Ethel Carow Roosevelt was born on August 13, 1891 at Oyster Bay, New York in the family home, Sagamore Hill. She was the second daughter for Theodore Roosevelt and the first by his second wife, Edith.
Ethel was found to be practical and a natural leader from an early age. Her mother learned quickly to lean on her for help running the household and Theodore himself noted what a good manager Ethel was.
Both Theodore and Edith held Ethel up as the “perfect” daughter, a distinction that caused her older, more reckless half-sister Alice no end of trouble. Ethel detested the publicity Alice thrived on and throughout her life, remained more like her mother, private and reserved. She shared a special bond with her older brother Kermit and met her future husband, Richard Derby, through him after Kermit met the doctor at a New York City hospital.
Often seen as the trustworthy, practical one amidst all the Roosevelt chaos and no one suffered more than Ethel through all the changes the family experienced over the years. Her letters often lamented that the family would never be exactly what it once was again as the children grew up, married, and started families of their own. Ethel herself had four children: a son she lost when he was eight years old to blood poisoning, and three daughters. Her oldest daughter, Edith, was said to be Theodore’s favorite among the grandchildren.
Ethel was deeply involved in helping people throughout her life. She was the first Roosevelt child to see action during World War I, as a nurse in the same hospital where her husband served in France, leaving her infant son in the care of his nurse and her parents. The Red Cross would be a charity she volunteered and contributed to for the rest of her life.
Ethel Roosevelt Derby died on December 10, 1977, at the age of 86.
Image: Edith and Ethel Roosevelt, circa 1900. From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs division
Betty Boyd Caroli, The Roosevelt Women
Kathleen Dalton, Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life