How Was First Daughter Alice Roosevelt Ahead of Her Time?
Speaking about his eldest daughter, President Theodore Roosevelt famously said, "I can either run the country or I can attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both." While that statement was obviously a bit of humorous hyperbole, it wasn't far from the truth.
Alice Roosevelt Longworth, as she would become known after her 1906 marriage, was a First Daughter ahead of her time. Upon her father's succession to the presidency after William McKinley's assassination in 1901, 17-year-old Alice was thrust into the national spotlight – and never left it. She was a complicated and controversial figure, mainly for her outspokenness and public conduct that flew in the face of the expectations of a well-bred young lady at the turn of the 20th century. Yet "Princess Alice" was also enormously popular for her wit, style, and general joie de vivre.
Among her antics, she reportedly attended 407 dinners, 350 balls, and 300 parties in 15 months (often with her pet snake, Emily Spinach, wrapped around her arm). She smoked cigarettes in public, placed bets with bookies, and played practical jokes on everyone. These jokes and comments sometimes got her in trouble – she was even banned from the White House by two different administrations, due to burying a voodoo doll of First Lady Nellie Taft, wife of President William Howard Taft, in the front yard, and later for making a bawdy joke at the expense of President Woodrow Wilson.
The fascinating life of Princess Alice:
- Alice was far more than just a party girl. She was deeply interested in politics, often dropping into the Oval Office, and was her father's unofficial political advisor. She supported him in the 1912 presidential campaign as the Bull Moose Party candidate, going against her husband, a supporter of Republican candidate William Howard Taft.
- Alice was Teddy Roosevelt's only child with his first wife, Alice Hathaway Lee, who died two days after giving birth at the age of 22. The younger Alice was raised by her aunt Anna "Bamie" Roosevelt Cowles, Teddy's sister, until her father remarried.
- Though she was married to U.S. Rep. Nicholas Longworth (R-OH) from 1906 to 1931, Alice's only child, Paulina, born in 1925, was almost certainly fathered by Sen. William Borah (R-ID), with whom she carried on a long affair. Unsurprisingly, Alice had joked about naming her Deborah, as in "de Borah."
- Alice Roosevelt Longworth was a mainstay of Washington, D.C., society until she passed away in 1980 at the age of 96 – the longest-lived child of a U.S. president.
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