Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Love and Loss


Young Theodore Roosevelt’s pocket diaries tell of the depth of his love for his first wife, Alice Hathaway Lee, and the depth of his grief when Alice died at age 22, two days after giving birth to their daughter, and just hours after his mother died…on this day in 1884.

Images of selected pages from the diaries are available at the American Treasures online exhibit at the Library of Congress Web site. 21-year-old Theodore and 18-year-old Alice were betrothed in January, 1880, and would be married in October of the same year, on Roosevelt’s 22nd birthday. Here are a few excerpts from Roosevelt’s journal, written during the engagement period…

Tuesday, February 3, 1880 – “Snowing heavily, but I drove over in my sleigh to Chestnut Hill, the horse plunging to his belly in the great drifts…My sweet life was just as loveable and pretty as ever; it seems hardly possible that I can kiss her and hold her in my arms; she is so pure and so innocent, and so very, very pretty. I have never done anything to deserve such good fortune.”

Friday, February 13, 1880 – “In the evening was all the time with my darling Little Sunshine; she is so marvelously sweet, and pure and loveable and pretty that I seem to love her more and more every time I see her, though I love her so much now that I really can not lover her more. I do not think ever a man loved a woman more than I love her; for a year and a quarter now I have never (even when hunting) gone to sleep or waked up without thinking of her; and I doubt if an hour has passed that I have not thought of her…”

Saturday, February 14, 1880 – “Drove back to Cambridge in the morning; announced my engagement to the club, and “set up” champagne…”

Four years later, the day his mother died of typhoid fever and his young wife died of Bright’s disease, both at the Roosevelt home in New York City, Theodore wrote a single sentence in his diary…

Thursday, February 14, 1884 – “The light has gone out of my life.”

Saturday, February 16, 1884 – “Alice Hathaway Lee. Born at Chestnut Hill, July 29th, 1861. I saw her first on Oct 1878; I wooed her for over a year before I won her…”

Sunday, February, 17, 1884 – “…on February 14th she died in my arms; and my mother had died in the same house, on the same day, but a few hours previously. On Feb 16th they were buried together in Greenwood. On Feb 17th I christened the baby Alice Lee Roosevelt. For joy or for sorrow my life has now been lived out.”

Soon Roosevelt would place his infant daughter Alice in the care of his sister, and leave Manhattan for his ranch near Medora. His sojourn in North Dakota would be a time of healing a broken heart and preparation for “living out” the rest of his remarkable life.