The love of Theodore Roosevelt and Alice Lee

Standing 5’7″ and willowy with long wavy golden hair and blue-gray eyes, Alice Hathaway Lee was radiant, enchanting. Family members called her “sunshine.” In many ways, she was what Theodore Roosevelt was not.

Theodore was “thin-chested, spectacled, nervous, and frail,” with a high pitched voice and an “irritating stammer, as thoughts so outpaced words that the result was an unintelligible explosion.” And his laugh, in the words of his mother, was like a “sharp, ungreased squeak.” He had asthma as well as severe diarrhea. And when he danced, “he danced as you’d expect him to dance if you knew him — he hopped.”

Theodore met Alice on a weekend visit to the home of a Harvard classmate in October of 1878. Theodore was nineteen, Alice was seventeen.

He was smitten, or maybe you can even say he fell in love at first sight. In either case, this is where the love story of Theodore and Alice begins. They spent the weekend walking and dancing amongst friends, and they found time to spend alone. Theodore learned that he could talk to her about politics and poetry and anything else on his mind. And that she was athletic, they could go hiking together.

He wrote of their first meeting: “As long as I live, I shall never forget how sweetly she looked, and how prettily she greeted me.”

Theodore set his mind on being with her. And in early 1879, he proposed to Alice.

She rejected him.

Though devastated, Theodore didn’t stop pursuing. And Alice, who had grown close to Teddy’s sisters, soon started warming up to the young man.

Alice Hathaway Lee, her cousin Rose Saltonstall, and Theodore Roosevelt.
From left to right: Alice Hathaway Lee, her cousin Rose Saltonstall, and Theodore Roosevelt – 1878

Throughout the time, Theodore stayed deeply in love with Alice. He wrote in his journal: “When we are alone, I can hardly stay a moment without holding her in my arms or kissing her,” and “If loving her with my whole heart and soul can make her happy, she shall be happy…the aim of my whole life shall be…to shield her and guard her from every trial.”

He proposed the following year again, eight months after his first proposal. This time Alice accepted, and they were engaged on Valentine’s Day.

Theodore wrote: “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 gone to sleep or waked up without thinking of her.”

And she now felt the same, writing him that “I just long to be with you all the time.”

They married, and soon after, Alice became pregnant with their first child. She gave birth. And almost immediately after, she passed away. Doctors said the ailment was Bright’s disease.

A devastated Theodore wrote, “when my heart’s dearest died, the light went from my life forever.”

Just 25 years old, a member of the New York State Assembly, he decided to move. He put his daughter in the care of his sister, left his political life, and settled in the Dakota territories. There he became a rancher and a sheriff, read and wrote history. Mostly, he took time to cope with the deaths.

After two years, he returned home, where he took over raising his daughter and returned to his political life.

“The love of Theodore Roosevelt and Alice Lee” sources:

Alice Roosevelt Longworth by Carol Felsenthal / Theodore Roosevelt, Alice Hathaway Lee and Rose Saltonstall. Prints and Photographs division. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.https://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org/Research/Digital-Library/Record?libID=o276560. Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library. Dickinson State University. 

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Click here to read some quotes from Theodore Roosevelt.