Title: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker
Author: Stacy A. Cordery
Date Finished: 29 January 2009
My Rating: 3 Stars
Challenges: Library, New Author, 100, Chunkster, In Their Shoes
Before coming across this biography about Alice Roosevelt Longworth, I knew very little about this woman who was once a major American icon and known around the world as Princess Alice. I knew she was Theodore Roosevelt's daughter, that her mother had died shortly after giving birth to her and that she married a congressman from Cincinnati in a fancy White House wedding but that was about as far as my knowledge went. It turns out there was a lot to learn.
So who was Alice Roosevelt Longworth?
Theodore Roosevelt lost both his wife and his mother within hours of each other. Devastated by grief Roosevelt named his daughter Alice after her dead mother and then left her in the care of his sister. It was not until he remarried and his wife insisted Alice live with them that Roosevelt sent for his daughter. His new wife, childhood friend Edith Kermit Carow, at times took on an almost wicked step-mother persona towards her step daughter and her father pretty much kept ignoring her. Roosevelt never talked to Alice about her mother or even spoke her name. Alice was called Sister by the family so that the name Alice did not have to be used. Alice became a sort of outsider in her own family, never feeling that she fit in with her step brothers and sister.
After Theodore Roosevelt became President, Alice became the rebellious first daughter that the nation and world could not get enough of. Before there were movie stars or celebrity sports stars Alice Roosevelt was a media darling. The press followed her everywhere and she made the headlines for recklessly driving her car, betting on horses, and smoking in public. Alice renounced many of the social conventions of her time much to the relief of some and consternation of others. She became known as Princess Alice to all her worldwide, adoring fans. Her father and mother tried rather fruitlessly to convince Alice to behave properly and keep her name out of the papers, she was garnering more attention than her presidential father. It was not until Alice took a very successful goodwill trip across Asia that the president realized the political value of his celebrity daughter.
Alice loved the fame, the notoriety, living in the White House and being privy to the political scene in the nation's capital. In 1906 she married Nicolas Longworth, a congressman from Ohio and secured a future living in Washington and being a major behind the scenes political player. Alice became one of her father's most trusted political advisers and campaigned for his third term as president. Throughout her life this intelligent and ambitious woman wielded major political power but eschewed holding an official office. She cultivated friendships with those in power and helped to develop others for future political power. She voiced her opinions and did not care what others thought. She was very outspoken against her cousin Franklin Roosevelt's presidency and did not much care for cousin Eleanor. Alice worked to make sure her name and personality were always out there and always influential.
The biography includes details of her relationship with her often drunk and womanizing husband and Alice's affair with Idaho's Senator Borah, who fathered Alice's daughter Paulina.
In fact, details are something this book did not lack at all. While I was fascinated by much of what I was reading the book took on an almost time line effect at times. Lists of dinner guests, who Alice met with, when and where filled page after page. There were so many facts and details but I still felt this book was just skimming the surface when it came to who Alice was. I came away from this very lengthy biography feeling like I still had so much to learn but that I knew every detail about Alice's life. Like many biographies there was a lot of going back in forth in time that often got confusing and left holes in the story that were either filled in much, much later or never at all.
An ambitious and very well researched biography that just seemed to be missing something. Don't read unless you are very interested in the subject or you'll be bored by the many tedious details concerning Alice.
If you are interested in Alice but not sure about reading this long biography you can check out a fun and award winning children's book titled What to do About Alice written by Barbara Kerley and illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham.