12 Sep ALICE HATHAWAY LEE ROOSEVELT. THE FORGOTTEN FIRST WIFE OF TEDDY ROOSEVELT
Alice Hathaway Lee Roosevelt died seventeen years before her husband Theodore Roosevelt ascended to the presidency of the United States. She is the most recent of the five women who never saw their husbands reach the White House. Martha Jefferson, Hannah Van Buren, and Ellen Arthur were featured recently in this blog. The life of Rachel Jackson, the deceased wife of Andrew Jackson, was chronicled in the past.
Alice Lee was barely seventeen when she was introduced to the Harvard undergraduate Theodore Roosevelt in Boston at the home of her next door neighbors. Roosevelt later described his first meeting with Alice, “As long as I live, I shall never forget how sweetly she looked, and how prettily she greeted me.” Theodore proposed marriage within eight months, but Alice hesitated for months before their engagement could be announced. They were wed, she nineteen and he twenty two, at the Unitarian Church in Brookline, Massachusetts on October 27, 1880, Roosevelt’s birthday.
The Roosevelts moved to the Roosevelt family home in Oyster Bay, New York. There they lived with Theodore’s widowed mother, Martha Stewart ‘Mitte’ Bulloch. The young couple enjoyed their early married life, socializing, traveling to Europe, and his early rise in New York State politics. Alice became pregnant in the summer of 1883 and both planned for a large family. Edith Roosevelt, Theodore’s second wife later would present him with five children.
Roosevelt was in the state legislature in Albany, New York when he received word that Alice was in labor. He quickly traveled to New York City where he discovered that his wife was gravely ill. She died at twenty-two, two days after the birth of a daughter. The cause of death was renal failure, probably a result of toxemia of pregnancy
Roosevelt was distraught and hardly spoke of Alice again. Their daughter, Alice Roosevelt, survived and flourished in political society. This Alice married the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nicholas Longworth. In the immediate aftermath of Alice Lee’s death the widowered husband turned over the care of newborn Alice to Anna ‘Bamie’ Roosevelt, his older sister. Roosevelt never spoke to his daughter about her mother.