At the beginning of 1884, everything seemed to be going Theodore Roosevelt’s way.
The 25-year-old Harvard graduate, a descendant of a colonial Dutch family with deep roots in New York City, had already written an acclaimed first book, The Naval War of 1812.
He’d also been elected to the state assembly and was making a name for himself as an energetic and outspoken Republican who wouldn’t tolerate financial corruption.
His personal life was going spectacularly as well. In 1880 he had married the tall, willowy girl of his dreams, Alice Hathaway Lee (below).
Roosevelt was crazy in love with Lee and ecstatic that after a year of courtship she agreed to marry him.
On a sleigh ride near her family home in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, after they had become engaged, “the horse plunging to his belly in the great drifts, and the wind cutting my face like a knife,” Roosevelt gushed about his love in his diary.
“My sweet wife was just as lovable and pretty as ever; it seems hardly possible that I can kiss her and hold her in my arms; she is so pure and so innocent, and so very, very pretty,” he wrote on February 3, 1880.
“I have never done anything to deserve such good fortune.”
Roosevelt’s political career would continue to soar. He became New York’s police commissioner, assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy, state governor, U.S. vice president, and then, thanks to an anarchist’s bullet, the nation’s president in 1901.
But before his political career would hit the national stage, fate would cut short this personal happiness.
Three years after he wrote that diary entry, on February 12, 1884, Roosevelt’s wife gave birth to the couple’s daughter, Alice Lee Roosevelt, in Roosevelt’s parents’ home at 6 West 57th Street, where they had been staying.
But the joy of a first child was short-lived. In another room, Roosevelt’s beloved mother, Mittie (below), was dying of typhus.
Lee’s health had also turned grave. One floor above Mittie, Alice Hathaway Lee Roosevelt was battling an undiagnosed kidney disorder. Roosevelt went from room to room, but there was little he could do.
Both women died on February 14, Valentine’s Day.
In his diary that day, Roosevelt (above, in 1881) drew a large X. “The light has gone out of my life,” he wrote. The two Mrs. Roosevelts, one aged 22 and the other 48, were laid to rest at a double funeral at Green-Wood cemetery.
“Her baby was born and on February 14 she died in my arms,” wrote Roosevelt on February 17.
“As my mother had died in the same house, on the same day, but a few hours previously. . . . For joy or for sorrow my life has now been lived out.”
Two years later, Roosevelt would marry childhood playmate Edith Carow and have five more children, and by all accounts a very happy family life.
[Diary page: Library of Congress]