Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Alice Roosevelt and Nick Longworth: The actual engagement photos

Alice wasn't shy in saving photos of herself.  This spread filled two full pages of the oversized scrapbook.  

It's easy to like Alice Roosevelt Longworth, oldest daughter of TR and owner of Washington, D.C.’s sharpest tongue for 96 years (1884-1980).  Among others she’s credited with--

                "If you have nothing nice to say about anyone, come here and sit by me."

                “My simple philosophy:  Fill what's empty.  Empty what's full.  And scratch what itches."

                "The secret to eternal youth is arrested development."

                On Calvin Coolidge:  He "looks as if he was weaned on a pickle."

                And on Thomas E. Dewey:  “The little man on top of the wedding cake."

Her father, Theodore Roosevelt, famously added this: "I can be President of the United States, or I can control Alice.  I cannot possibly do both." 

Recently, I spent a day rummaging through her scrapbooks in the Manuscript Room of the Library of Congress. What a pleasure!!  They contain a treasure trove of newspaper clips, full of gossip, politics, old smudgy snapshots, so on.   

I’m not sure yet what to do with them yet.  (The research was part of my endless quest into the story of cantankerous old House Speaker “Uncle Joe” Cannon, a project that has become my own personal White Whale.  I’ll catch that damn whale some day.) 

In the meantime, I'd like to share some of the photos with you, spread out over the next few weeks.  To start, in 1904, Alice made herself the glamour sensation of the country by announcing her surprise, sudden wedding engagement to young Congressman Nicholas Longworth, scion of the richest family in Cincinnati.  Nick and Alice had met early that year year on a diplomatic mission to the Phillipines hosted by then-Secretary of War William Howard Taft.  Newspapers loved the story, and Alice clipped them all.  Here are a few--

Taft (all 300+ pounds, on right) posing for photos in Manila with Alice and other diplomats.

A full-page newspaper fashion sketch of Alice. 
Photo of the Manila delegation. Alice is front and center. Nick is second row on left with hat.
Cupid wins. A typical newspaper take on the weeding announcement.

Nick, the lucky man, shakes hands till it hurts.


Lemora said...

Hello, I have just discovered your blog. I was hunting for information on New Deal architect Rudolph Stanley-Brown, and followed a link, and here I am. I've wondered if there is a good biography on Alice Longworth. I only know what I've gleaned from other biographies: Her father never loved her, because his adored first wife died while giving birth to her. Her marriage to Longworth was thoroughly and disastrously miserable. He was a mean drunk and incorrigible womanizer. There was no divorce for politicians in those days, so they trudged along. In 1924, while still married to Nicholas, she had a flagrant affair with Senator Borah of Idaho, and gave birth to her only child (?) a daughter named Pauline. Alice wanted to call her Deborah, but Nick put his foot down about that. This affair was an open secret in Alice's social set, and people made snide remarks, i.e. "Aurora Borah Alice." Pauline committed suicide in 1954. After Longworth died, Alice was in desperate financial straits. This did not stop her from throwing Nick's Stradivarius violin into the fire, because he had loved it. She was always cruel to Eleanor Roosevelt, going out of her way to humiliate and slight her. And she invited Franklin and Lucy Mercer to dinner parties when Eleanor was out of town, during the WWI years of their affair. A famous Alice quote about that is, "Franklin needed to have some fun. After all, he was married to Eleanor." I first became aware of her in the 1970's when I read Barbara Howar's memoir, "Laughing All The Way." Barbara was in disgrace, at Luci Johnson's wedding reception, and Alice made a particular point of being nice to her. I had already heard her most famous quote: "If you haven't anything nice to say about anyone, etc." So, I knew who she was. My generation of baby boomers knew her as a salty, witty old lady. We didn't know of her scandalous youth. Alice must have been a holy terror in the early years of the twentieth century. I would not have wanted her for an enemy. What I wonder is, were there ever any friends? Or were there only frenemies?

Donald Brynelsen said...

Alice was sent on the 1905 Taft Far East diplomatic tour by her father primarily to divert the press, and the public from the secret deal he was brokering with the Japanese that essentially sold out Korea in exchange for their aid in opening Asian markets to American products. This Alice did with a flourish, with such stunts as her famous fully clothed plunge into a shipboard swimming tank (which some historians believe was preplanned), and smoking opium with the Empress of China. There were also indications that Alice and Nicolas Longworth slipped away for some possible sexual hanky panky aboard ship and at some of the stops during the trip. Recently it's been postulated that Alice latched onto Longworth as a potential future President, so she could become First Lady, and when that didn't happen, she turned her support to her brother, Ted, grooming him to one day to inherit their father's mantle as President, only to be thwarted by the machinations of cousins Franklin and Eleanor.