The Family Man
Theodore Roosevelt delighted in being president, but he took even greater satisfaction from his role as husband and father. Two days after being overwhelmingly elected in 1904, he opened his heart in a letter to his 15-year-old son, Kermit: “…No matter how things came out, the really important thing was the lovely life with Mother and you children, and that compared to this home life everything else was of very small importance from the standpoint of happiness.”
From the beginning, family shaped Roosevelt’s character. He idolized his father, Theodore, adored his mother, Martha (known as Mittie), and kept close to his brother and two sisters throughout their lifetimes.
When, in 1884, his first wife, Alice, died unexpectedly just two days after the birth of their only child, Alice, Roosevelt confided to his diary, “The light has gone out of my life.” Rebounding, he later married a childhood friend, Edith Kermit Carow, and the two by all accounts enjoyed a happy and flourishing relationship for more than 30 years. Together, they raised five of their own children at Sagamore Hill, their Victorian estate in Oyster Bay, New York:
- Alice Roosevelt Longworth was an ambassador for her father and later in life, a colorful Washington, D.C. doyenne who earned the moniker, “The Other Washington Monument”;
- Theodore “Ted” Roosevelt, Jr., born in 1887, was a noted political and business leader who fought in both the World Wars and posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his actions on Utah Beach during the D-Day landings in World War II;
- Kermit Roosevelt, born in 1889, was an explorer, soldier, writer and businessman who joined his father on African safari and on the fateful River of Doubt expedition in Brazil;
- Ethel Roosevelt Derby, born in 1891, was a pioneering World War I nurse and Red Cross volunteer who later led the successful campaign to preserve Sagamore Hill;
- Archibald Roosevelt, born in 1893, was a distinguished Army officer who was seriously wounded in battle during both World Wars and also was a successful businessman;
- Quentin Roosevelt, born in 1897, said to be the child most like Roosevelt, dropped out of Harvard to volunteer as a pilot during World War I, and died heroically in battle at age 20.
When the children were young, and Roosevelt was separated from them by school, war or expedition, he sent illustrated letters of reflection and love; the children were never out of his mind and heart. This correspondence later was compiled into a book, Theodore Roosevelt’s Letters to his Children, an international best seller, published in 1919.
Roosevelt once wrote, “There is no form of happiness on the Earth, no form of success of any kind, that in any way approaches the happiness of the husband and the wife who are married lovers, and the father and mother of plenty of healthy children.”
Roosevelt’s role as devoted family man may have been his most enduring legacy.