“I hear there are some kids in the White House this year”

December 14, 1901

William A. Rogers

“I hear there are some kids in the White House this year”

Children; Holidays, Christmas; Presidential Administration, Theodore Roosevelt; Symbols, Santa Claus;

Roosevelt, Theodore;

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

No caption.

In the featured cartoon, Santa Claus is about to deliver Christmas presents to the six children of President Theodore Roosevelt:  Alice (17 years old), Theodore Jr. (14), Kermit (12), Ethel (10), Archibald (7), and Quentin (4).  Santa’s expression of pleasant surprise upon learning that so many children were at the White House reflects the fact that the children of past presidents had usually been adult or fewer in number when their fathers occupied the White House.  The three babies of Grover Cleveland had charmed the American public during his second administration (1893-1897), but here in 1901 was a bevy of boisterous children who could really enjoy the holiday season.  It was the first Christmas at the White House for the nation’s youngest president (43) and his family.

President Roosevelt brought the same dynamism that he displayed in politics and sports to his role as father.  He loved his children dearly and spent as much time with them as possible, even with the weighty demands of the presidency.  “I love all these children and have great fun with them, and I am touched by the way in which they feel I am their special friend, champion and companion,” he wrote to his sister-in-law.  He played games and sports with them, took them hiking and picnicking, read them bedtime stories, joyfully indulged their many household pets, and joined them in pillow fights.  As his friend Cecil Spring Rice aptly characterized Roosevelt, “You must always remember that the President is about six.”  Roosevelt had grown up in a close and affectionate family, and enthusiastically followed that example with his own children.  He revealed to his sister, Bamie, that he had “the happiest home life of any man whom I have ever known.”

Tragedy, though, had struck the optimistic Roosevelt in his early adulthood.  On February 12, 1884, a telegram reached Roosevelt in Albany, New York, where he was a Republican assemblyman, bringing him the good news of the birth of his first child, Alice Lee.  A few hours later, a second telegram informed him that his wife, Alice, and mother, Mittie, were both dying, so he took the next train for Manhattan.  His mother succumbed to typhoid fever early the next morning, but he was able to hold his wife during her last hours before she died of Bright’s Disease the following afternoon.  He was devastated by the loss, and entrusted the care of “Baby Lee” to his sister.  In 1886, he married Edith Carow, and they had five children.

The Roosevelts unsuccessfully tried to shield their children from the press, but Alice loved the limelight.  During the White House years, she was a beautiful young lady who captivated the American public.  After she christened a ship in Philadelphia for the German royal family, the press nicknamed her “Princess Alice,” and the blue-gray color of her dress inspired the clothing industry to manufacture “Alice Blue” dresses and Tin Pan Alley to publish a popular tune called “Alice Blue Gown.”  In 1902, her formal debut at the White House was attended by 600 guests.  Alice’s strong, independent will prompted considerable commentary, but when the president was asked why he did not try to control her behavior, he explained, “I can be president of the United States, or I can attend to Alice.”  In truth, he was quite pleased with his eldest daughter.  His confidence in her was such that he dispatched her as his personal representative to Puerto Rico in 1903 and the Far East in 1905. 

On February 17, 1906, Alice married Congressman Nicholas Longworth (later speaker of the house) in a spectacular wedding at the White House.  In adulthood, Alice became a fixture in Washington society where she was called “Washington’s other monument.”  Delighting and offending numerous people with her lively and caustic wit—“If you can’t say something good about someone, sit right here by me”—she famously described Republican president nominee Thomas Dewey (1944, 1948) as the little plastic man on the wedding cake.  Alice Roosevelt Longworth was the longest-lived of Theodore Roosevelt’s six children, dying in 1980 at the age of 96. 

Unlike Alice, Ted (Theodore Jr.) hated the press's scrutiny of the Roosevelt children.  He was particularly embarrassed when newspapers reported his bout with pneumonia while attending Groton prep school (where he was already enrolled when his father became president).  When the press continued to hound the young man after he entered Harvard, Roosevelt fired off a letter of complaint to the university’s president.  Roosevelt was very concerned that his sons would face undue pressure because of his notoriety.  As all of his sons entered Groton and then Harvard, the president kept up a steady correspondence of advice and encouragement.  He told them to enjoy life, but also to work hard and “do something worthwhile” with their lives. 

Ted, who had been dissuaded from entering West Point, served in both world wars, earning a Congressional Medal of Honor for his role as a brigadier general in World War II.  Besides his military service, Ted followed in his father’s footsteps by serving as assistant secretary of the Navy and entering elective politics (he lost the New York governorship to Al Smith in 1924).  He also served as governor of Puerto Rico (1929-1932), governor-general of the Philippines (1932-1933), and vice president of Doubleday Books.  He died of a heart attack in Normandy, France, shortly after D-Day in July 1944.

Kermit shared his father’s love for nature and outdoor sports, accompanying the elder Roosevelt on hunting trips to Africa and Brazil, and later exploring untamed wildernesses across the world and serving as president of the Audubon Society.  He founded two steamship lines, and served in the British Army in both world wars before transferring to the American Army after the U.S. entered the wars.  Unfortunately, he also suffered from alcoholism and depression, which resulted in his suicide while on duty in Alaska in 1943.

Ethel married a surgeon, Dr. Richard Derby, whom she accompanied in 1914 to France, where she worked as a nurse for the American Ambulance Hospital during World War I (the first of Roosevelt’s children to serve in the war).  After the war, she raised a family, worked with the American Red Cross, and was involved with numerous church and community activities in Oyster Bay, site of the Roosevelt family estate, Sagamore Hill, which she helped preserve as a faithful member of the Theodore Roosevelt Association.  Local residents fondly referred to her as the "Queen of Oyster Bay."

Most of the White House hi-jinks for which the Roosevelt children became famous were committed by the two youngest boys, Archie and Quentin.  Archie informally joined the White House police squad, attending roll call every morning.  Once, when he became ill, Quentin smuggled his brother’s favorite pony into the White House and up the elevator for a visit with the ailing Archie.  Quentin was captain of a baseball team, which practiced on the White House lawn, and organized five of his friends into the White House Gang.  Like his older brothers, Archie served in both world wars, receiving the Croix de Guerre in World War I and the Silver Star in World War II.  He worked as a financier, establishing the firm of Roosevelt & Weigold.  Quentin left Harvard to become an aviator in World War I, but was shot down and killed in France in 1918.

On January 6, 1919, Theodore Roosevelt, father and former president, died in his sleep at Sagamore Hill.  Later that year, his book Theodore Roosevelt’s Letters to His Children became a national bestseller.  Although he did not live to see its publication, he told the editor that he “would rather have this book published than anything that has ever been written about me.”

Robert C. Kennedy

“I hear there are some kids in the White House this year”
July 14, 2024

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