Dakota Datebook

Alice Lee’s Engagement

Friday, February 14, 2014


Theodore Roosevelt first met 17-year-old Alice Lee Hathaway at the home of a friend and Harvard classmate in October of 1878. By Thanksgiving of that year Roosevelt had already determined that he was going to marry her.


Roosevelt’s immediate attraction was understandable. The daughter of a prominent New England banking family, Alice was tall and athletically graceful. Her blue-gray eyes and long, wavy golden hair complemented a disposition described by friends as radiant, enchanting and high-spirited. Her family nickname was “sunshine.”


The 19-year-old Roosevelt on the other hand was described by Harvard classmates as “thin-chested, spectacled, nervous and frail.” A high-pitched voice, coupled with a laugh that was, according to his mother, like a “sharp, ungreased squeak,” did little to improve his physical attractiveness.


Roosevelt had to compete with several other suitors for Alice’s attention, but in his characteristic determination, the future president actively courted her for more than a year. At a party, Roosevelt pointed Alice out to a friend. “See that girl,” he said, “I am going to marry her. She won’t have me, but I am going to have her.”


Alice finally accepted his proposal of marriage in January of 1880. By February 2 Roosevelt had bought her a diamond ring and on this day, Valentine’s Day of 1880, Alice’s father officially announced her engagement to Theodore Roosevelt.


In his journal, Roosevelt confided, “ I do not think ever a man loved a woman more than I love her; for a year and a quarter now I have never (even when hunting) gone to sleep or waked up without thinking of her; and I doubt if an hour has passed that I have not thought of her…”


The couple was married eight months later, on Theodore’s 22nd birthday at the small wooden Unitarian Church near the Lee estate in Brookline, Massachusetts. During their

two-week honeymoon in Oyster Bay, Long Island, Theodore and Alice became so enchanted with the bay that they selected it as the site of their future home.


Alice however would never live in the house that became known as Sagamore Hill. Four years after their engagement, the date February 14 would take on a new and tragic meaning. Roosevelt was informed on this day in 1884 that both Alice and his beloved mother had passed away.


Grieving, he moved to Dakota Territory. Over the next few years, the western Badlands became for Roosevelt not just a refuge and place of healing, but it also laid a foundation for his future. In the words of Roosevelt, “If it had not been for my years in North Dakota I never would have become President of the United States.”


Dakota Datebook written by Christina Sunwall




American Treasures of the Library of Congress- http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/trm052.html


Felsenthal, Carol. The Life and Times of Alice Roosevelt (New York: St. Martin’s Press; 1988)


National Park Service: Sagamore Hill- http://www.nps.gov/sahi/


This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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