First Ladies: Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt

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Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt was the second wife of President Theodore Roosevelt and served as his First Lady. She was the first First Lady to employ a full-time,

Edith Kermit Carrow Roosevelt

salaried social secretary. Her tenure resulted in the creation of an official staff, and her formal dinners and ceremonial processions served to elevate the position of First Lady.

Edith Kermit Carow was born on August 6, 1861 in Norwich,Connecticut. She was the daughter of Charles and Gertrude Elizabeth Tyler Carrow.

She grew up next door to Theodore Roosevelt and was best friends with his sister, Corinne. She began her education in the Roosevelt household before attending Miss Comstock’s finishing school.
It is believed that she and Teddy had a teenage romance, but that isn’t known for sure. While he was at Harvard University, Teddy met Alice Lee and married her in 1880. Edith attended the wedding of Teddy and Alice Roosevelt.

Alice Lee Roosevelt died in 1884 and about a year later Teddy and Edith rekindled their relationship. They married on December 2, 1886. The couple raised Teddy’s daughter from his first marriage, Alice, and had five children together.
Their children were Theodore Jr. born in September 1887, Kermit born in 1889, Ethel born in 1891, Archibald born in 1894 and Quentin born in 1897.

Edith Roosevelt is described as a devoted mother, who took an active role in her children’s lives and education. She is also said to spend hours each day with them and to read to them. She is reported to want more children and suffered two miscarriages as First Lady.

Edith Kermit Carrow Roosevelt

Edith and her step-daughter, Alice Roosevelt, is said to have had a complicated relationship. In her autobiography Crowded Hours, Alice wrote of Edith, “That I was the child of another marriage was a simple fact and made a situation that had to be coped with, and Mother coped with it with a fairness and charm and intelligence which she has to a greater degree than almost any one else I know.”

Upon Teddy’s return from Cuba while he was fighting in the Spanish-American War, Edith defied a quarantine to meet him in Montauk, New York, where she assisted veterans at the hospital. In October 1898, when Roosevelt was nominated for the governorship, Edith helped answer his mail, but stayed off the campaign trail.

In 1899, she became the first lady of New York. “She modernized the governor’s mansion, joined a local woman’s club, and continued to assist with her husband’s correspondence. While First Lady of New York, Edith began a tradition that would continue in the White House — she held a bouquet of flowers in each hand. Edith found shaking a stranger’s hand overly familiar and preferred to bow her head in greeting.”

Theodore Roosevelt became Vice President under President William McKinley. Upon President McKinley’s assassination, Teddy became president.

“With the country in mourning, the new First Lady could not do any entertaining. Instead Edith focused on how to fit her large family into the White House.”

Edith Kermit Carrow Roosevelt

Edith built on the First Lady’s long history of entertaining visitors and made the First Lady the nation’s hostess. She expanded the number of social events held at the White House and hired the first social secretary.

Edith also had a permanent appointment from 8am-9am to meet privately with her husband each day.

Teddy and Edith became the first President and First Lady to travel abroad while in office when they made a trip to Panama.

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.”

In 1902, she hired a firm to separate the living quarters from the offices in the White House. She also enlarged, modernized and redecorated the interior and had the landscaping redone. She had the public rooms redecorated with period antiques.
She also completed cataloging the White House china, which began with Caroline Scott Harrison, and ordered additional china with the Great Seal of the United States. She also replaced missing china pieces from past administrations. “She created a display of the China on the ground floor of the White House. The White House China collected which was first exhibited by Edith Roosevelt is still on view today.” Across from the display, she set up the gallery of portraits of former First Ladies.

It was during Edith’s tenure as First Lady that the White House became known as the White House. Previously, it had been known as the Executive Mansion.

Teddy Roosevelt family

In 1905, Edith purchased Pine Knot, a cabin in rural Virginia, as a refuge for Teddy. At Pine Knot, the Secret Service guarded the President without his knowledge.

Once Teddy Roosevelt left office, their days were full with traveling around the world.

She was not an advocate of her husband’s decision to run for president again in 1912.

The Smithsonian’s First Lady collection was created soon after the Roosevelt’s left the White House. When the museum’s advocates asked her for a contribution, Edith said that she wasn’t sure she could help: she often cut up dresses for the material after she wore them. Turns out her inaugural gown was no exception. Her daughter later donated the remaining bottom half, and the Smithsonian refashioned the bodice using photographs.

In 1911, she suffered a severe concussion that permanently robbed her of her sense of smell.

Edith and Teddy Roosevelt

Upon the passage of the 19th Amendment, allowing women to vote, Edith encouraged women to vote. She also stayed busy helping out on the home front during World War I. Three of her sons served in the war.

On July 14, 1918, her son Quentin, was killed when his aircraft was shot down while serving in France during the Great War {World War I}.

President Theodore Roosevelt died in 1919. Before her death, Edith destroyed almost all of her correspondence with Teddy. However, Edith was a prodigious letter writer and her letters survive in archives such as the Houghton Library.”

Edith had a complicated relationship with her nephew-in-law, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor.

Edith was a lifetime knitter and president of the Needlework Guild.

Edith died at her home at Sagamore Hill on September 30, 1948. She was 87 years old. She is buried beside her husband at Youngs Memorial Cemetery in Oyster Bay.

At her request, the following inscription was placed on her marker: “Everything she did was for the happiness of others.”




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