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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
Having abandoned science, Theodore had decided to take up law, and this was the reason for postponing the honeymoon. He was not greatly interested in the law, but it was something to do, and so he enrolled at the Columbia Law School and also did some reading in the office of his uncle, Robert Barnhill Roosevelt. The twelve months that followed Roosevelt’s marriage constitute a period of uncertainty. He did a little work on his The Naval War of 1812, of which a chapter or two had been written at Cambridge. He started to take notice of local politics, also, but here, too, signs of active interest are lacking. He joined the district Republican Club in the fall of 1880 for the reason that “a young man of my bringing up and convictions could join only the Republican Party”; a curious statement, since both his uncle and father-in-law were Democrats. So life drifted, with frequent social affairs in which Alice and his mother were joint hostesses, and with life at home unmarked by the slightest friction between the mother and the daughter-in-law.
A trip to Europe, Theodore’s third in less than fifteen years, provided a pleasant diversion during the summer of 1881. With Alice, he was in England in time for spring. They went north into Ireland and set off, one morning, in a jaunting car from Killarney. For a guide they had “a very nice old Irishman” who took them through the Gap of Dunlo and watched with Celtic melancholy their reaction to the Black Valley; “as dreary a place as I ever saw,” Theodore wrote, “because of the black mist which rose from the peat bogs.” Ireland was a beautiful country, but with an “under-stratum of wretchedness.” Roosevelt had seen, probably for the first time in his life, actual hunger. They had run into a man on the Cork road who was weak from starvation and had helped him out with a shilling or two. It had been a depressing ending to the day.
Summer found them in Switzerland, where Theodore had a chance to demonstrate his physical fitness still further by some mountain climbing. Alice was, of course, left behind, for in those days women rarely joined in such strenuous diversions. Her husband seems to have agreed with the current attitude; at least he does not mention missing Alice’s company or express regret that she had not shared with him the majesty of the mountain peaks.
They continued without hurrying and made no attempt to emulate tourists anxious to see all of Europe in thirty days. By August they had been down the Rhine, and Roosevelt wrote to his sister that work on his book had suffered during their travels. He was, in fact, undergoing the discouragements that are the lot of authors. He was, characteristically, wondering whether his inability to get The Naval War of 1812 written did not signify that he was to be a failure in other things. “I have plenty of information,” he complained, “but I can’t get it into words; I wonder if I won’t find everything in life too big for my abilities. Well, time will tell.” Fortunately for the progress of this pedantic history, Alice and Theodore spent some weeks with the Bulloch family at Liverpool. There Roosevelt had long conferences with the uncle who had been a captain in the Confederate Navy. Nautical mysteries were clarified. The book went on.
Before crossing the Channel, they had stopped in Paris, where Alice had done the inevitable shopping, and where they had looked at Napoleon’s tomb. No longer was Theodore bored, as he had been eleven years before. His interest in war, in manly prowess, had grown. This time he experienced “a solemn feeling” in looking at the bier of “the mightiest conqueror the world ever saw.” Then, in revulsion, he added: ” otherwise, I suppose, [he] was an almost unmixed evil.”
They returned home toward the end of September, with Theodore expecting to continue his law studies. But within a few weeks he found himself the candidate of his party for election to the state legislature. He was soon making stump speeches while his friends alternated between amusement and indignation that a young man of good blood, with opportunity for a legal career before him, should stoop to the gutter of American politics. Alice and Theodore were still making their home with Mrs. Roosevelt, but after Election Day they prepared to move to Albany. He was now the Honorable Theodore Roosevelt, assemblyman-elect from the Twenty-first District.
Here, the story of Alice Lee becomes increasingly unsubstantial. It is known that during his first year at Albany, beginning in January, 1882, Roosevelt took rooms in a quasi hotel where fellow legislators stayed. It is known that Alice was there with him the first winter and also that they returned to New York for most of their week ends. Isaac L. Hunt, an assemblyman from the northern part of the state, remembered her as “a very charming woman, tall and willowy. I was very much taken with her.” On the whole, Alice must have been decidedly bored. She had little, if any, interest in politics. There must have been periods that dragged interminably. Then, in the summer of 1883, she knew that she was to have a baby, and Roosevelt, if his subsequent enthusiasm for quantity production of offspring is any indication, was delighted. Meanwhile, they had taken a house at No. 55 West Forty-fifth Street, and summers were spent at Oyster Bay, where a country home of their own, Sagamore Hill, where she would never live, was being planned.