal prosecution) to her idealistic young father's loss of his wife and mother on the same day due to illness. Nixon, however, called her "the most interesting [conversationalist of the age]" and said, "No one, no matter how famous, could ever outshine her."[34]

She remained cordial with Nixon's successor, Gerald Ford, but a perceived lack of social grace on the part of Jimmy Carter caused her to decline to ever meet him, the last sitting president in her lifetime. In the official statement marking her death, President Carter wrote "She had style, she had grace, and she had a sense of humor that kept generations of political newcomers to Washington wondering which was worse—to be skewered by her wit or to be ignored by her." [35]

Alice's last public appearance, televised nationwide on PBS, was on the 1976 bicentennial of the United States, attended by Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom.

After many years of ill health, Alice died in her Embassy Row house on February 20, 1980 at age 96 of emphysema and pneumonia, with contributory effects of a number of other chronic illnesses. She is buried in Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D.C.[5]

Of her quotable comments, Alice's most famous found its way to a pillow on her settee: "If you haven't got anything good to say about anybody, come sit next to me."[36] To Senator Joseph McCarthy, who had jokingly remarked at a party "Here's my blind date. I am going to call you Alice," she sarcastically said "Senator McCarthy, you are not going to call me Alice. The trashman and the policeman on my block call me Alice, but you may not."[37] She informed President Lyndon B. Johnson that she wore wide-brimmed hats so he couldn't kiss her.[30] When a well-known Washington senator was discovered to have been having an affair with a young woman less than half his age, she quipped, "You can't make a soufflé rise twice."[38]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Taylor, Robert Lewis. Along The Way: Two Paths From One Ancestry Xlibris Corporation, 2014
  2. ^ Brogan, Hugh and Mosley, Charles American Presidential Families October 1993, page 568
  3. ^ Morris, pp. 229-230
  4. ^ Morris, pp. 232, 373
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Hansen, Stephen (Sep 10, 2012). "What Was Once Princess Alice's Palace". TheInTowner. Retrieved Sep 10, 2014. 
  6. ^ Wead D. All the Presidents' Children: Triumph and Tragedy in the Lives of America's First Families. Atria Books, 2003 p. 48.
  7. ^ Rixey, L. Bamie: Theodore Roosevelt's remarkable sister. D. McKay Co., 1963, p. v.
  8. ^ Morris, pp. 373-374
  9. ^ Teague, Michael. Mrs. L: Conversations with Alice Roosevelt Longworth. Garden City, NY: Doubleday. 1981. ISBN 0-7156-1602-1.
  10. ^ Miller, N. Theodore Roosevelt: A Life. William Morrow, 1992, p. 193.
  11. ^ Renehan, Edward J., Jr. The Lion's Pride: Theodore Roosevelt and His Family in Peace and War. Oxford University Press, 1999 p. 47.
  12. ^ Longworth, A. L. R. Crowded Hours. Charles Scribner's Press, 1933, p. 9.
  13. ^ Brough, J. Princess Alice: A Biography of Alice Roosevelt Longworth. Little, Brown & Company, 1975, p. 122.
  14. ^ Ken Tate; Janice Tate (2004), Favorite Songs of the Good Old Days, DRG Wholesale, p. 13, ISBN 978-1-59217-034-0 
  15. ^ "Excerpt – 'The Imperial Cruise' by James Bradley." New York Times. 18 November 2009. Retrieved 23 November 2009.
  16. ^ The Pittsburgh Post (September 12, 1905, p. 1). "Daughter, Fully Dressed, Jumps Into a Swimming Tank On Board a Steamship." Retrieved April 29, 2014.
  17. ^ Teichmann, H. Alice: The Life and Times of Alice Roosevelt Longworth. Prentice Hall, 1979, p. 203.
  18. ^ Ripper, J. American Stories: Living American History, Vol. II: From 1865. M. E. Sharpe, Inc., 2008, p. 72.
  19. ^ Wead D. All the Presidents' Children: Triumph and Tragedy in the Lives of America's First Families. Atria Books, 2003, p. 107.
  20. ^ Quinn-Musgrove, Sandra L., and Kanter, Sanford. "America's Royalty: All the Presidents' Children". Greenwood Publishing Group, 1995 p. 149.
  21. ^ Roosevelt-Longworth, Alice. Crowded Hours. Ayer Publishing, 1988, p. 120-123.
  22. ^ Rebecca Winters Keegan (3 July 2006). "An American Princess". time.com. Retrieved on 2008-12-30.
  23. ^ Brands, H.W. (2008). Traitor to his Class. New York, NY: Doubleday. p. 91. ISBN 978-0-385-51958-8. 
  24. ^ The New York Times (12 May 1908). "Mrs. Longworth's Joke". nytimes.com. Retrieved on 2008-12-30.
  25. ^ Lawrence L. Knutson (7 June 1999). "Alice Roosevelt Longworth, wild thing". salon.com. Retrieved on 2008-12-30.
  26. ^ Associated Press (6 November 1933). "Princess Alice". time.com. Retrieved on 2008-12-30.
  27. ^ John Skow (25 April 1988). "Swordplay Alice Roosevelt Longworth". time.com. Retrieved on 2008-12-30.
  28. ^ Felsenthal, Carol (1988). Alice Roosevelt Longworth. New York: Putnam. ISBN 978-0399132582. 
  29. ^ Black, Conrad (2003). Champion of Freedom. New York: Public Affairs. p. 950. ISBN 1-58648-184-3. Alice Roosevelt Longworth, in what must have been almost the only favor she ever did for FDR, greatly damaged the natty but diminutive Dewey by calling him 'the bridegroom on the wedding cake.' 
  30. ^ a b c June Bingham (February 1969). "Before the Colors Fade: Alice Roosevelt Longworth". American Heritage. Retrieved on 2008-08-08.
  31. ^ "Disclaimer", Time magazine (24 October 1932). time.com. Retrieved on 2008-12-30.
  32. ^ Felsenthal, C. Princess Alice: The Life and Times of Alice Roosevelt Longworth. St. Martin's Press, 1988, p. 242.
  33. ^ Cordery, S. A. Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker. Viking Penguin, 2007, p. 459.
  34. ^ Nixon, 163–164.
  35. ^ Thompson, Frank. Jimmy Carter The Government Printing Office, 1978, p. 362
  36. ^ "If You Can't Say Something Good About Someone, Sit Right Here by Me". Quote Investigator. 2014-08-09. Retrieved 2015-09-11. 
  37. ^ Graham, Katharine. Katharine Graham's Washington. Alfred A. Knopf, 2002, p. 131.
  38. ^ Safire, W. Safire's political dictionary. Oxford University Press, 1998, p. 415.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Brough, James. Princess Alice: A Biography of Alice Roosevelt Longworth. Boston: Little, Brown. 1975.
  • Caroli, Betty Boyd. The Roosevelt Women. New York: Basic Books, 1998.
  • Cordery, Stacy A. Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker. New York: Viking, 2007.
  • Felsenthal, Carol. Princess Alice: The Life and Times of Alice Roosevelt Longworth. New York: St. Martin's Press. 1988.
  • Longworth, Alice Roosevelt. Crowded Hours (Autobiography). New York: Scribners. 1933.
  • Miller, Nathan. Theodore Roosevelt: A Life. William Morrow, 1992,
  • Morris, Edmund. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. New York: Random House Trade Paperback Edition. ISBN 0-375-75678-7. 
  • Peyser, Mark; Dwyer, Timothy (2015). Hissing Cousins: The Untold Story of Eleanor Roosevelt and Alice Roosevelt Longworth. Doubleday. ISBN 9780385536028. 
  • Teichmann, Howard. Alice: The Life and Times of Alice Roosevelt Longworth. Englewood Cliffs, NJ. 1979.
  • Wead, Doug. All the Presidents' Children: Triumph and Tragedy in the Lives of America's First Families. New York: Atria Books, 2004.
  • Nixon, Richard (1990). In the Arena: A Memoir of Victory, Defeat and Renewal. New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 163–164. ISBN 0-671-72934-9. 

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