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August 28, 2019

“The light has gone out of my life” – Teddy Roosevelt’s Diary Entry on the Day Both His Wife and Mother Died, 1884

On Valentine’s Day of 1884, just 36 hours after the birth of their only daughter, Alice (named after her mother), 25-year-old future U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt held his young wife in his arms as she passed away from undiagnosed Bright’s disease. Incredibly, just hours before, in the same house, he had already said a final goodbye to his mother, Martha. She had succumbed to Typhoid, aged just 48.


It was February 14, 1884 – St. Valentine’s Day – and the fourth anniversary of Theodore’s engagement to his beloved wife, Alice Hathaway Lee. Roosevelt had been called by telegram back to New York City from Albany where he was a New York State Assemblyman. The concern was his mother’s fading health. Alice had just given birth to a baby girl two days earlier.

But by the time Theodore reached his home at 6 West Fifty-Seventh Street, Alice’s condition had taken a serious downward turn. He was greeted at the door by his brother, Elliott, who ominously told him that “there is a curse on this house.” And so it seemed. Roosevelt’s not yet 50 year old mother, Mittie, was downstairs burning up with a fevor from typhoid. And upstairs, his beloved Alice, scarcely able to recognize him was dying of undiagnosed Bright’s disease.

Mittie Roosevelt (mother) and Alice Roosevelt (wife)

Around three o’clock in the morning of February 14, Mittie passed away. Theodore then raced to be with Alice who lasted for another eleven hours before she, too, died, at 22 years of age.

Roosevelt was devastated, as would be anyone facing the loss of mother and wife in the same day. That day, he placed a large “X” in his diary and wrote only that “the light has gone out of my life.”

Theodore Roosevelt simply wrote an “X” above one striking sentence: “The light has gone out of my life”, 1884.

In a short, privately published tribute to Alice, Roosevelt wrote:
She was beautiful in face and form, and lovelier still in spirit; as a flower she grew, and as a fair young flower she died. Her life had been always in the sunshine; there had never come to her a single great sorrow; and none ever knew her who did not live and revere her for the bright, sunny temper and her saintly unselfishness. Fair, pure, and joyous as a maiden; loving, tender, and happy as a young wife; when she had just become a mother, when her life seemed to be just begun, and when the years seemed so bright before her – then, by a strange and terrible fate, death came to her. And when my heart’s dearest died, the light went from my life for ever.
And that was all he wrote then or ever. He blotted Alice out of his life never even mentioning her in his autobiography. It was simply too painful for him to remember the joy and light that he and Alice had enjoyed together.

Roosevelt left his infant daughter, Alice, in New York with his sister, Bamie. Too pained to mention her given name, he instead referred to her as Baby Lee. It was the beginning of a strained and somewhat distant relationship between father and daughter.



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