Teddy Roosevelt

image of Theodore Roosevelt, (c) Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Harvard College Library
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“The light has gone out of my life”

The blow of his father’s death was softened later that year when Roosevelt fell deeply in love with Alice Lee of Boston. Tall, pretty and intelligent, Alice captured TR’s heart so thoroughly that he decided in one month to marry her. They were engaged on Valentine’s Day 1880, a day that would in a few years be a bitter one for TR.

After a European honeymoon, Teddy and his bride returned to New York where he studied law at Columbia. Though happily married – “I am living in a dream of delight with my darling, my true-love” – he was unsure of a career. Law was less interesting to him than writing. In 1880, he published his Naval History of the War of 1812 to great reviews. But law and writing were being eclipsed by politics, a vocation that appealed to his competitiveness and sense of civic duty. AT age 23, TR was elected to the State Assembly, its youngest member. He battled political corruption, pushed for civil service reform, became minority leader in a year, and earned the nickname of the Cyclone Assemblyman. “I rose like a rocket,” he later wrote.

All seemed well for TR. Along with his success in the State Assembly, Alice was expecting their first child. Then in early February 1884, Teddy received word in Albany that his mother, Mittie, was ill. On February 12, a telegram announced the birth of “my little new baby.” As he received congratulations from his friends in the Assembly, a second telegram arrived – Alice, too, was ill. Rushing home, he was met by his brother Elliot who said, “There is a curse on this house.” Mother Mittie was feverish with typhoid; Alice was dying of kidney failure. For the next 16 hours TR went to each patient’s bed. Mittie died in the early morning while Alice passed away later that same day – February 14, the fourth anniversary of their engagement.

It was a tremendous blow to Teddy. His diary entry for Valentine’s Day was a black “X” followed by “the light has gone out of my life.” After the double funeral, he wrote, “For joy or for sorrow my life has now been lived out.”

TR threw himself into his work in the Assembly and campaigned hard for the Republican Party in the 1884 presidential election. Before the election, however, Roosevelt struck out for the Dakota Territory, to a ranch near Medora he had purchased the previous year. He had fallen in love with the West, for it was a land that offered a strenuous life outdoors. Here amid cattle, wildlife, and rough hewn men, he could deal with his loss.

Roosevelt left his infant daughter, Alice (named after her mother), in New York with his sister, Bamie. Too pained to mention her given name, he instead referred to her as Baby Lee. It was the beginning of a strained and somewhat distant relationship between father and daughter.