Edith Carow and Theodore Roosevelt were close childhood friends in New York City.
As they grew from children into young adults, they attended both family and social events together. It appeared that the relationship might lead to something permanent, but when Theodore left home to enter Harvard University something changed in him.
Soon after, he met and married Alice Hathaway, the daughter of a Massachusetts banker and his socially connected wife. Theodore was 22 and Alice was 19.
It was love at first sight. Roosevelt wrote, “as long as I live I will never forget how sweetly she looked and how prettily she greeted me.” Everyone called Alice “Sunshine”. Edith Carow was no longer in the picture.
However, the happiness of Theodore and Alice was to be short-lived. Tragedy struck on February 14, 1884, when Alice Hathaway Roosevelt, after giving birth to their first child, took ill and suddenly died of Bright’s Disease. Theodore received the news in Albany, New York, where he was serving in the State Assembly. Then came the added tragic news that Roosevelt’s Mother, Mittie, had died on the same day of typhoid fever.
These two tragedies drained Roosevelt. He gave up his political career and went West to his ranch in Elk Horn, Dakota to recuperate. The hard ranch life seemed to invigorate Roosevelt and in less than a year, he was back in New York.
Somehow, through good fortune, Theodore Roosevelt and Edith Carow rediscovered each other.
In November 1885, Theodore proposed to Edith, but they kept their relationship private until Roosevelt felt a proper mourning period for his late wife had taken place. With the rough nurture of ranch life and the gentle nurturing of Edith, Roosevelt was beginning to create a new life for himself.
Edith and Theodore were married on December 2, 1886 at St. George’s Church of Hanover Square in London. They embarked on a fifteen-week honeymoon, taking a Grand Tour of Europe. They had no idea of what the road ahead would be like, but they had each other and that was a good start.
In 1910, Edith and Theodore returned to Europe together, on a sort of second honeymoon, to revisit places they had seen and enjoyed together twenty-four years earlier.
It had been a busy twenty-four years. Theodore spent three years in the New York Assembly. Edith gave birth to ffive children and raised six, including Alice, Theodore’s daughter from his first marriage, whom she adopted.
Then, in 1898, Theodore led a cavalry charge up San Juan Hill in Cuba, during the Spanish-American War, and received national acclaim as a hero. He was elected Governor of the State of New York, where he began to push the boundaries of Government, making himself many friends as well as powerful enemies.
Roosevelt was offered the Vice-Presidency on a ticket with President William McKinley for the 1900 Presidential election. He accepted, with great hesitancy, because he considered the Vice-Presidency a useless position. That uselessness changed on September 6, 1901, when an assassin’s bullet killed President William McKinley. Suddenly, Roosevelt found himself President of the United States and Edith was First Lady.
After his presidency ended in March 1909, Theodore traveled to Africa for a year with his son, Kermit. Edith missed him terribly. She wrote to Kermit, “If it were not for the children here I would not have the nervous strength to live through the endless months of separation from father,” according to Doris Kearns Goodwin in her book, “The Bully Pulpit.”
But now, in 1910, Edith and Theodore Roosevelt were together again, visiting the old sights, not as an anonymous young American couple, but as the former leaders of the United States of America. They were welcomed like royalty.
The King of Italy, himself, welcomed the couple to Italy and insisted on having a private conversation with Theodore.
Theodore and Edith Roosevelt took a special train for Speezzia in northern Italy, along the Liguria Coast, near the Cinque Terre, that provided them with fond memories of the beautiful cliffside village overlooking the sea. The people of Spezzia were thrilled to be visited by the former President and First Lady and gave the Roosevelts a wonderfully warm welcome.
In Austria, Roosevelt visited Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, in the afternoon, where the palace guard turned out to give him military honors. He met the Emperor in his private apartments in the Godollo Palace.
In Germany, Roosevelt met with Kaiser Wilhelm II, on horseback on top of a hill. They looked down at a huge battlefield, where the Kaiser staged a mock battle, showing off the German Army four years before the outbreak of World War One. The Kaiser told Roosevelt, “We are glad you have seen a piece of our army.” He continued, “You are the only private citizen who ever reviewed German troops.” In fact, the Kaiser was thrilled to meet Roosevelt, although recent information indicates that even then, before World War One, he was planning naval bases in the western hemisphere.
In England, the Roosevelts returned to the church where they were married. They entered around four in the afternoon, with two of their children, Kermit and Ethel. Roosevelt took off his glasses so he would not be recognized. The Verger of the church showed them their signatures on the register of the church the day they were married.
“Many Americans come here to see this entry,” explained the layman of the church to the couple, whom he did not recognize, “We keep a clipping from a newspaper of that day that describes how Mr. Roosevelt came from his hotel wearing a bowler hat, entered by the back door and was married in the simplest manner.” The Roosevelts thanked the Verger, who never did understand who they were.
A few days later, they attended the funeral of King Edward II of England.
But it was in France that Roosevelt left the most lasting impression. Edith and Theodore visited the Sorbonne on April 10, 1910, where there was a huge demonstration of support. More than 25,000 people packed the streets, according to “Battling for the Right,” by Charles Morris.
And it was here that Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech, a portion of which has been quoted and quoted ever since that day. Its official title is “Citizenship in a Republic” but it is better known as “The Man in the Arena.”
Quoted below is the most famous part of that speech:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man
stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred
by dust and sweat and blood;
who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,
because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;
but who does actually strive to do the deeds;
who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions;
who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement,
and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly,
so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who
neither know victory nor defeat.”
When the Roosevelts European Grand Tour finally ended, they had met with and had discussions with most Heads of State as equals.
Theodore’s lectures and speeches made newspaper headlines across the continent. The Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt of 1910 were admired by the world.
They boarded the new luxury ship, “The Kaiserine, “ for a more leisurely time together.
There was still a long, interesting and dangerous time ahead for them.
Ahead, the restless Theodore would break with the Republican Party and make an an unsuccessful attempt for the Presidency. Then he would undertake a journey through Brazil and down the “River of Doubt,” which would be a disaster for him physically. You can hear his own description of the perilous trip and get an idea of the suffering he went through by listening to a free preview of my audiobook,“Through the Brazilian Wilderness”. Link: https://listen2read.com/through-the-brazilian-wilderness/
But for now, the Roosevelts sailed on across the Atlantic and looked forward to a warm welcome back in New York, the United States and home.