Roosevelt, Martha Bulloch

 

Martha “Mittie” Bulloch (1835-1884), the mother of President Theodore Roosevelt and grandmother of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, was the daughter of James Stephens Bulloch and Martha Stewart Elliott Bulloch.  Mittie was born on July 8, 1835, in Hartford, Connecticut.  Mittie had older siblings from her mother’s previous marriage to U.S. Senator John Elliott who died in 1827. The blended Elliott-Bulloch family later relocated from Savannah to Roswell, a Georgia mill town located thirteen miles north of Atlanta, in 1838.  The family’s residence, Bulloch Hall, was completed the following year.  Mittie’s family, members of Georgia’s slaveholding aristocracy, traced their lineage to several prominent Georgians, including Archibald Bulloch who represented Georgia in the Continental Congress.

Mittie met Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., (Thee) for the first time in 1850 when Thee accompanied his friends, Hilborne and Susan Ann Elliott West, to Roswell. Hilborne West was a doctor from Philadelphia.  Apparently Thee, enthralled by Susan’s vivid descriptions of southern culture, jumped at the chance to visit Bulloch Hall.  During Mittie’s subsequent visit to Philadelphia in 1853, Theodore wrote Martha, now twice-widowed, formally seeking permission to marry her daughter.  The couple exchanged wedding vows in Bulloch Hall’s dining room on December 22, 1853.  The newlyweds returned to New York where they lived with Theodore’s parents until their new home, known today as the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace, was completed.  The couple’s children included Anna, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., Elliott, and Corinne.

Adjusting to life in New York improved for Mittie in 1857 when beloved “Grandmamma” (Martha) Bulloch and Anna Bulloch, Mittie’s favorite sister, moved in with the family.  Anna Bulloch lived with the Roosevelt family until her marriage to James K. Gracie in 1866. During her stay, “Aunt Annie” tutored her nieces and nephews, frequently interjecting tales about the children’s Georgia roots and famous southern ancestors. 

Not surprisingly, the Civil War placed an enormous strain on the family, especially considering the Bulloch women’s southern sympathies.  For one thing, Mittie’s three brothers (Irvine, James, and Daniel) had joined the Confederate cause. Out of respect for his wife’s feelings regarding the sectional conflict, Thee refused to enlist in the Union Army.  Instead, he hired a substitute to take his place. He preferred to further the war effort by serving as an allotment commissioner for New York. 

After the war ended, Mittie, described by her famous son as “an unreconstructed rebel,” would go to extreme measures to visit her two surviving brothers who lived in exile in Liverpool, England.  In 1916, TR described his Confederate uncles as “valiant and high-minded men” even though he believed that a Confederate victory would have “spelled death to this nation” and “the direst calamity to mankind.”

The children’s nickname for Mittie, “Little Motherling,” hints at her delicate health and her frequent need for tending to.  As a result of Mittie’s frequent episodes, Anna (“Bamie”), the eldest sibling, assumed the role of caregiver.  Four years older than the asthmatic Teedie, she helped care for and tutor her younger siblings when her mother could not. 

Mittie, who continued to live in the family home on 6 West Fifty-Seventh Street following her husband’s death, succumbed to typhoid fever on February 14, 1884.  Eleven hours later, TR’s first wife, Alice, died in the same residence, only two days after the birth of her daughter, Alice Lee Roosevelt.