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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 went into her ordeal cheerfully. She was not too well, but the doctors were suavely reassuring. There was a pleasant fluttering around the house on Fifty-seventh Street, where she spent much of her time while Theodore was at Albany. His sister Conie, who had become Mrs. Douglas Robinson, had a baby son, and the two young women had much in common. Alice enjoyed her new importance. She was playing the only vital part that a woman of her time could play—excepting, of course, the preposterous unsexed creatures who were beginning to talk about votes for women.
Roosevelt had been re-elected in 1882, and it would be necessary for him to campaign again in the fall of 1883. The star of his fame was rising rapidly. But he was tired. The work in the legislature was, “if conscientiously done, very harassing,” and the 1884 session could be additionally so, since he was almost certain to become minority leader. Perhaps Roosevelt suffered, too, from a superfluity of feminine activity at home. Consequently, he decided to seek recreation in the West and arrived at Little Missouri, in the Dakota Bad Lands, on the morning of September 7, 1883. Again, he had a delightful time, and it was signally fortunate that he had gone to the Bad Lands during that summer. Less than a year later, when in a single night his life changed utterly, he had a place of refuge. He was back in New York in time to conduct his campaign for the Assembly and was, as usual, returned without difficulty.
As the day of her confinement drew near, Roosevelt’s young wife left the house on Forty-fifth Street to stay with her mother-in-law on Fifty-seventh, where an apartment was furnished for her on the third floor. She waited anxiously each week for Friday to arrive, when Theodore would return from Albany after the legislature had recessed for the week end.
The baby was expected about the middle of February, and life at the house on Fifty-seventh Street moved on with this uppermost. Alice was happy, if physically wretched. Only one trivial incident is remembered of those weeks of waiting: an afternoon when Alice and Mrs. Roosevelt were to go driving. A member of the family dropped by and found Alice sitting, the personification of patience, in the drawing room on the first floor. She was wearing furs, for it was cold outside. She laughed when asked why she was sitting there. The Little Motherling, she explained, using Theodore’s pet name for his mother, was “always late, but not generally so late as this time.”
February 13, 1884, was a Wednesday. On the previous Friday Corinne Robinson and her husband had gone to Baltimore, and before leaving Mrs. Robinson had jokingly told Alice that she must not have her baby until they returned. “I promise,” she said cheerfully. Conie then said good-by to her mother, who was in bed with what seemed a mild indisposition. On Monday a telegram went to Baltimore stating that no need to hurry home had developed, and so Mr. and Mrs. Robinson delayed their return until Wednesday morning. Then, just before they took the train, there was good news. A girl had been born late on Tuesday night, February 12; the doctors said that Alice had survived the ordeal well. So the journey back to New York was made in high spirits. They reached New York on Wednesday evening, glad that the period of suspense was over and wondering whether Theodore had yet arrived from Albany. Details of reaching New York that evening, quite unnoticed at the time, always remained etched on the minds of Corinne Robinson and her husband. They remembered that fog hung over the Hudson River that night, and that the ferry which brought them from New Jersey was delayed because of it. They went uptown on an elevated railway train and, since there was no reason to hurry, walked from the station to the house. Seeing a light in the window on the third floor, Mrs. Robinson again gave thanks that the baby had been born and that Alice’s suffering was behind her. Then she went up the steps. The door opened. Mrs. Robinson saw her brother Elliott standing in the doorway and knew from his face that something was wrong.
“If you want to see your baby,” he said, “do so before you come into this house. He is over at your Aunt Gracie’s. There is a curse on this house! Mother is dying, and Alice is dying, too.”
It was then about 10:30. An hour later, Roosevelt came in, having been told only that a daughter had been born and having left the Assembly Chamber in the midst of effusive, good-natured congratulations. He found his wife barely able to recognize him, and all that night, save for one brief moment, he sat at the head of the bed and held her in his arms. Just before three o’clock in the morning his mother, who had developed typhoid fever, died, and Theodore, standing by her bed, echoed the words of his brother: “There is a curse on this house.” Then he went back upstairs. Dawn dragged into the next day. At two o’clock on February 14, 1884, her body weakened by Bright’s disease, Alice died. A year later Roosevelt wrote: