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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
She was born at Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, on July 29, 1861; I first saw her on October 18, 1878, and loved her as soon as I saw her sweet, fair young face; we were betrothed on January 25, 1880, and married on October 27th, of the same year; we spent three years of happiness such as rarely comes to man or woman; on February 12, 1884, her baby girl was born; she kissed it, and seemed perfectly well; some hours afterward she, not knowing that she was in the slightest danger, but thinking only that she was falling into a sleep, became insensible, and died at two o’clock on Thursday afternoon, February 14, 1884, at 6 West Fifty-seventh Street, in New York; she was buried two days afterward, in Greenwood Cemetery.
She was beautiful in face and form, and lovelier still in spirit; as a flower she grew, and as a fair young flower she died. Her life had been always in the sunshine; there had never come to her a single great sorrow; and none ever knew her who did not love and revere her for her bright, sunny temper and her saintly unselfishness. Fair, pure, and joyous as a maiden; loving, tender, and happy as a young wife; when she had just become a mother, when her life seemed to be but just begun, and when the years seemed so bright before her—then, by a strange and terrible fate, death came to her.
And when my heart’s dearest died, the light went from my life forever.
On Saturday morning, February 16, two hearses moved side by side from the home on Fifty-seventh Street to the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church at Fifth Avenue and Fifty-fifth Street. Two rosewood coffins were carried in. The Reverend Dr. John Hall, who had been the family minister for years, could barely control himself as he made a brief address. One of the two women had done her work, he said, but the other was young. It seemed strange that she had been taken away. But Jesus was the Resurrection and the Life. Then he prayed for the husband and the little baby, three days old, and wept.
Theodore Roosevelt sat in a front pew, with Elliott Roosevelt, his father-in-law, and his sisters. The twin hearses moved again. The double interment was in Greenwood Cemetery.
Somehow, Roosevelt went on with his work; if proof were needed that he had courage and an iron will this fact alone would serve. … Then he fled to the quiet of the Bad Lands. At Albany, Assemblyman Hunt remembered, “you could not talk to him about it, you could see at once that it was a grief too deep. There was a sadness about his face that he never had before. He did not want anybody to sympathize with him. He hiked away to the wilderness to get away from the world. He went out there a broken-hearted man.”
While he was in the West, Roosevelt wrote the memorial to his wife and mother, brief but deeply moving, which was printed in a limited edition and circulated among relatives and close friends. Roosevelt saw the relatives of his first wife whenever he was in Boston, and the daughter, who was to become Mrs. Nicholas Longworth, frequently visited them. But if Alice Lee, whom he met on that October day in 1878, was ever mentioned, there is no record of it. A door was closed on the three years they lived together, a door that was never opened. There is not a word in his autobiography to indicate that she had existed.
In time he may have doubted that she had. In December of 1886 he was married again, to the Edith Carow he had known as a child, and his married life was happy and complete. Five other children came. Four of them married and had children. One, the youngest, fell in an airplane behind the German lines. Honors came to Roosevelt; age came also. Only Alice Lee remains young and does not fade. She is forever fair; a figure on a Grecian urn.