Presidential Children – Teddy’s “White House Gang”

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During the term of Teddy Roosevelt, watching the Roosevelt family became a national pastime. Each day, news of the First Family was eagerly consumed by newspaper readers. The best known Roosevelt child was, of course, the President himself. His pillow fights with his sons, sometimes while keeping the cabinet waiting, were well known. One magazine described the phenomenon by saying that people could no more ignore the Roosevelt stories “than a small boy can turn his head away from a circus parade followed by a steam calliope.”

Teddy’s children, along with their cousins and friends, came to be called The White House Gang. They roller skated in the White House hallways, stilt-walked in the high ceilinged rooms, and explored every possible space of the White House from attic to basement. One of their favorite games was to stage “attacks” upon various government office buildings.

One day when the White House Gang was staging an attack, they focused mirrors so that sunlight was flashed into the offices of the State-War-Navy Building. When the President received a complaint, he sent his personal aide, Captain Archie Butt, with a message for the boys. Captain Butt told them that an important message was about to be sent from the top of the War Building by flag signal. With the boys watching, the message was sent: “YOU, UNDER THE TREES, ALL OF YOU. ATTACK ON THIS BUILDING MUST IMMEDIATELY CEASE, HALT, STOP. CLERKS CANNOT WORK. GOVERNMENT BUSINESS INTERRUPTED. REPORT WITHOUT DELAY TO ME FOR YOU KNOW WHAT. THEODORE ROOSEVELT.” The boys reported to Teddy’s office where he conducted a mock court-martial, pronounced them guilty and “gently reprimanded them.”

The Roosevelt children also had a menagerie of various pets. Alice kept a garter snake in her purse, and T.R. Jr. had a pet parrot named Eli. The boys romped with a bear named Jonathan Edwards and had a guinea pig named Father Grady, after a family friend. Archie had a pony that his brothers managed to sneak up to his bedroom one day to cheer up Archie who was sick.

Alice drove a runabout and smoked cigarettes, the epitome of the emancipated women. Still, she slid down banisters to greet diplomats. A friend complained saying, “Theodore, isn’t there anything you can do to control Alice?” Teddy replied, “I can do one of two things. I can be President of the United States or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both.” When she was married in the White House, she cut the cake with a sabre she borrowed from a military officer.

It is no wonder the children were very much like their father, fond of the “active life” and outstanding personalities on their own. All of the boys served in the military, and three of the four died in uniform. Alice became the most famous, as the wife of a Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and a leader in Washington Society.

Alice Lee Roosevelt (1884-1980). Alice continued to be as outspoken and spirited as her father. The daughter of Teddy and his first wife, Alice married Nicholas Longworth in 1906. Nicholas Longworth was a U.S. Representative from Ohio, and became Speaker of the House in 1924. After his death in 1931, Alice stayed in Washington where she was an established society leader known for her biting wit. She once said that Calvin Coolidge “looks like he was weaned on a pickle” and that Thomas Dewey looked “like the groom on a wedding cake.”

Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. (1887-1944). He was the spitting image of his father, and also graduated from Harvard. He was commissioned a major in 1917 and during World War I was promoted to lieutenant colonel, wounded and gassed at the Battle of Soissons, and commanded an infantry regiment at the Argonne. He was awarded the Purple Heart, the Distinguished Service Medal, and the Distinguished Service Cross (second only to the Congressional Medal of Honor as our highest award for bravery). After the war, he served in the New York State Assembly and was Assistant Secretary of the Navy (a position held by his father and his uncle Franklin) from 1921-1925. In 1924, he ran for Governor of New York, but was defeated by Al Smith. He was appointed Governor of Puerto Rico, serving from 1929-1932. He also served as Governor-General of the Philippines from 1932-1933. During World War II, he was a brigadier general and commander of the Twenty-sixth Infantry in Africa, Italy, and Normandy. He was part of the first assault wave on Normandy, where he was the highest ranking officer on Utah Beach. He died of a heart attack two weeks later, and was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his role on D-Day.

Kermit Roosevelt (1889-1943). He also graduated from Harvard. It was Kermit who accompanied his father on his famous African safari in 1909-1910 and his trek through the Brazilian jungle in 1913-1914. In World War I, he served as a captain in the British Army in the Middle East, and transferred to the American Army as a major of artillery after U.S. entry into the war. After the war, he was a steamship executive. In the early part of World War II, he again joined the British Army as a major and served in Norway and Egypt. After U.S. entry into the war, he again transferred to the American Army where he served in Alaska. While there, he died of natural causes.

Ethel Carow Roosevelt (1891-1977). She married Dr. Richard Derby in 1913. During World War I she accompanied him to Paris and served as a nurse while he was a doctor in the American Ambulance Hospital.

Archibald Bulloch Roosevelt (1894-1979). He also graduated from Harvard. He served as an army captain during World War I and was severely wounded in France. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre and discharged as disabled. After the war, he was a highly successful investment banker. In World War II, he again served in the army, this time as a lieutenant colonel in the Pacific Theater. He was again severely wounded, this time by shrapnel on Biak Island, and was again discharged as disabled.

Quentin Roosevelt (1897-1918). Quentin served as an Army Air Corps pilot in France during World War I. He was shot down by German fighters over France. Two stories exist about his death. One is that he was killed when he was shot down. Another is that he landed successfully behind enemy lines, but was killed resisting capture. His death is said to have taken the fire out of Theodore Roosevelt’s militarism that marked his entire career.

The Roosevelt children were truly remarkable, just like their father. They lived life to the fullest and enjoyed every moment, especially during their time in the White House. Teddy Roosevelt once said that he enjoyed his time in the White House more than any other President. His children might have said the same thing.

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