Edith Carrow grew up with Theodore Roosevelt. The childhood neighbors remained friends throughout their lives. After Roosevelt’s first wife died, he turned to Carrow. Eventually, the friendship evolved into a romantic relationship. The pair married and had several children. Edith Carrow proved the perfect mate for Roosevelt as she nurtured his impulses and adjusted as needed to his combustible energy while managing the household and leaving her own mark as First Lady.
Carrow and Roosevelt grew up together. They were next door neighbors and she was Roosevelt’s first playmate outside the family. As they grew older, Roosevelt viewed her as a friend and fell hard for Alice Hathaway Lee. Roosevelt married Lee in 1880, but the marriage only lasted four years. Mrs. Roosevelt died in childbirth devastating her husband. Over a year later, Roosevelt began dating his childhood playmate. He proposed in November 1885, but the couple withheld an official announcement. It would have been scandalous to remarry so soon after his wife’s death. They finally married a year later.
Edith Carrow knew exactly what she was getting into. Theodore Roosevelt was all energy. He had a frenetic personality. Many compared him to an overgrown child. The future president enjoyed rigorous physical activity and hunting. He loved wrestling and playing with his children. Often times, he brought wild animals home for their six children. Many in the political class believed he was insane. Alice Roosevelt may not have been able to handle this. However, Edith Roosevelt nurtured TR’s passions and often redirected them with amazing dignity. She proved the perfect counterpoint to Roosevelt especially when he became president.
Mrs. Roosevelt fiercely protected her family’s privacy when TR assumed the presidency. The young family attracted public attention and provided an interesting contrast to the dour McKinley White House. She kept the press at arm’s length and the public knew little about her life within the White House. Despite the desire for privacy, the first couple had to follow social etiquette. Their daughter, Ethel, made her societal debut in the White House.
Although the first lady controlled access to her biological children, she could not contain her step daughter. Alice Roosevelt was an early twentieth century Paris Hilton. Despite being a self admitted “hedonist,” Alice had an intellect clearly lacking in Hilton. Her father once quipped that he could not be president and control his daughter at the same time. “Princess Alice” married Nicholas Longworth in 1906 in a wedding that captured the nation’s attention.
Beyond the public family life, Edith Roosevelt managed the household and upgraded the White House. She spent around $500,000 remodeling the executive mansion. In fact, Mrs. Roosevelt changed the structure’s name from the executive mansion to the White House. Additionally, she added a First Ladies’ Gallery to honor her predecessors.
After leaving the White House, Mrs. Roosevelt spent the rest of her life at the family home at Sagamore Hill, New York. Her husband died in 1919 while she lived an additional 29 years. During those years, she traveled abroad, worked for charity, and even campaigned for Herbert Hoover against her own family. She died in 1948.
Edith Carrow was perfect for Theodore Roosevelt. She tolerated and tempered his impulses. The man was all energy and she managed to help direct it. As a result, Edith Roosevelt may have been the only person on Earth fit to be his wife. As First Lady, she managed the household and worked to protect her family’s privacy. She also renovated and renamed the White House. Her personality and attention to privacy often leads to Edith Roosevelt’s exclusion from conversations about great First Ladies. However, it is that personality and attention that requires such inclusion.