Year
1884
Month Day
February 14

Theodore Roosevelt’s wife and mother die

Future President Theodore Roosevelt’s wife and mother die, only hours apart, on February 14, 1884. 

Roosevelt was at work in the New York state legislature attempting to get a government reform bill passed when he was summoned home by his family. He returned home to find his mother, Mittie, had succumbed to typhoid fever. On the same day, his wife of four years, Alice Lee, died of Bright’s disease, a severe kidney ailment. Only two days before her death, Alice Lee had given birth to the couple’s daughter, Alice.

The double tragedy devastated Roosevelt. He ordered those around him not to mention his wife’s name. Burdened by grief, he abandoned politics, left the infant Alice with his sister Bamie, and, at the end of 1884, struck out for the Dakota territories, where he lived as a rancher and worked as a sheriff for two years. When not engrossed in raising cattle or acting as the local lawman, Roosevelt found time to indulge his passion for reading and writing history. After a blizzard wiped out his prized herd of cattle in 1885, Roosevelt decided to return to eastern society. Once back in New York in 1886, he again took up politics and took over raising his precocious daughter, Alice, who later became a national celebrity.

After stints in the Spanish-American War and as governor of New York, Roosevelt won a spot as William McKinley’s vice-presidential running mate in 1900. When McKinley died at the beginning of his second term in 1901, Roosevelt moved into the White House, where he and his family would spend the next eight years.

Alice grew to admire and respect her father yet, according to her memoirs and friends, she harbored resentment toward him for having abandoned her as a baby. Not long after he married his second wife, Edith, in 1886, Alice found herself competing not only with her father’s political cronies and new wife for his attention, but also with her five half-siblings who arrived in quick succession. The high-spirited Alice perhaps took to scandalous behavior in retaliation.

The Roosevelt era coincided with a repressive time in women’s history, but the outspoken and independent Alice flouted acceptable behavior and reveled in the spotlight as first daughter. Alice’s activities as a young adult, such as smoking and staying out late with boys, irked her father, who nevertheless indulged her. In one instance when she repeatedly burst into a White House meeting, Roosevelt shrugged apologetically, I can either run the country or I can control Alice, but I cannot possibly do both.

After Roosevelt left office, Alice maintained a high profile in Washington society. She was banned from visiting the Taft White House after a voodoo doll of Mrs. Taft was found buried (by Alice) in the front lawn. President Wilson also banned her from White House society in retaliation for her making a lewd comment about him in public. Wilson was not her only target—she once remarked that her friend, Warren Harding’s vice president Calvin Coolidge, looked as though he’s been weaned on a pickle.

READ MORE: 7 Little-Known Legacies of Teddy Roosevelt

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

"Pale Blue Dot" photo of Earth is taken

On Valentine's Day, 1990, 3.7 billion miles away from the sun, the Voyager 1 spacecraft takes a photograph of Earth. The picture, known as Pale Blue Dot, depicts our planet as a nearly indiscernible speck roughly the size of a pixel. Launched on September 5, 1977, Voyagers 1 and ...read more

Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini calls on Muslims to kill Salman Rushdie, author of "The Satanic Verses"

Salman Rushdie likely understood he would cause a controversy when he published a novel titled The Satanic Verses. The book mocked or at least contained mocking references to the Prophet Muhammad and other aspects of Islam, in addition to and a character clearly based on the ...read more

Teen gunman kills 17, injures 17 at Parkland, Florida high school

On February 14, 2018, an expelled student entered Parkland, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and opened fire, killing 17 people and wounding 17 others, in what became the deadliest shooting at a high school in United States history. Dressed in a maroon shirt adorned ...read more

Captain Cook killed in Hawaii

On February 14, 1779, Captain James Cook, the great English explorer and navigator, is killed by natives of Hawaii during his third visit to the Pacific island group. In 1768, Cook, a surveyor in the Royal Navy, was commissioned a lieutenant in command of the HMS Endeavour and ...read more

St. Valentine beheaded

On February 14, around the year 270 A.D., Valentine, a holy priest in Rome in the days of Emperor Claudius II, was executed. Under the rule of Claudius the Cruel, Rome was involved in many unpopular and bloody campaigns. The emperor had to maintain a strong army, but was having a ...read more

Olympic speed skater Dan Jansen falls after sister dies

On February 14, 1988, U.S. speed skater Dan Jansen, a favorite to win the gold medal in the 500-meter race at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, falls during competition, only hours after learning his sister had died of cancer. Jansen suffered disappointment after ...read more

First trainload of oranges leaves Los Angeles

Destined to become one of the state’s major exports, the first trainload of oranges grown by Southern California farmers leaves Los Angeles via the transcontinental railroad. The Spanish had established Los Angeles, one of the oldest cities in the Far West, in 1781 to help ...read more

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

Four men dressed as police officers enter gangster Bugs Moran’s headquarters on North Clark Street in Chicago, line seven of Moran’s henchmen against a wall, and shoot them to death. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, as it is now called, was the culmination of a gang war between ...read more

Sandinistas agree to free elections

At a meeting of the presidents of Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica and El Salvador, the leftist Sandinista government of Nicaragua agrees to free a number of political prisoners and hold free elections within a year; in return, Honduras promises to close bases being ...read more

Patriots defeat Loyalists at Kettle Creek

A Patriot militia force of 340 led by Colonel Andrew Pickens of South Carolina with Colonel John Dooly and Lieutenant Colonel Elijah Clarke of Georgia defeats a larger force of 700 Loyalist militia commanded by Colonel James Boyd on this day in 1779 at Kettle Creek, Georgia. The ...read more

Battle of the Kasserine Pass

On this day, German General Erwin Rommel and his Afrika Korps launch an offensive against an Allied defensive line in Tunisia, North Africa. The Kasserine Pass was the site of the United States’ first major battle defeat of the war. General Erwin Rommel was dispatched to North ...read more