Alice Hathaway Lee was only 17 years old when she met Teddy Roosevelt in 1878. The future U.S. president was a student at Harvard University. Roosevelt was a classmate of Lee’s cousin and it was at their house they met.
As soon as Roosevelt met Alice, he wrote of her constantly in his diary. He was smitten with her. He found her beautiful and charming. He was so obsessed with Alice that he wrote of her all the time. He chronicled her acts of recognition of him, her quiet smiles, her silences — every action he saw her take, as though he never wanted to forget the slightest detail.
Eight months later, Roosevelt proposed marriage, but Alice was in no hurry. She made him wait eight more months before she agreed and the wedding was later that year.
Alice became pregnant three years later. The couple planned a large family and they bought land to build a large house.
Roosevelt was a New York state legislator at the time and he was in legislative session in Albany when the birth happened a couple of days before he expected. By the time Roosevelt could get home, he was greeted with bad news.
His mother had died from typhus earlier that morning and his wife laid dying in the same house.
Alice had had undiagnosed kidney disease which was concealed by her pregnancy. By the time her daughter died, it was too late. She died on Feb. 14, 1884, just four years after their engagement had been announced.
Roosevelt was devastated. In his diary — the same one where he had recorded everything about this woman before she agreed to marry him — he merely marked a black X and wrote, “The light has gone out of my life.”
Roosevelt never really recovered from his wife’s death. He refused to speak of her and refused to allow anyone else to speak of her. He tried to hide his feelings for the rest of his life.
In a privately published tribute shortly after her death, though, he expressed his feelings one last time.
“She was beautiful in face and form, and lovelier still in spirit,” Roosevelt wrote. “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 sorrow; and none ever knew her who did not love 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 forever.”
I’ve never cared for Teddy Roosevelt — for his philosophy or his brusque personality — but the power of love like this is universal.
Every time I come across his diary entry, I find myself wanting that sort of mutual love. I want to love someone so much that she is the light in my life — and I want her to love me enough that I’m the light in her heart and life.
I need that love — and I hope a woman needs that love from me.