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Nicholas Longworth, Alice Roosevelt Longworth and Theodore Roosevelt on Alice and Nicholas' wedding day. Detail from Stereograph image. From Library of Congress Prints and Photographs division. Full digital record here.
Theodore Roosevelt’s eldest child, Alice Roosevelt, married Representative Nicholas Longworth (R-OH) 105 years ago today. Twenty-two year old Alice had been an international celebrity for five years. She was best known for her antics—smoking on the White House roof, carrying a snake in her purse, tearing around Washington in her fast red car, jumping fully clothed into a swimming pool. She personified the ebullience of youth at the start of the new century and Americans loved her.
In many ways Alice was much like her presidential father. She was the first First Daughter to serve as a goodwill ambassador, during a 1905 congressional trip to Asia. When the First Lady was indisposed, Alice occasionally took her place. Alice grew to understand and eventually to love politics. She looked forward to becoming a congressman’s wife.
The marriage of such a high-profile young woman was also of absorbing interest around the globe. The photo below, from the scrapbooks of her sister-in-law Eleanor Butler Roosevelt, shows drawings of dresses from Alice’s trousseau. As Eleanor noted, they were “all invented by an English magazine.” Only the wedding gown resembled anything Alice actually wore.
Princely Gowns for a Republican Bride. Page from the Roosevelt Family Albums, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs division
Journalists could not resist a good story, and the First Daughter was always that. Trousseau shopping in New York City became impossible when crowds gathered and followed her. Alice literally stopped traffic. Police had to be summoned to disperse the masses of gawkers. Newspapers chronicled the arrival of wedding presents. Proud Americans sent oversized turnips and enormous apples, homemade feather dusters, hand-embroidered linens, and a hogshead of popcorn. The United Mine Workers sent a train car of coal. Wine (vintage 1837) came from Nick’s grandfather’s famous Cincinnati vineyard. The Rough Riders brought a silver dinner service, including a platter etched with “a relief of Col. Roosevelt in uniform.” The Vatican sent a mosaic; the Kaiser gave her a diamond bracelet with his picture; King Edward bestowed an enamel snuff box; and the Cuban government thoughtfully presented a gorgeous pearl necklace.
But the bride was uncharacteristically reserved about wedding plans. She was close-mouthed about the guest lists and about her bridesmaids. She determined not to display her wedding gifts, as was the custom. And the First Daughter would not release information about the gown, which prompted guesses like the one from the English magazine.
The wedding day dawned sunny and beautiful. Curious onlookers hoping to catch a glimpse of the couple and began milling around the White House hours before the brief East Room ceremony. Afterwards, the Longworths received guests, enjoyed a wedding lunch, and then made a secret escape with an elaborate ruse of four cars exiting the White House from different points. The bride and groom climbed out the Red Room window and raced away to married life.
Eventually the hullabaloo died down. But Alice never did settle into anyone’s idea of a proper wife. Her marriage was the beginning of a long and fascinating tenure as Washington’s most famous and most connected, non-elected politician.