Edith Kermit Carow knew Theodore Roosevelt from infancy; as a toddler she became a playmate of his younger sister Corinne. Born in Connecticut in 1861, daughter of Charles and Gertrude Tyler Carow, she grew up in an old New York brownstone on Union Square—an environment of comfort and tradition. Throughout childhood she and “Teedie” were in and out of each other’s houses.
Attending Miss Comstock’s school, she acquired the proper ﬁnishing touch for a young lady of that era. A quiet girl who loved books, she was often Theodore’s companion for summer outings at Oyster Bay, Long Island; but this ended when he entered Harvard. Although she attended his wedding to Alice Hathaway Lee in 1880, their lives ran separately until 1885, when he was a young widower with an infant daughter, Alice.
Putting tragedy behind him, he and Edith were married in London in December 1886. They settled down at Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay, the family home that would house ﬁve more children in 10 years’ time: Theodore, Kermit, Ethel, Archibald, and Quentin. Throughout Roosevelt’s intensely active career, family life remained close and entirely delightful. A small son remarked one day, “When Mother was a little girl, she must have been a boy!”
Public tragedy brought them into the White House 11 days after President McKinley succumbed to an assassin’s bullet. Assuming her new duties with characteristic dignity, Mrs. Roosevelt meant to guard the privacy of a family that attracted everyone’s interest, and she tried to keep reporters outside her domain. The public, in consequence, heard little of the vigor of her character, her sound judgment, her efficient household management.
But in this administration the White House was unmistakably the social center of the land. Beyond the formal occasions, smaller parties brought together distinguished men and women from varied walks of life. Two family events were highlights: the wedding of “Princess Alice” to Nicholas Longworth, and Ethel’s debut. 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.” Mrs. Roosevelt also hired the first White House Social Secretary and oversaw renovations to the White House’s historic interiors and gardens.
T.R. once wrote to Ted Jr. that “if Mother had been a mere unhealthy Patient Griselda I might have grown set in selﬁsh and inconsiderate ways.” She continued, with keen humor and unfailing dignity, to balance her husband’s exuberance after they retired in 1909.
After his death in 1919, she traveled widely abroad but always returned to Sagamore Hill as her home. Alone much of the time, she never appeared lonely, being still an avid reader—“not only cultured but scholarly,” as T.R. had said. She kept till the end her interest in the Needlework Guild, a charity which provided garments for the poor, and in the work of Christ Church at Oyster Bay. She died on September 30, 1948, at the age of 87.
You Might Also Like
Podcast Conversations from History Happy Hour
In this first episode of 2021, White House Historical Association President Stewart D. McLaurin introduces the Association’s popular virtual program Hi...
Collection First Children
What was it like to grow up in a home where some of the most important political decisions are being...
Collection The First Ladies
Biographies & Portraits
Collection Women and the White House
While there has yet to be a female president, women have played an integral role in shaping the White House...
Collection The White House Social Secretary
For more than one hundred years, White House Social Secretaries have demonstrated a profound knowledge of protocol and society in...
Collection Cherry Blossoms
Since the first cherry blossom planting in 1912 by First Lady Helen Herron Taft, Washingtonians have celebrated the scenic beauty and...
Podcast Fearless Leadership: A Conversation with Jean Case
Fearless leaders have walked the halls of White House for centuries. In this episode, White House Historical Association President Stewart...
Collection The Presidents
Biographies & Portraits
Collection An Artist Visits the White House Past
From the beginning of its construction in 1792, until the 1902 renovation that shaped the modern identity and functions of the interior...
Collection Animal Ambassadors
Animals, whether pampered household pets, working livestock, birds, squirrels, or strays, have long been a major part of White House...
Podcast Entertaining at the White House
From diplomatic dinners to holiday gatherings, the White House has always played a central role in the nation’s official en...
The First Ladies Symposium Schedule
May 6, 2021This program will be virtual9:00-9:15amWelcome and Overview Jill Biden, First Lady of the United StatesAnita McBride, Director...