The Roosevelt Cousins


At the turn of the twentieth century, in the brownstones of New York City and the country houses of Long Island and the Hudson River Valley, a generation of young Roosevelt cousins shared carriage rides to school and dancing class. Together they rode their horses and fished and swam in landscapes they would know until the end of their lives.

When they grew older, the cousins saw one another often in Fifth Avenue ballrooms and at family weddings, and frequently at the Long Island...

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2001 Hardcover N jacket First Edition. Brand New Book, Hardcover, clean, tight, unmarked, first edition, 8" x 9 1/2", b&w illustrations, index, 237 pages. 1st Edition President ... Theodore Roosevelt encouraged his many children, nephews, and nieces to embrace lives of public service. The results of his exhortations must have surprised even the combative Teddy. Driven together by fame and common purpose, the "Roosevelt cousins" competed in the same arenas, often for the same prizes. Linda Donn has constructed a revisionist family po. Read more Show Less

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At the turn of the twentieth century, in the brownstones of New York City and the country houses of Long Island and the Hudson River Valley, a generation of young Roosevelt cousins shared carriage rides to school and dancing class. Together they rode their horses and fished and swam in landscapes they would know until the end of their lives.

When they grew older, the cousins saw one another often in Fifth Avenue ballrooms and at family weddings, and frequently at the Long Island home of their patriarch and hero, President Theodore Roosevelt. There, grounded in a warm and steady love, they followed him on hikes, climbing over pasture stiles and running down steep sandy slopes, and they listened to his speeches at Fourth of July celebrations.

The cousins were numerous. Five girls--Eleanor, Alice, Christine, Elfrida, and Dorothy--all born in one ten-month period, were known during their debutante year as the "Magic Five". Although the public later came to see Alice and Eleanor as polar opposites, in Donn’s compelling account we learn that they were more similar than people supposed. Alice, perceived as beautiful, witty, sophisticated, and dedicated to enjoying herself, was often unhappy and tortured by self-doubt. Eleanor, described later (usually by herself) as serious, mousy, and driven by duty to reform the world, was tough as nails and knew exactly how to gain and hold power. As a debutante she was lively, almost beautiful, and very popular, pursued by many eligible swains. And as children and young women they were best friends--Alice wrote in her diary that the person with whom she would most want to be marooned on a desert island was Eleanor.

But the Roosevelt clan was not always supportive. Sometimes they ostracized members who they felt didn’t uphold the family’s values. Theodore had urged his nieces as well as his nephews to lead lives of public service, a goal that united them and gave direction and purpose to the family, but when the young Roosevelts began to compete for public office, family members began to take sides. Protective and increasingly bitter, Alice saw in her cousin Franklin’s success a threat to her brother Ted’s future. Franklin’s mother and Eleanor perceived his cousins to be dangerous political rivals.

Theodore couldn’t have known, when he encouraged the young cousins to battle for the welfare of others, that their personal struggles for independence would rupture the Roosevelt clan. But as the young people jockeyed for position, they found themselves on a collision course, for only one man could be president.

There have been many Roosevelt biographies, and much about their lives is widely known. Linda Donn, a historian whose earlier book, Freud and Jung, also dealt with duality, here demonstrates that there is still much more to know about this fascinating family. We can easily find ourselves in the Roosevelt cousins’ struggles, discovering that independence can sometimes come at the price of family unity and acceptance, and that an unwillingness to pay that price can incur an even greater one: never coming to know oneself.

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Editorial Reviews

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President Theodore Roosevelt encouraged his many children, nephews, and nieces to embrace lives of public service. The results of his exhortations must have surprised even the combative Teddy: Driven together by fame and common purpose, the "Roosevelt cousins" competed in the same arenas, often for the same prizes. Linda Donn has constructed a revisionist family portrait of the Roosevelt clan. She show convincingly that Alice and Eleanor Roosevelt were not rivals, but friends, and demolishes the "beautiful Edith and ugly Eleanor" myth. Her fascinating insights into the Roosevelts are enhanced by more than 100 photographs presenting the irrepressible family in all its aristocratic anarchy.
Publishers Weekly
From the politics of the dinner table to the politics of Washington, D.C., Linda Donn (Freud and Jung: Years of Friendship and Loss) probes the people and the relationships in one of America's most important families in The Roosevelt Cousins: Growing Up Together, 1882-1942. With chapters like "Shifting Alliances" and "Schisms," the volume seems to suggest that the cousins sometimes behaved more like warring nations than relatives. In this careful and serious study, Donn calls into question popular myths about Eleanor's mousiness and FDR's relationship to his mother, and provides plenty of insight into a clan that played out its family dramas on a national stage. (Nov. 4) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Keen competitive spirits between the Oyster Bay and Hyde Park Roosevelts colored personal relationships among famous cousins that were played out publicly in the national political arena between the two most prominent females, Alice and Eleanor. Theodore Roosevelt's oldest daughter, Alice, and niece Eleanor both married political men, who then catapulted them into the limelight. For Alice, it was Nicholas Longworth, who became Speaker of the House, and for Eleanor, it was her distant cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt. In her narrative of the Roosevelt clan, Donn (Freud and Jung: Years of Friendship and Loss) draws on her training in clinical psychology to create an insightful, nuanced view of the main characters and their relationships. She shows convincingly how the cousins remained close until Woodrow Wilson defeated Theodore in 1912 and then recruited Franklin as assistant secretary of the navy, the position Theodore once held. The gap widened after TR's son Ted ran the New York governorship, with Alice as his informal campaign manager. The basic story is not new, but the elegant writing, psychological insight, and useful photographs make for absorbing reading. Highly recommended for public libraries. William D. Pederson, Louisiana State Univ., Shreveport Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A readable and informative appraisal of the relationships among the Roosevelt cousins-close in the early years but increasingly strained by conflicting political ambitions and jealousies as FDR became the heir to TR's progressive political legacy. In the Middle Ages, the deteriorating relations between the Oyster Bay and Hyde Park Roosevelts would soon have escalated into bloody feuds, but, as Donn (Freud and Jung, not reviewed) vividly details, both factions' skillful use of the media was no less lethal. She begins her story in 1884, the year Alice Longworth Roosevelt was born to Teddy Roosevelt and Eleanor to TR's younger brother Elliott. The two were very close as children and teenagers, and Eleanor was TR's favorite niece as well. Donn details the close-knit childhoods of Oyster Bay and Hyde Park, FDR's and Eleanor's courtship and marriage, and Alice's unhappy marriage to Nicholas Longworth, and then traces the estrangement of the cousins as adults. When TR formed the New Progressive party in 1912 and ran as its candidate for President, Alice in particular felt betrayed by Eleanor's and FDR's endorsement of the popular Woodrow Wilson rather than his lackluster opponent as the Democratic candidate. After TR's death in 1918, his family were even more outraged when his eldest son Ted was selected as the Republican candidate for governor of New York in 1924, and Eleanor not only seconded the Democratic choice but also, mindful that Ted had been falsely accused of involvement in the Teapot Dome scandal, had a mock teapot built on a car she parked wherever he was speaking. The battle lines, once drawn, would harden in the years to come as Alice regaled the press with her often vitrioliccritiques of Eleanor and Franklin. Not only a lively history of an extraordinary clan, but a perceptive analysis of the clash between loyalty and ambition in an epic family drama played out in the public eye. (110 illustrations)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679446378
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/23/2001
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 7.68 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

Linda Donn is the author of Freud and Jung: Years of Friendship, Years of Loss, and she holds an M.A. in clinical psychology from the New School for Social Research. She and her husband have three children and divide their time between New York City and Vermont.
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Read an Excerpt


On february 16, 1884, at a little before ten in the morning, horses walked side by side down Fifth Avenue pulling two hearses. They carried matching rosewood coffins covered with wreaths of white roses and lilies. Theodore's mother, Martha, had succumbed to typhoid fever on February 14; eleven hours later his young wife died after having given birth to their daughter.

Nothing had prepared the young state assemblyman for what had been given and taken away in the same furious instant. Theodore's face was expressionless at the funeral. His older sister, Anna, whom everyone called Bye, led him about like a small, unfocused child. Later, in the family house at 6 West 57th Street, as she listened to the rhythmic tread of his boots on the floor above, Bye worried that her brother was losing his mind. The next day Theodore held his infant daughter in his arms, a locket of her mother's yellow hair around her neck, and christened her Alice, after his dead wife.

Alice Hathaway Lee had grown up with four sisters and a brother in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, next door to five first cousins, the children of the Leverett Saltonstall family. Eleven boys and girls had spent their childhood running back and forth across the lawn that joined the two clapboard houses, sure of being home wherever they went. Later, when one of the Saltonstall cousins, Richard, invited his Harvard friends home to Chestnut Hill, bespectacled and energetic Theodore was struck by Alice Lee. Her blue eyes were pale, and at the same time bright, as if an artist had sharpened them with a touch of white paint.

Theodore had had a secret understanding with his childhood love, Edith Carow, butthey had quarreled, and he began courting Alice Lee in his junior year at Harvard. When his extravagant nature and impetuous pursuit frightened her away, he was shaken by her withdrawal and walked all night in the woods around Cambridge. Friends, alarmed, sent a telegram to his family in New York, and a Roosevelt cousin, a medical student, was dispatched to find Theodore and calm him down. It was rumored that when Alice rebuffed him again, in Bar Harbor, Maine, he attempted suicide. At another low point, Theodore ordered a set of French dueling pistols. "I did not think I could win her and I went nearly crazy at the mere thought," he confessed.

But in the end Theodore prevailed, and they were married in October 1880. "They are both so well and bright that they are like sunbeams, everyone loving them," Theodore's aunt Annie Gracie said of the young couple six months before Alice Lee died.

After the funerals, Theodore returned to Albany and threw himself back into his state-assembly work. He kept up a feverish pace and barely slept, but when the session ended, he chose not to seek reelection. His political career, he told Bye, now mattered little to him. The year before, he had become a partner in a cattle business, and he decided to move out West to his ranch in the Dakotas, leaving young Alice with Bye.

The inhospitable terrain of the Badlands-like "Hell with the fires out," one observer wrote-suited Theodore. Two thousand miles from his baby, with his wife and his mother dead, he courted every challenge and grew gaunt-"thin-flanked," one newspaper reported. A friend said, "You could have spanned his waist with your two thumbs and fingers." Theodore bankrupted his body and didn't care. He was finishing work he had begun as a child.

Asthma had plagued Theodore when he was a boy, and he had been clumsy and not athletic; he had lived, he later wrote, "much at home." But he had undergone a transformation when, as a fourteen-year-old, he took up bodybuilding and learned to box. He took to the sport slowly; "sheer industry" had seen him through. The boy had also struggled to be brave, inspired by the story of the British sea captain Frederick Marryat, who became courageous, as Theodore put it, "by sheer dint of practicing fearlessness." Sometimes Theodore called it willpower; at other times he called it deliberate determination. But at an early age he developed an existential belief in the need to create himself. "By acting as if I was not afraid," he later wrote, "I gradually ceased to be afraid." It was a lesson his niece Eleanor would also learn at a young age.

Out West, Theodore rarely spoke of the depression that haunted him, but his business partner William Sewall remembered his saying once that he "didn't have anything to live for. He was as blue a man as you ever see. I went right for him bow-legged. I told him he had no right to talk that way. He had his child to bring up. He said Alice would never know."

"Her aunt can take care of her a good deal better than I can," Theodore told his business partner. "She would be just as well off without me." The young widower seemed "used up" in the spring of 1885, "all teeth and eyes," as one observer put it, and the Roosevelts were so worried that they asked Sewall to look after him. "They had no business to write to you, they should have written to me," Theodore said.

"I guess they knew you wouldn't write about how you were getting on," his partner replied. "You'd just say you were all right."

One cold day in April, the Little Missouri River was a fast-running tide of mountain water and ice floes. John Fisher was cutting and hauling ice on the riverbank when Theodore rode up on his horse Manitou and asked where the dam was. Fisher was surprised. "You surely won't try to cross on the dam when you can go and cross on the trestle the way the others do?" The water was coursing so high that the dam couldn't be seen. "It's more than likely that there's not much of the dam left," Fisher warned.

"It doesn't matter," Theodore said. "Manitou's a good swimmer and we're going across."

But the dam had crumbled partway across the flooding river. Manitou lost his footing, and Fisher knew that if the horse drifted even a little downstream, he and his rider would never get ashore. But Theodore kept shoving chunks of ice away from his horse's head, and Manitou held his own against the current for the quarter of a mile across the Little Missouri. They were safe. The reckless ride showed John Fisher that Theodore could survive almost anything. In 1912, when Fisher heard that his friend had been shot, he didn't worry about "the man who could swim the Little Missouri on horseback when it was running bank full and blocks of ice as big as a house."

Soaking wet, Theodore rode up to the general store on the far bank. In the years to come, the shopkeeper, Joe Ferris, would also tell the story of the time Theodore and Manitou had crossed the river, and he'd always end by saying he "wouldn't have taken that swim for all of Dakota." That afternoon in Ferris's store, Theodore bought a pair of dry socks and put them on. The Little Missouri had decided that he should live.

Within weeks of his river crossing, Theodore headed East. Before he went, he turned his saddle horses out on the range and left word that no one was ever to ride them or sell them. From time to time the cowboys caught sight of some of the horses, but never Manitou. One by one over the years the horses died on the range, and in the summers when the snows melted, the cowboys would come upon their bodies. But no one ever found a trace of Manitou.

Alice and Eleanor

Theodore was expected home from the West early in the summer of 1885. Shortly before his arrival, Edith Carow came to spend a week with one of his aunts in Oyster Bay, a semi-wilderness of water and chestnut woods on the north shore of Long Island, thirty miles east of New York City. Theodore and his brother and sisters had grown up in New York with Edith. Their nurses had pushed them across Union Square in their carriages. As they got older, the friendship between Edith and Theodore became especially close, and when the Roosevelt family sailed to Europe for a year, she kept the letters she received from him, together with a curl of his hair, locked up in a little box.

Everyone was surprised when they did not marry. Theodore told his sister Bye that in 1878, when Edith was seventeen and he was twenty, they had "very intimate relations," but that there "came a break." Edith maintained that Theodore had not been nice, though a story she wrote when she was fifteen suggests her own youthful conflicts. The heroine found the hero, "Rex," the epitome of all human excellence, and he in turn had "lost his whole loving heart" to her. But the girl dreaded Rex's great love and was afraid to let him come too close. Once when they were out walking together, a burr pricked her finger and Rex-"poor foolish Rex"-took her wounded hand in his larger, warmer one and kissed it.

"How dare you," the girl cried, and, in her "dusky brown dress with a bit of red at the throat," ran from him like a "hunted deer."

Theodore had taken care not to see Edith on his visits East after Alice Lee's death-not even a glimpse in the drawing rooms of relatives and friends. Victorian propriety dictated that a gentleman should not marry a second time. To do so would put a lie to his first love. Theodore's tor-ment was that he agreed with his fellow Victorians, but he was also young, with a tumultuous and ardent nature. Now more than a year had passed since his wife had died, and only a bit of woods would lie between him and Edith. But she, learning of Theodore's impending arrival, quickly decamped to New Jersey, and it wasn't until a few months later that they accidentally encountered each other in Bye's house.

Theodore had changed considerably since Edith had seen him last. No longer the boy she had known, he had gained an astonishing thirty pounds since his river crossing, and there were subtler changes, too. Theodore had always had a sense of the fragility of life and a familiarity with suffering, but now they had risen to the surface and were shadowing his face. Edith would not turn from that.

They married in December 1886 and moved to his new house in Oyster Bay the following summer, bringing Alice, who was nearly three and a half. Theodore had designed Sagamore Hill from the inside out, paying more attention to the use and flow of the rooms than to the aesthetics of the structure itself. He made sure that the huge fireplaces took the logs he liked to chop and that his study companionably flanked Edith's parlor, but the outside had an ungainly air. Four boys and a girl (in order, Ted, Kermit, Ethel, Archibald, and Quentin) were born between 1887 and 1897, and Sagamore Hill became the family's favorite place.

Theodore wrote Bye that he found Alice "too good and happy for anything." He told his younger sister, Corinne Robinson, that he missed his daughter when she did not come and sit in her chair in her long white nightgown to watch him shave. But the little girl was also a constant reminder and rebuke. Theodore had loved his first wife passionately; he had driven her memory before him in wild rides across the West. Young Alice personified his grief, so vividly did she resemble the beautiful girl who had been his wife. And because Theodore believed he had betrayed Alice Lee by remarrying, his daughter bore the brunt of what she would describe as his "guilt fetish."

Even as a young girl, Alice was an arresting figure with a commanding presence, but at times she clung pathetically to her nurse, Jane. Her aunts worried that she did not seem "to relish either meat or vegetables," and Edith noticed that she could look pale and sickly, like a "quiet and mousy person." Theodore did not recognize this vulnerability in his daughter. He teasingly called her "stony hearted." He tried in vain once, when she was going to visit her grandparents in Boston, to elicit some sign that she did not want to leave him. Dressed in her best, looking just like a "white penguin," his daughter had not cried; he had left her too many times for that. But Alice was not without feeling. "Saying good-bye to Father was a choky, though tearless business," she confessed years later. "I always felt a little gulpy when I said good-bye to him; for any length of time-not only when I was a child."

Eleanor was born eight months after her cousin Alice. Theodore's younger brother, twenty-four-year-old Elliott, had married Anna Hall, a beautiful girl from the Hudson River Valley; she gave birth to their daughter on October 11, 1884.

Like Theodore, Elliott had been gravely shaken when their mother died, and the family hoped his young wife would be a comfort to him. But Anna's haunting beauty hid a troubled nature. Her childhood had been dominated by an eccentric and religious father who placed great importance on self-discipline. Valentine Hall made his daughter take walks several times a day with a stick laid across her back, the ends held firmly in the crook of her elbows. Anna was slender and pale because she was often unwell, but her distinctive carriage was eloquent testimony to her father's control. She grew up the child most like him, as serious and high-minded.

But when he died, Anna tried to cast off his legacies: the tyranny of self-denial and the constant, austere dialogue with God. At nineteen she welcomed marriage to Elliott Roosevelt, and it seemed a good match at first. Anna had a flawless social presence-she was said to be tuned to a ballroom pitch-and he was a handsome, pleasure-seeking young man with a taste for fashionable society. But soon Anna began to return to her childhood home, sometimes for six months at a time. And she took her daughter, Eleanor, with her, up the driveway through small steel gates, past the stone gatehouse and stables and the lawn shaded by towering oaks, to the large stuccoed house.

Oak Terrace, in the village of Tivoli, was one of many estates fortressed by the headlands that rose above the Hudson River. Residents called the freedom that came from the steep terrain living in "the shadow of the mountains." The enclave was linked by a private road that had been cleared through the woods along the river. For most people, the freedom to do as they wished unfolded gently eccentric lives.

Copyright 2001 by Linda Donn
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Table of Contents

Preface ix
Family Tree xi
Prologue 3
Part 1 Young Cousins 1882-1902
Theodore 13
Alice and Eleanor 19
River Families 29
Fourth of July in Oyster Bay 41
Fourteen-Year-Olds 51
New York City's Assembly Ball 61
Part 2 Thresholds 1902-1906
White House New Year 71
First Steps 79
Vows 87
Roosevelt Weds Roosevelt 101
Alice Rising 106
Part 3 Shifting Alliances 1910-1918
Two Cousins Campaign 119
Divided Loyalties 131
Wartime Washington 142
Part 4 Schisms 1918-1924
Lucy Mercer 155
Peace Treaties 163
Franklin's Polio 175
Dynastic Struggle 181
Epilogue 189
Notes 201
Bibliography 223
Acknowledgments 227
Index 229
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