Roosevelt, Alice Hathaway Lee

Alice Hathaway Lee Roosevelt (1861-1884) was Theodore Roosevelt’s first wife. Born in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, on July 29, 1861, to the wealthy banker George Cabot Lee and his wife Caroline Watts From the Roosevelt Family scrapbooks, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs divisionHaskell Lee, Alice met Theodore when she was seventeen years old. He was then a nineteen-year-old student at Harvard College and she was a cousin of fellow undergraduate Richard Saltonstall. 

Known as “Sunshine” for her cheerful temperament, Alice was tall, athletic, willowy, possessed of gray-blue eyes and fine blonde hair. She played the piano, and enjoyed tennis, archery, and boating. Theodore was single-minded in his wooing. He insinuated himself with her family and despaired when competitors threatened his suit. 

After rejecting his initial proposal, Alice agreed in late January 1880 to marry Theodore. They were wed on Roosevelt’s twenty-second birthday, October 27, 1880, in Brookline’s First Parish Unitarian Church. They honeymooned at Tranquility, the Roosevelt home at Oyster Bay, and subsequently moved in with Theodore’s family at 6 West 57th Street in New York City. While Theodore attended Columbia Law School, apprenticed with his uncle Robert Roosevelt, and began writing The Naval War of 1812, Alice seamlessly joined in life with her husband’s mother and siblings.

The young couple participated in the social world of elite New York. They toured Europe for five months in 1881. Upon their return, Theodore Roosevelt ran successfully for state assemblyman on the Republican ticket. In October 1882, the Roosevelts occupied their own home at 55 West 45th Street. That winter, Alice moved to Theodore’s Albany boardinghouse and learned about Empire State politics.

In the summer of 1883, Alice became pregnant. Planning for a large family, Theodore and Alice purchased land near Tranquility on which to erect Leeholm, a large, rambling house. Theodore went west to the Dakota Territory to hunt bison in September of 1883 and bought the Maltese Cross Ranch.

Later that fall, as her pregnancy progressed, Alice returned to her mother-in-law’s house in New York City, in part because Roosevelt was frequently in Albany. He was there over the weekend of February 9-11. As he left again for the legislature, his mother became ill, and Alice’s mother arrived. 

On the evening of February 12, 1884, Alice gave birth to a vigorous 8¾ pound daughter. The family alerted Theodore that Alice was not entirely healthy.  On the 13th, another telegram summoned Theodore, because Alice’s condition had worsened.  She was suffering from Bright’s disease, or nephritis of the kidney. Theodore Roosevelt fought terrible weather to reach his wife’s bedside before her death, on the afternoon of February 14.

Theodore Roosevelt’s mother had died eleven hours earlier of typhoid fever. A double funeral was held at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. Alice Hathaway Lee Roosevelt was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery. The infant daughter was named Alice Lee Roosevelt, and christened the day after the funerals.