Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt was the second wife and First Lady of her childhood companion and the 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909).
Edith Kermit Carow knew Theodore Roosevelt from infancy; as a toddler she became a playmate of his younger sister Corinne. Born in Connecticut in 1861, daughter of Charles and Gertrude Tyler Carow, she grew up in an old New York brownstone on Union Square — an environment of comfort and tradition. Throughout childhood she and “Teedie” were in and out of each other’s houses.
Attending Miss Comstock’s school, she acquired the proper finishing touch for a young lady of that era. A quiet girl who loved books, she was often Theodore’s companion for summer outings at Oyster Bay, Long Island; but this ended when he entered Harvard. Although she attended his wedding to Alice Hathaway Lee in 1880, their lives ran separately until 1885, when he was a young widower with an infant daughter, Alice.
Putting tragedy behind him, he and Edith were married in London in December 1886. They settled down in a house on Sagamore Hill, at Oyster Bay, headquarters for a family that added five children in ten years: Theodore, Kermit, Ethel, Archibald, and Quentin. Throughout Roosevelt’s intensely active career, family life remained close and entirely delightful. A small son remarked one day, “When Mother was a little girl, she must have been a boy!”
Public tragedy brought them into the White House, eleven days after President McKinley succumbed to an assassin’s bullet. Assuming her new duties with characteristic dignity, Mrs. Roosevelt meant to guard the privacy of a family that attracted everyone’s interest, and she tried to keep reporters outside her domain. The public, in consequence, heard little of the vigor of her character, her sound judgment, her efficient household management.
But in this administration the White House was unmistakably the social center of the land. Beyond the formal occasions, smaller parties brought together distinguished men and women from varied walks of life. Two family events were highlights: the wedding of “Princess Alice” to Nicholas Longworth, and Ethel’s debut. A perceptive aide described the First Lady as “always the gentle, high-bred hostess; smiling often at what went on about her, yet never critical of the ignorant and tolerant always of the little insincerities of political life.”
T.R. once wrote to Ted Jr. that “if Mother had been a mere unhealthy Patient Griselda I might have grown set in selfish and inconsiderate ways.” She continued, with keen humor and unfailing dignity, to balance her husband’s exuberance after they retired in 1909.
After his death in 1919, she traveled abroad but always returned to Sagamore Hill as her home. Alone much of the time, she never appeared lonely, being still an avid reader — “not only cultured but scholarly,” as T.R. had said. She kept till the end her interest in the Needlework Guild, a charity which provided garments for the poor, and in the work of Christ Church at Oyster Bay. She died on September 30, 1948, at the age of 87.
The biographies of the First Ladies on WhiteHouse.gov are from “The First Ladies of the United States of America,” by Allida Black. Copyright 2009 by the White House Historical Association.
Learn more about Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt’s spouse, Theodore Roosevelt.