Edith Roosevelt

Last updated
Edith Carow Roosevelt
Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt by Frances Benjamin Johnston.jpg
c. 1903 portrait by Frances Benjamin Johnston
First Lady of the United States
In role
September 14, 1901 March 4, 1909
President Theodore Roosevelt
Preceded by Ida McKinley
Succeeded by Helen Taft
Second Lady of the United States
In role
March 4, 1901 September 14, 1901
Vice PresidentTheodore Roosevelt
Preceded by Jennie Hobart (1899)
Succeeded by Cornelia Fairbanks (1905)
First Lady of New York
In role
January 1, 1899 December 31, 1900
Governor Theodore Roosevelt
Preceded by Lois Black
Succeeded by Linda Odell
Personal details
Edith Kermit Carow

(1861-08-06)August 6, 1861
Norwich, Connecticut, U.S.
DiedSeptember 30, 1948(1948-09-30) (aged 87)
Oyster Bay, New York, U.S.
Resting place Youngs Memorial Cemetery
Theodore Roosevelt
(m. 1886;died 1919)
Children Theodore III, Kermit, Ethel, Archibald, and Quentin
Signature Edith Roosevelt Signature.svg

Edith Kermit Roosevelt (née Carow; August 6, 1861 – September 30, 1948) was the second wife of President Theodore Roosevelt and served as the First Lady of the United States during his presidency from 1901 to 1909. She also served as the Second Lady of the United States in 1901. Roosevelt was the first First Lady to employ a full-time, salaried social secretary. Her tenure resulted in the creation of an official staff, and her formal dinners and ceremonial processions served to elevate the position of First Lady.

When a person assumes the family name of their spouse, that name replaces the person's birth surname, which in the case of the wife is called the maiden name, whereas a married name is a family name or surname adopted by a person upon marriage.

Theodore Roosevelt 26th president of the United States

Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was an American statesman, politician, conservationist, naturalist, and writer who served as the 26th president of the United States from 1901 to 1909. He previously served as the 25th vice president of the United States from March to September 1901 and as the 33rd governor of New York from 1899 to 1900. As a leader of the Republican Party during this time, he became a driving force for the Progressive Era in the United States in the early 20th century. His face is depicted on Mount Rushmore, alongside those of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln. In polls of historians and political scientists, Roosevelt is generally ranked as one of the five best presidents.

First Lady of the United States wife of the President of the United States

The First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS) is the title held by the hostess of the White House, usually the wife of the President of the United States, concurrent with the President's term in office. Although the First Lady's role has never been codified or officially defined, she figures prominently in the political and social life of the nation. Since the early 20th century, the First Lady has been assisted by official staff, now known as the Office of the First Lady and headquartered in the East Wing of the White House. Melania Trump is the current First Lady of the United States, as wife of 45th president, Donald Trump.


Early life

Edith was born in Norwich, Connecticut, to merchant Charles Carow (1825–1883) and Gertrude Elizabeth Tyler (1836–1895). [1] [2] Gertrude's father Daniel Tyler (1799–1882) served as Union general in the American Civil War. [1]

Norwich, Connecticut City in Connecticut, United States

Norwich, known as 'The Rose of New England,' is a city in New London County, Connecticut, United States. The population was 40,493 at the 2010 United States Census. Three rivers, the Yantic, the Shetucket, and the Quinebaug, flow into the city and form its harbor, from which the Thames River flows south to Long Island Sound.

Daniel Tyler Union Army general

Daniel P. Tyler IV was an iron manufacturer, railroad president, and one of the first Union Army generals of the American Civil War.

American Civil War Civil war in the United States from 1861 to 1865

The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States from 1861 to 1865, between the North and the South. The most studied and written about episode in U.S. history, the Civil War began primarily as a result of the long-standing controversy over the enslavement of black people. War broke out in April 1861 when secessionist forces attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina shortly after Abraham Lincoln had been inaugurated as the President of the United States. The loyalists of the Union in the North proclaimed support for the Constitution. They faced secessionists of the Confederate States in the South, who advocated for states' rights to uphold slavery.

Edith's younger sister was Emily Tyler Carow (1865–1939). [3] Edith also had a brother, Kermit (February 1860 – August 1860) who died one year before her birth. [4] The name "Kermit," selected by Edith's parents as her brother's first name and as her middle name, was the surname of a paternal great-uncle, Robert Kermit. [5]

Robert Kermit was an American shipowner and owner of the Red Star Line.

During her childhood, Edith was known as "Edie." [1]

Edith grew up in a brownstone on Union Square in New York City. [6] Next door lived Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt (1858–1919). Edith was best friends with his younger sister Corinne (1861–1933). [7]


Brownstone is a brown Triassic-Jurassic sandstone which was once a popular building material. The term is also used in the United States to refer to a townhouse clad in this, or any of a number of aesthetically similar materials.

Union Square, Manhattan Neighborhood and square in Manhattan, New York City

Union Square is a historic intersection and surrounding neighborhood in Manhattan, New York City, located where Broadway and the former Bowery Road – now Fourth Avenue – came together in the early 19th century; its name denotes that "here was the union of the two principal thoroughfares of the island". The current Union Square Park is bounded by 14th Street on the south, Union Square West on the west side, 17th Street on the north, and on the east Union Square East, which links together Broadway and Park Avenue South to Fourth Avenue and the continuation of Broadway. The park is under the aegis of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2017 population of 8,622,698 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 20,320,876 people in its 2017 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 23,876,155 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.

Edith, Corinne, Teddy, and Elliot had their earliest schooling together at the Roosevelt family home at 28 East 20th Street. [1] Edith later attended Miss Comstock's finishing school. [6]

Corinne Roosevelt Robinson American poet, public speaker, lecturer, and writer

Corinne Roosevelt was an American poet, writer and lecturer. She was also the younger sister of former President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt and an aunt of future First Lady of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt.

Although Edith and Teddy may have had a teenage romance, the relationship faded when Teddy went to Harvard University. [2] [7] While at Harvard, Teddy met Alice Lee. [7] Teddy and Alice married in 1880. [7] Edith attended the wedding. [6]


Alice Lee Roosevelt died in 1884, leaving behind a baby daughter also named Alice. Teddy and Edith rekindled their relationship in 1885. [2] They married in St George's, Hanover Square, London on December 2, 1886. [7] Teddy's best man was Cecil Spring Rice, who later served as British ambassador to the United States during World War I and maintained a close friendship with the couple for the rest of his life. [8]

After their honeymoon, the couple lived at Sagamore Hill on Long Island, New York. [7]

Edith and Theodore Roosevelt had a close relationship, but it was evident that Edith was his second wife. His first wife, Alice, was a pretty woman who died at the young age of twenty-two, so Theodore was able to remember her that way. Many people, including his sisters, were surprised by the announcement of Theodore and Edith's engagement in the New York Times. Demonstrating Theodore's inability to move on from his first wife's death, he called his first daughter “Baby Lee” instead of “Alice.” [9]

Photograph shows portrait of President Theodore Roosevelt's second wife, Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt, standing next to their son, Quentin Mrs. Roosevelt, Quentin.jpg
Photograph shows portrait of President Theodore Roosevelt's second wife, Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt, standing next to their son, Quentin

Together the couple raised Alice (Teddy's daughter from his previous marriage) and their own children: Theodore (1887), Kermit (1889), Ethel (1891), Archibald (1894), and Quentin (1897). [7]

In 1888, Theodore was appointed to the United States Civil Service Commission, where he served until 1895. While Edith supported her husband's decision to accept the position, she lamented that her third pregnancy would detain her at Sagamore Hill. [10] Kermit Roosevelt was born on October 10, 1889 and three months later Edith moved to Washington with her children. [10] During this period, Edith and Henry Adams became close friends. [10]

At Edith's insistence, Theodore did not run for mayor of New York in 1894, because Edith preferred their life in Washington, D.C., and his job of U.S. Civil Service Commissioner. [7]

When Theodore became New York City police commissioner in 1895, they moved to New York City. [1] In 1897, Teddy was chosen as assistant secretary of the Navy and the family moved back to Washington. [1]

In 1898, Edith traveled by train to Tampa, Florida to send her husband off to fight in the Spanish–American War. [2]

Upon his return from Cuba, Edith defied a quarantine to meet him in Montauk, New York, where she assisted veterans at the hospital. In October 1898, when Roosevelt was nominated for the governorship, Edith helped answer his mail, but stayed off the campaign trail. [7]

First Lady of New York

Edith Roosevelt enjoyed being First Lady of New York. She modernized the governor's mansion, joined a local woman's club, and continued to assist with her husband's correspondence. [7] While First Lady of New York, Edith began a tradition that would continue in the White House -- she held a bouquet of flowers in each hand. Edith found shaking a stranger's hand overly familiar and preferred to bow her head in greeting. [2]

Edith moved back to Washington when Roosevelt won the vice presidency in 1900. [7]

First Lady

Official portrait of First Lady Edith Roosevelt Edith Roosevelt Official Portrait.jpg
Official portrait of First Lady Edith Roosevelt

After President McKinley’s assassination, Teddy assumed the presidency, and Edith became First Lady. [7]

With the country in mourning, the new First Lady could not do any entertaining. Instead Edith focused on how to fit her large family into the White House. Edith eliminated the office of housekeeper, performing the supervisory work herself. [10]

Edith made a major institutional change when she hired Isabelle "Belle" Hagner as the first social secretary to serve a First Lady. [10] [11] Hagner's initial assignment was to plan Alice Roosevelt's debut in 1902. [10] Edith soon began to rely on Hagner and authorized her to release photos of the first family in hopes of avoiding unauthorized candids. [10]

Edith built on the First Lady's long history of entertaining visitors and made the First Lady the nation's hostess. [2] She expanded the number of social events held at the White House, ensured her parties were not outshone by the parties of Cabinet wives, and worked to make Washington the nation's cultural center. [2] The two most significant social events during Edith's tenure as First Lady were the wedding of her stepdaughter, Alice Roosevelt, and the society debut of her daughter, Ethel Roosevelt. [12]

Edith also organized the wives of the cabinet officers and tried to govern the moral conduct of Washington society through their guest lists. [12]

Cartoon by Marguerite Martyn of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch portrays Edith Roosevelt keeping people away from the president's room after he was shot in October 1912. Cartoon by Marguerite Martyn portraying Edith Roosevelt guarding the door to Theodore Roosevelts room.jpg
Cartoon by Marguerite Martyn of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch portrays Edith Roosevelt keeping people away from the president's room after he was shot in October 1912.

Edith is believed to have exerted subtle influence over her husband. [10] She and Teddy met privately every day from 8 to 9 am. [10] The President's assistant, William Loeb, often helped sway Teddy to Edith's way of thinking. [10] Edith read several newspapers a day and forwarded clippings she considered important to her husband. [2] In a 1933 article in the Boston Transcript , Isabelle Hagner reported that the legislation which created the National Portrait Gallery was passed because of Edith's influence. [10] Historians believe her most important historical contribution was acting as an informal liaison between Teddy and British diplomat Cecil Spring Rice which gave Teddy unofficial information about the Russo-Japanese War. [13] As a result of negotiating the treaty which ended that conflict, Teddy won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906. [13]

Teddy and Edith became the first President and First Lady to travel abroad while in office when they made a trip to Panama. [14]

A perceptive aide described the First Lady as "always the gentle, high-bred hostess; smiling often at what went on about her, yet never critical of the ignorant and tolerant always of the little insincerities of political life." [6]

In 1905, Edith purchased Pine Knot, a cabin in rural Virginia, as a refuge for Teddy. [7] [12] At Pine Knot, the Secret Service guarded the President without his knowledge. [13]

White House renovation

Bedroom of First Daughter Alice Roosevelt at the White House circa 1902. This room was an unnamed bedroom suite from the time of its completion in 1809 until 1860, when it was named the Prince of Wales Room. It was renamed the Lincoln Bedroom in 1929, a name it retained until the bedroom suite was removed in 1961 and the space transformed into the Family Kitchen and the President's Dining Room. Alice Roosevelt bedroom.jpg
Bedroom of First Daughter Alice Roosevelt at the White House circa 1902. This room was an unnamed bedroom suite from the time of its completion in 1809 until 1860, when it was named the Prince of Wales Room. It was renamed the Lincoln Bedroom in 1929, a name it retained until the bedroom suite was removed in 1961 and the space transformed into the Family Kitchen and the President's Dining Room.

In 1902, Edith hired McKim, Mead & White to separate the living quarters from the offices, to enlarge and modernize the public rooms, to re-do the landscaping, and to redecorate the interior. [7] Congress approved over half a million dollars for the renovation. [10] The new West Wing housed offices while the East Wing housed the First Family and guests. [10] The plumbing, lighting, and heating were upgraded. [10] Edith placed her office next door to Teddy's so that they could confer frequently throughout the day. [12]

Edith took a historical view of the White House [13] and saw that the Green Room, Blue Room, and East Room were redecorated with period antiques. [12] McKim would have removed most of the existing furniture had Edith not intervened. [15] It is because of Edith's intervention that the Victorian furniture currently seen in the Lincoln Bedroom was retained. [15]

A larger dining room translated into a need for more china, so Edith ordered a Wedgwood service with the Great Seal of the United States for 120 people. [10] [12] Interest in her own china fostered a curiosity about the services of previous First Ladies. [12] Edith completed the catalog of White House china begun by Caroline Scott Harrison. [2] She added to the collection by purchasing missing items from antique shops and by the time she left the White House, there were pieces from twenty-five administrations. [2] She created a display of the china on the ground floor of the White House. [13] The White House china collected which was first exhibited by Edith Roosevelt is still on view today. [10]

Across from the White House china, Edith displayed portraits of former First Ladies. The formerly scattered portraits were a hit with the public. Now guests to the White House could view the historical china and portraits as they waited to enter receptions. [10]

Edith called on former White House gardener Henry Pfister to help her design a colonial garden on the west side of the White House. [15] A similar garden was eventually placed on the east side of the White House. [15]

The White House renovations were revealed to the public during the 1903 New Year's Day reception. [12]

It was during Edith's tenure as First Lady that the White House became known as the White House. Previously, it had been known as the Executive Mansion. [13] [16]

Relationship with her children

Pres. and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt seated on lawn, surrounded by their family; 1903. From left to right: Quentin, Theodore Sr., Theodore Jr., Archie, Alice, Kermit, Edith, and Ethel. Theodore Roosevelt and family, 1903.jpg
Pres. and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt seated on lawn, surrounded by their family; 1903. From left to right: Quentin, Theodore Sr., Theodore Jr., Archie, Alice, Kermit, Edith, and Ethel.

Edith was a devoted mother. She spent several hours a day with her children [2] and read to them daily. [17] The President and First Lady took an active role in their children's education and often corresponded with their children's teachers. [14]

Edith longed for more children even after the birth of her fifth child, Quentin. [10] She suffered two miscarriages as First Lady. [10]

Edith had a complicated relationship with her step-daughter Alice. [2] In later years, Alice expressed admiration for her stepmother's sense of humor and stated that they had shared similar literary tastes. In her autobiography Crowded Hours, Alice wrote of Edith, "That I was the child of another marriage was a simple fact and made a situation that had to be coped with, and Mother coped with it with a fairness and charm and intelligence which she has to a greater degree than almost any one else I know." [18]

Views on race

On October 16, 1901, [1] Teddy Roosevelt invited African-American educator Booker T. Washington to dine with his family at the White House. Several other presidents had invited African-Americans to meetings at the White House, but never to a meal. [19] News of the dinner between a former slave and the president of the United States became a national sensation. The subject of inflammatory articles and cartoons, it shifted the national conversation around race at the time. [19] Some Republicans tried to spin the dinner into a lunch. As Deborah Davis explained on NPR, "they got hungry and they ordered a tray, and by the time they were finished, there was barely a sandwich on it. And that seemed to make the meal a little more palatable in the South." [19] The lunch story persisted for decades, until finally in the 1930s, a journalist from Baltimore's Afro-American newspaper asked Edith Roosevelt if it was lunch or dinner. Edith checked her calendar, and she said it was most definitely dinner. [2]

Among the responses to the dinner was a cartoon created by Maryland Democrats in which Edith sat between Teddy and Booker. [2] The cartoon was widely reprinted. [2] According to Deborah Davis, this was the first time that a First Lady was lampooned in print. [2]

The dinner secured Washington's position as the leading black figure and spokesman in the United States. [20] From there, Washington became an adviser to Roosevelt on race politics and Southern politics in general. [20] While Teddy did appoint a few offices to black politicians and he admired a few exceptional black men such as Washington, Teddy generally held the same racist attitudes common to many white Americans of the day. [20]

Deborah Davis believes that Edith admired Booker T. Washington. [2] In a March 1901 letter, Teddy wrote to Booker, "Mrs. Roosevelt is as pleased as I am with your book." [2]

According to biographer Lewis Gould, careful reading of Edith's private correspondence reveals racial views that go beyond what he calls the “genteel bigotry” of her time. [21] In 1902 and 1903 "Misses Turner and Miss Leech" performed at the Roosevelt White House. The women specialized in "Negro Songs" and Lewis Gould argued that by showcasing these performers, Edith entertained "guests with crude melodic stereotypes depicting an oppressed racial minority." [2]

Later life and death

Seated, left to right, are Archibald Bulloch Roosevelt, Jr., Theodore Roosevelt, Grace Stackpole Lockwood Roosevelt, Richard Derby, Jr., Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt, Edith Roosevelt Derby Williams, and Ethel Carow Roosevelt Derby. Richard Derby Jr. is holding a service flag with three stars. The stars symbolize three of Roosevelt's sons, Quentin, Archie, and Theodore Jr., who served the United States in battle. (Theodore Roosevelt with His Family at Sagamore Hill) (13566050043).jpg
Seated, left to right, are Archibald Bulloch Roosevelt, Jr., Theodore Roosevelt, Grace Stackpole Lockwood Roosevelt, Richard Derby, Jr., Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt, Edith Roosevelt Derby Williams, and Ethel Carow Roosevelt Derby. Richard Derby Jr. is holding a service flag with three stars. The stars symbolize three of Roosevelt's sons, Quentin, Archie, and Theodore Jr., who served the United States in battle.

Edith's last decades were full of travel: to Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America. After leaving the White House, Teddy and Kermit went on a safari [2] while Edith took Ethel, Archie, and Quentin on an extended tour of Europe. [7]

The Smithsonian’s First Lady collection was created soon after the Roosevelts left the White House. When the museum's advocates asked her for a contribution, Edith said that she wasn't sure she could help: she often cut up dresses for the material after she wore them, and her inaugural gown was no exception. Her daughter later donated the remaining bottom half, and the Smithsonian refashioned the bodice using photographs. [22]

Edith was not an advocate of Teddy's 1912 third-party presidential race, but supported him fully when it was formally underway. She tended him after the assassination attempt, consoled him when he lost the election, and accompanied him to Brazil to see him off as he explored the River of Doubt. [7]

Both Roosevelts contributed to home-front activities during World War I. [7]

Edith urged Republican women to vote after the 19th Amendment passed. [7]

During the Great Depression, Edith campaigned briefly for Herbert Hoover, to emphasize that the Democratic nominee, Franklin Roosevelt, was not her son. [7] Edith disliked Eleanor since Eleanor's childhood, and there had been bad blood between the two since the 1920s when Eleanor campaigned against Theodore Roosevelt Jr. during his run for governor of New York. [17]

Before her death, Edith destroyed almost all of her correspondence with Teddy. [2] However, Edith was a prodigious letter writer and her letters survive in archives such as the Houghton Library. [2]

Edith died at Sagamore Hill on September 30, 1948, at the age of 87. [6] She is buried next to her husband at Youngs Memorial Cemetery in Oyster Bay.

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  18. Longworth, Alice Roosevelt (1980-01-01). Crowded Hours. Arno Press. ISBN   9780405128462.
  19. 1 2 3 "Teddy Roosevelt's 'Shocking' Dinner With Washington". NPR.org. Retrieved 2016-11-30.
  20. 1 2 3 "Booker T. Washington - Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site (U.S. National Park Service)". www.nps.gov. Retrieved 2016-11-30.
  21. "Edith Roosevelt's Views on Race". C-SPAN.org. Retrieved 2016-11-30.
  22. Steinmetz, Katy. "Belles of the Ball: An Insider's Look at Inaugural Gowns". Time. ISSN   0040-781X . Retrieved 2016-11-30.

Further reading

External video
Nuvola apps kaboodle.svg Presentation by Sylvia Jukes Morris on Edith Kermit Roosevelt: Portrait of a First Lady, November 10, 2001, C-SPAN
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Lois Black
First Lady of New York
Succeeded by
Linda Odell
Title last held by
Jennie Hobart
Second Lady of the United States
Title next held by
Cornelia Fairbanks
Preceded by
Ida McKinley
First Lady of the United States
Succeeded by
Helen Taft