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“… Especially Pretty Alice.”
During their courtship exuberant young Theodore Roosevelt puzzled the delicate Alice Lee, but they had three idyllic years of marriage before tragedy separated them.
February 1958 | Volume 9, Issue 2
Alice sometimes discouraged the eager Theodore, and then he was plunged into the deepest gloom. He was always to suffer periods of discouragement, when everything seemed black. These were moments of despair. One night, during the first winter of the courtship, a classmate telegraphed to New York in alarm that Roosevelt was somewhere in the woods near Cambridge and refused to come home. A cousin who was particularly close hurried up there, managed somehow to soothe him; and soon his confidence returned.
The courtship continued through the winter and spring of 1878-79. with Theodore becoming markedly possessive as the months passed. During the summer, beyond doubt, he wrote long and fervent letters, for it was his unfailing custom to do so on all subjects at all times, in private life as well as when he held office. That he suffered recurring attacks of jealousy is probable, particularly when Alice sent back accounts of picnics and festivities among the boys and girls of Chestnut Hill.
That he had already told his family about Alice is demonstrated by an invitation extended to the girl and her mother to spend the Christmas holidays at Oyster Bay. Theodore’s mother seems to have been fond of Alice from the start; nor is this surprising. The young girl and the older woman had much in common. They were gentle and rather quiet. They had charm and grace. Both, for by now Alice’s last defenses had been shattered, considered Theodore wholly magnificent. The brief days between Christmas, 1878, and New Year’s Day of 1879 must have been high marks in Theodore’s life. He saw Alice, who affected heavy white brocades to set off her fair hair and blue eyes, standing in front of the open fire after dinner; Alice being very feminine, very attentive to the conversation, very timid about taking more than a sip of wine. He saw her, demure in furs and carrying a small muff, while she skated on nearby ponds and leaned deliciously on his strong arms.
Meanwhile, in the Yard, Roosevelt was a marked man. It now became apparent that he was neglecting his editorial duties on the Advocate because of more important activities at Chestnut Hill. Rumors of his preoccupation even reached the ears of the cloistered faculty. One morning, in the English and rhetoric class, Professor A.S. Hill, familiarly called “Ass” Hill, read aloud an unusually sentimental essay and cruelly asked Theodore to criticize it. His classmates assumed, from the fact that he blushed, that he was the author. The Dickey show, as far back as the previous year, had commented on his courting as well as on his elegant appearance.
At about this time Roosevelt’s interest in the natural sciences began to flag. The evidence is not conclusive. Alice may have expressed distaste for squirrels and birds no longer alive but looking as dead as only an amateur taxidermist could make them look. A fragment of a letter remains, written in July of 1879, in which Theodore told his friend Harry Minot that he had done almost no collecting that summer, that “I don’t approve of too much slaughter.”
So Alice became his. She was an engaged girl. Her mind turned to the wedding, which had been tentatively set for the following October, and to such pleasant labors as her wedding gown and the countless linens that every young bride of that day considered essential. Theodore, even after the engagement was formally announced, could find no peace. He worried when some classmate, anxious to show polite attention to his fiancée, talked with her at a dance.
“Roosevelt,” recalled a member of Alice’s family, “seemed constantly afraid that some one would run off with her, and threatened duels and everything else. On one occasion he actually sent abroad for a set of French dueling pistols, and after great difficulty got them through the Custom House.”
Theodore’s honor was not impugned, however. No blood was shed. He managed to get his degree despite the distractions at Chestnut Hill. He became a Bachelor of Arts, by grace of Harvard College, on June 30, 1880. He took no prominent part in the exercises. Roosevelt did not attempt to begin the pursuit of a career that summer. The estate of his father had made him a young man of means, although not of wealth, There was no need to hurry. Meanwhile, a degree of ill health on the part of his brother Elliott offered excuse for a hunting trip that summer. The trip was a great success despite “a succession of untoward accidents and delays. I got bitten by a snake and chucked head foremost out of the wagon.”
Then Roosevelt hurried to Chestnut Hill, and the marriage took place at Brookline on October 27, 1880. The day was Theodore’s twenty-second birthday, while Alice was nineteen.
The honeymoon was delayed, apparently, until the next summer, for the young couple went to New York to live with Theodore’s widowed mother at No. 6 West Fifty-seventh Street, an address considered uptown and out of the way, but beginning to be fashionable.