"There are many kinds of success in life worth
having," Theodore Roosevelt wrote in his autobiography. "It is exceedingly
interesting and attractive to be a successful business man, or railroad man, or farmer, or
a successful lawyer, or doctor, or a writer, or a president, or a ranchman, or the colonel
of a fighting regiment, or to kill grizzly bears and lions. But for unflagging interest
and enjoyment, a household of children, if things go reasonably well, certainly makes all
other forms of success and achievement lose their importance by comparison. It may be true
that he travels farthest who travels alone; but the goal thus reached is not worth
Roosevelt was raised in a strong, loving household
where education, personal responsibility and concern for the less fortunate were vital
elements. Teddy Roosevelt passed these priceless gifts on to his own family in full
measure. Teddy was born of affluent parents in New York City on Oct. 27, 1858. His father,
a merchant-banker and Lincoln Republican, was a seventh generation New Yorker of Dutch
heritage who helped to found the Children's Aid Society and the Metropolitan Museum of
Art. His mother was from Georgia, and she sympathized with the South during the Civil War.
Political differences between mother and father did not corrode the marriage because of
their mutual love and respect.
When Teddy was in his mid-20s and a member of the
New York State Assembly, he suffered a devastating double loss in February 1884. His
mother, Mittie, and his wife, Alice Lee, died on the same day - Mittie, of typhoid, and
Alice, of a kidney disease. The date was Feb. 14, Valentine's Day, the fourth anniversary
of the engagement of Alice and Theodore. Alice Lee had given birth to a daughter named
Alice two days before her death.
Roosevelt was at his mother's bedside when she died
at about 3 a.m. Twenty-two-year old Alice Lee, with Theodore constantly at her side, died
in the afternoon at about 2 o'clock. Roosevelt was heartbroken. Historian Hermann Hagadorn
wrote that never would Roosevelt speak of Alice Lee to their child. "That door in his
heart was locked, and Alice would never find the key."
Roosevelt later married a childhood friend, Edith
Carow. She raised Alice Lee's daughter and bore five children of her own (four sons and a
daughter) with Theodore. Alice Lee had been fun loving and outgoing. Edith was steady, and
was never impressed with the flash and whirl of society.
In 1910, when their son Ted Jr. became engaged, TR
wrote his son, saying of his own marriage, "Greatly tho I loved Mother [Edith], I was
at times thoughtless and selfish . . . [Edith] was always tender, gentle and considerate,
and always loving, yet, when necessary, pointed out where I was thoughtless, instead of
submitting to it." Roosevelt said he valued Edith's strength of character because,
without it, her life would have been "very much harder, and mine very much less
Edith also sent Ted Jr. a congratulatory letter when
he became engaged. Speaking about herself, she wrote, "One should not live to
oneself. It was a temptation to me, only Father [Theodore] would not allow it. Since I
have grown older and realize that it is a great opportunity when one has a house that one
can make pleasant for younger - and also older - people to come to, I have done
Teddy and his family lived in their beloved Sagamore
Hill home in Oyster Bay, Long Island. Sagamore Hill also functioned as the summer White
House when he was president. He routinely wrote or talked about his family. When Alice
(daughter of Alice Lee) was three years old, TR said that she is "too sweet and good
for anything." A shy niece named Eleanor (who was to marry a distant cousin named
Franklin Delano Roosevelt) was often at the house and "plays all the time with
her." Ted Jr., born in 1887, "crawls everywhere, does his best to stand and talk
- but fails - and is too merry and happy for anything. I go in to play with them every
morning, they are certainly the dearest children imaginable." Kermit was born in
1889, Ethel in 1891, Archibald in 1894 and Quentin in 1897. They never lacked love or
attention, and the Roosevelt home regularly bubbled with laughter and games, with Teddy
usually the biggest and most mischievous culprit. Visitors never knew what to expect when
they came to Sagamore Hill.
But tragedy would strike the Roosevelt family again.
During World War I, five of Roosevelt's children (all four sons and daughter Ethel) served
overseas. Quentin, his youngest son, was killed in July 1918 while flying on a mission
behind enemy lines - only four months before the war ended. Two other sons, Archie and
Ted, were wounded in the war.
The death of Quentin was a severe blow for
Roosevelt. What remained of his health disintegrated rapidly during his final months. He
was blind in one eye, partly deaf and suffering from a tenacious illness he had contracted
in 1914 while mapping an unexplored river in the Amazon jungle. (The admiring Brazilians
renamed the river "Rio Roosevelt" in his honor.)
On Jan. 5, 1919, Theodore said to Edith, "I
wonder if you will ever know how I love Sagamore Hill."
The next day, Theodore Roosevelt - the man who
devoted his life to family and to "work worth doing" - died in his sleep.