Roosevelt, Kermit


Kermit Roosevelt (1889-1943) was the precocious second son of Theodore and Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt. Kermit married Belle Wyatt Willard, the daughter of Joseph E. Willard, the U.S. Ambassador to Spain, on June 10, 1914, in a civil ceremony in Madrid. The couple had four children together, Kermit Jr. (Kim), Joseph Willard, Belle “Clochette” Wyatt, and Dirck. 

As a child, Kermit attended public schools at Oyster Bay and Washington, D.C., until he was old enough to enroll in the Groton School in Massachusetts. In 1909, Kermit, who shared TR’s passion for adventure, requested permission to join his father on the planned African safari. His father eventually consented to Kermit’s request, but only after challenging his son to demonstrate his appreciation of the opportunity by working all the harder in college after his return. Kermit honored this promise by completing Harvard’s course of study in less than three years. The pair set out again in 1913, this time in search of the source of the Amazon’s Rio da Dúvida (River of Doubt), later renamed Rio Roosevelt.

Kermit shared his father’s wit, mastery of language, and passion for outdoor activities and exploration. Unlike his father, however, Kermit was easily depressed. Like his Uncle Elliott before him, Kermit was afflicted with a tendency to drink excessively. Adding to the parents’ concern was the knowledge that Edith’s father had also been an alcoholic.

Kermit traveled extensively to Asia, Alaska, the Galapagos Islands, the Himalayas, and the East and West Indies. Not surprisingly, Kermit’s frequent travels enhanced his mastery of foreign languages. He could read or speak Greek, French, Portuguese, Swahili, Arabic, Hindustani, Urdu, and Romany, the language of the Gypsies. 

A prolific writer, Kermit authored a score of books related to hunting and exploration, including two on which he collaborated with his oldest brother, Ted. Kermit also assisted his mother with publication of Cleared for Strange Ports (1927) and American Backlogs (1928). Kermit’s book, War in the Garden of Eden (1920), recounted his service with the British forces during World War I.* 

From June 1914 through 1916, Kermit worked as the Assistant Manager of the Buenos Aires branch of the First City Bank. Returning to the United States in 1916, ostensibly to prepare for an upcoming transfer to Russia, Kermit managed instead to secure command of a British light-armored motor battery in Iraq. This later earned him the British War Cross for gallantry. In 1918, after the American Expeditionary Force arrived in Europe, Kermit joined their ranks as a Captain in the Seventh Field Artillery of the First Division. Unlike his three brothers, Captain Kermit Roosevelt emerged from World War I without serious injury. 

Kermit next established the Roosevelt Steamship Company. Later, with the assistance of business partners, he played a critical role in the development of the United States Merchant Marine.

Although Kermit traveled extensively to remote outposts around the globe (including a well-documented Chinese expedition with Ted) and befriended the likes of Gertrude Stein and William Butler Yeats, the Great Depression hit him hard financially. To make matters worse, his heavy drinking and romantic diversions with his mistress, Carla Peters, took a toll on his family life.

Following the outbreak of war in September 1939, Kermit secured an officer’s commission in Britain’s Middlesex Regiment. After assisting Finnish refugees and participating in an ill-fated Norwegian expedition, he was deployed to Egypt until he received a medical discharge in May 1941. 

Following Kermit’s return to the United States, Archie Roosevelt encouraged his brother to seek treatment for his alcoholism. Archie and Kermit's wife Belle, believing that military service would help ensure Kermit’s sobriety, lobbied President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to find a place for Kermit. After refusing a stateside post as an information officer, Major Kermit Roosevelt accepted an assignment to Fort Richardson, Alaska, where he helped organize a territorial militia to fight Japanese forces in the Aleutian Islands.

Unable to control his drinking, Kermit was medically discharged in early 1943. After learning that Kermit was traveling the country with his mistress, Belle requested that he be returned to active duty at once. By May Kermit was back at Fort Richardson. Physically unfit for duty, a despondent Kermit committed suicide at Fort Richardson on June 4, 1943. 

*Click here for a bibliography of Kermit Roosevelt's writings.