Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker

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From the moment Teddy Roosevelt's outrageous and charming teenage daughter strode into the White House-carrying a snake and dangling a cigarette-the outspoken Alice began to put her imprint on the whole of the twentieth-century political scene. Her barbed tongue was as infamous as her scandalous personal life, but whenever she talked, powerful people listened. She advised her father, husband, and her lover (a powerful senator and the father of her only child), all while reigning for eight decades as the social ...
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Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker

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From the moment Teddy Roosevelt's outrageous and charming teenage daughter strode into the White House-carrying a snake and dangling a cigarette-the outspoken Alice began to put her imprint on the whole of the twentieth-century political scene. Her barbed tongue was as infamous as her scandalous personal life, but whenever she talked, powerful people listened. She advised her father, husband, and her lover (a powerful senator and the father of her only child), all while reigning for eight decades as the social doyenne in a town where socializing was state business. Historian Stacy Cordery's unprecedented access to personal papers and family archives enlivens and informs this richly entertaining portrait of America's most memorable first daughter and one of the most influential women in American society and politics.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The fiercely intelligent eldest daughter of President Teddy Roosevelt (1884-1981) was rebellious and outspoken partly as the result of her desperation to gain the attention of an emotionally distant father, according to historian Cordery. Utilizing Alice's personal papers, Cordery describes how she was more devastated by the political infidelity of her husband, House speaker Nicholas Longworth, during the 1912 presidential election (he sided with Taft over TR) than by his sexual dalliances. Her own affair with powerful Idaho Sen. William Borah resulted in the birth of her only child, Paulina. When her beloved father died in 1919, the stoic Alice simply omitted it completely from her autobiography, and she was a poor mother to Paulina, who died in 1957, at 32, from an overdose of prescription medicines mixed with alcohol. Alice's independence of mind often led her against the grain: she worked to defeat Wilson's League of Nations and was a WWII isolationist and America First activist. Her witty syndicated newspaper columns criticized FDR and the New Deal, and she betrayed her cousin Eleanor by encouraging FDR's liaison with Lucy Mercer Rutherford. Cordery (Theodore Roosevelt: In the Vanguard of the Modern) pens an authoritative, intriguing portrait of a first daughter who broke the mold. Photos. (Oct. 22)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Jonathan Yardley
In a country that professes to repudiate royalty but has a soft spot for it anyway, Alice Roosevelt was a princess if not a queen.
The Washington Post
Library Journal

Notorious for her acerbic wit, political acumen, and occasionally outrageous behavior, President Theodore Roosevelt's illustrious daughter, Alice, enjoyed a long life (1884-1980) at the center of American politics and foreign affairs. Her roles as presidential daughter and later as the wife of powerful Republican Congressman Nicholas Longworth placed her at the heart of the capitol's social life, where she wielded remarkable political influence. She actively opposed Wilson's League of Nations, disdained the New Deal politics of the "other" Roosevelts (FDR and Eleanor), and joined the isolationist America First Committee prior to America's entry into World War II. Her checkered personal life included extramarital romances, most notably with Sen. William Borah, who apparently fathered her only child, Paulina, born when Alice was 40. Cordery (history, Monmouth Coll.; Theodore Roosevelt: In the Vanguard of the Modern) undertook exhaustive research for her new book, referring to newly discovered letters and diaries not available to earlier researchers. Thus, her work should quickly take its place as the most complete biography, surpassing James Brough's Princess Aliceand Carol Felsenthal's Alice Roosevelt Longworth. Highly recommended for all academic libraries and appropriate for public libraries with strong political history collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ6/15/07.]
—Linda V. Carlisle

Kirkus Reviews
Frank, thoroughgoing life of Teddy Roosevelt's oldest daughter, wife of the Speaker of the House, witty Washington hostess and blistering critic of FDR. Cordery (History/Monmouth Coll.; Theodore Roosevelt: In the Vanguard of the Modern, 2002) fully utilizes the personal papers of Alice Roosevelt Longworth (1884-1980), frequently inserting entries from her diary and letters to provide startlingly intimate material. Alice's life was ill-starred at the start. Her birth killed her mother, TR's beloved first wife, on the same day that his own mother died. Subsequently, Teddy ignored Alice, who spent much of her childhood and adolescence trying to capture his attention. By the turn of the century, with TR installed in the White House, Alice enjoyed a spectacular coming-out, embarking as a young celebrity on forays into the world and politics. To gain more independence (and spending money), she married an unsuitable, much older man. Ohio Congressman Nick Longworth was also a philanderer and a hard drinker, but Alice was his match in travel, entertaining and campaigning. Alienated by Nick's affairs and his decision to back Taft rather than her father in the decisive campaign of 1912, Alice teamed up with Idaho senator William Borah, a fellow opponent of Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations. They became lovers in 1919 and together rode the heady years of the '20s under Harding, Coolidge and Hoover; Cordery accepts as fact the widely held belief that Borah fathered Alice's daughter Paulina, though she was still married to Nick when he died in 1931. Alice's public drubbing of the New Deal and cousins FDR and Eleanor solidified her reputation as the leading political wit in Washington. ButCordery declines to be distracted by bon mots, cogently employing a plethora of detail to get at the character behind the hot air. A rigorous portrait of a woman of strong opinions who surely should have run for office herself. Promises to revive the old dame's reputation.
The Barnes & Noble Review
How many Americans wish they had a royal family to dote on? Probably a great many: witness the outpouring of adulation (and then grief) over Britain's Princess Diana. A hundred years ago, we had one of our own. Her name was Alice, and she was the firstborn daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt (TR). Beautiful and stylish, she could draw admiring crowds merely by showing up. She knew how to have fun and could be fun to be around. At the same time, she was always a "problem," mostly for her father and stepmother, but also for some of her relatives and friends. When she was young, TR used to quip that he could be president of the United States or attend to Alice, but he could not do both.

Her unconventional approach to life endeared her to the press and to a long string of admiring men and women. Losing her mother two days after her birth in 1884, she spent her childhood trying to get her grief-stricken father's attention. "Bad" behavior did the trick. She drove an automobile unchaperoned, smoked in public, bet on poker, and danced the Turkey Trot. She and her friends founded a "Race Suicide Club," writing parodies of her father's famous charge that white Anglo-Saxon women were neglecting their duty to propagate the race and therefore causing it to commit suicide. These attention-getting devices were to no avail. Her father still neglected her because, she later said, to him she symbolized his two infidelities: to his second wife, Edith, for marrying her mother, and to her mother for then marrying Edith.

Stacy Cordery's biography, Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker, happily matches its subject's sense of fun. Because Cordery, who teaches history at Monmouth College, had access to Alice's unpublished diary and letters, she offers not only new information about Alice but also keen psychological insight into the complexities of her life. Her book should appeal to a variety of readers: lovers of biography, especially of interesting women, as well as serious readers of political history, including admirers of TR. A woman of pedigree and privilege, Alice was never content to be mere decoration. She kept herself well informed about political issues and wanted to exert an influence on the course of political events. It's no wonder that, in learning about her life, we also see revealed some hidden aspects of modern American politics.

The book's thesis is that Alice was a "politician." "Never elected" but "always involved," she studied the issues, expressed herself with acerbic wit through epigram or satiric poem, helped the political men in her life with their speeches, and campaigned unabashedly for the causes she believed in. As an adolescent, she took part in international diplomacy, in 1905 representing her father's administration during the negotiations that ended the Russo-Japanese War. As a young woman married to Congressman Nicholas Longworth (R-Ohio), she raged against the Treaty of Versailles and U.S. entry into the League of Nations. In her maturity, she channeled her considerable energies toward defeating anything her cousins, the "other" Roosevelts (Franklin and Eleanor), favored, including the New Deal and American involvement in the European conflict that became World War II. And in her old age, as her "verbal daggers" became more malevolent, she became "Washington's other monument," whose political salons and lively poker games provided capital insiders with "an essential means of communication." She was, in short, a woman of "influence."

Until women began to enter public office in appreciable numbers in the late 20th century, women's roles in politics and policymaking were hard to reconstruct. Historians know they were involved, both as individuals and through group action, but the paper trails to prove that involvement have been tricky to find. That's one reason a biography like Cordery's is so useful. Rooted in a scrupulous exploration of sources -- published, unpublished, and oral -- it provides a reliable (and also amusing, sometimes even delicious) example of how one celebrated woman maneuvered (or tried to maneuver) behind the scenes at the center of American political life.

But as a life of a woman in politics it has its limitations, particularly if it's an unorganized life. Alice's chief goal in life seems to have been to have a good time. Other than promoting the careers of her father, her husband, her lover Senator William E. Borah (with whom she had her only child, a daughter, in 1925), or the careers of friends, she had no sweeping political agenda of her own. So, was Alice Roosevelt Longworth a "politician"? It all depends on how you define the term. She certainly loved politics and was seriously involved in it. A great reader and talker, she knew an enormous amount about what was going on at all times and had positions on almost everything. But in the end she lacked both the depth and the desire to get things done possessed by Eleanor Roosevelt. (Cordery knows that, of course, reporting that Alice liked being the "un-Eleanor.")

As a result, reading this book I often felt like I was watching Tom Stoppard's famous play Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, in which the main events of Shakespeare's Hamlet take place behind the scenes and the minor characters are front and center. Organized chronologically and offering sufficient (although sometimes cryptic) information on national elections and issues, Cordery's biography has to focus more on Alice's personal life than on public events. It's pleasurable to read about that life, and Cordery presents it skillfully, in brisk and readable prose with some memorable turns of phrase. In the end, though, this is a biography of a woman of great charm, fascination, and wit, but one whose self-centered life was expended primarily in going to receptions or throwing dinner parties of her own.

Finally, as fascinating as Alice was, it's not all that easy to like her. Any admirer of the accomplishments of her "fifth cousin, about to be removed" Franklin Delano Roosevelt might find her political views hard to swallow. What's excellent about Cordery's treatment of those views is that she makes them understandable from within their own contexts and reminds us that not everyone was a New Dealer or thought ill of Richard Nixon. Biographers have to have some affinity for their subjects, if only to survive the years it takes to reconstruct someone else's life "from the inside." Cordery not only has that affinity but expresses it honestly and well. Her voluminous notes and rich bibliography should make any reader confident in the book's veracity. In sum, the book is wonderful: I'm just not all that confident that Alice was. --Elisabeth Israels Perry

Elisabeth Israels Perry teaches history and women's studies at Saint Louis University and is the author of Belle Moskowitz: Feminine Politics and the Exercise of Power in the Age of Alfred E. Smith.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781615557721
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 10/18/2007
  • Pages: 608
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 2.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Stacy A. Cordery is chairman of the history department at Monmouth College in Illinois and is the author of Theodore Roosevelt: In the Vanguard of the Modern. She is the bibliographer for the National First Ladies’ Library. This is her third book.
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Table of Contents

Preface vii Roosevelt Family Tree xvi Chapter 1 "It Was Awfully Bad Psychologically" 1 Chapter 2 "Sissy Had a Sweat Nurse!" 21 Chapter 3 "Something More Than a Plain American Girl" 43 Chapter 4 "I Tried to Be Conspicuous" 62 Chapter 5 "Frightfully Difficult Trying to Keep Up Appearances" 83 Chapter 6 "He Never Grew Serious About Anything" 99 Chapter 7 "When Alice Came to Plunderland" 115 Chapter 8 "To Bask in the Rays of Your Reflected Glory" 139 Chapter 9 "Alice Is Married at Last" 162 Chapter 10 "Mighty Pleased with My Daughter and Her Husband" 179 Chapter 11 "Expelled from the Garden of Eden" 199 Chapter 12 "Quite Marked Schizophrenia" 219 Chapter 13 "Beating Against Bars" 238 Chapter 14 "To Hate the Democrats So Wholeheartedly" 256 Chapter 15 "Hello, Hello, Hello" 287 Chapter 16 "The Political Leader of the Family" 328 Chapter 17 "An Irresistible Magnet" 349 Chapter 18 "The Washington Dictatorship" 370 Chapter 19 "I Believe in the Preservation of This Republic" 398 Chapter 20 "Full Sixty Years the World Has Been Her Trade" 418 Chapter 21 "The Most Fascinating Conversationalist of Our Time" 450 Epilogue 476 Acknowledgments 485 Notes 491 Selected Bibliography 555 Index 573
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 15 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 20, 2010

    Teddy's daughter, another individualist!

    Alice was a true individualist who refused to go by the rules in many ways. She was an early feminist in that respect. Her cousin was Eleanor Roosevelt. But they were at opposite ends of the political spectrum. Eleanor was a Democrat. Alice was a Republican when she wasn't a Bull Moose. Alice was that rarity, a woman who dabbled extensively in politics, married well, had one child by her lover, and still stayed married. She was unlike most women in our American history. One that comes to mind is Abigail Adams but Abigail was a far more genteel type.
    This book tells us a good deal about a woman well known in Washington DC, but one that we actually don't know much about.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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