Elise Cooper: Do you like the nickname “The Other Washington Monument?”
Alice Roosevelt Longworth:I actually can’t recall who first dubbed me with that particular moniker—some newspaperman or other—but I’ve rather grown to revel in the title. After all, I’ve personally known every president back to McKinley and an invitation to my salons was considered mandatory for entrance into Washington society. A fossil of my age might as well be a monument to something!
EC: How would you describe yourself?
ARL: In one word, a gadfly. Someone has to make people question themselves—especially those politicians on Capitol Hill—and I supposed it might as well be me.
EC: How would you describe your dad?
ARL:Theodore Roosevelt was the greatest man I ever knew. While far from perfect, he advocated living a strenuous life for himself, his children, and his country. It’s because of him that I wrung every last experience from my long life.
EC: Did you sometimes feel like an orphan in your own family?
ARL: Certainly, when I was young I often felt somewhat removed, somehow “other.” After all, I was the only child of my father’s first wife—who died after my birth—and a constant reminder to my father of the love he’d lost. My stepmother did her best to raise me, but I didn’t make her job an easy one!
EC: Did you resent being sent as a young child to be raised by your aunt?
ARL: Never! I loved Auntie Bye with all my heart—she was often the one person in the family who really seemed to understand me. And once I was older, I understood my father’s need to recover from the grief that came from losing his beloved wife and his own mother on the same tragic day.
EC: Were you constantly looking for your father’s approval and attention?
ARL:Always! Who wouldn’t want the undivided attention of Theodore Roosevelt?
EC: How would you describe the relationship with your dad?
ARL:My father was larger than life and I sought to emulate him in everything I did. Unfortunately, that meant we were often at loggerheads—we’d have gotten along swimmingly had I been a boy, but smoking, shooting guns, and gambling were hardly considered proper behaviors for the well-bred daughter my father expected. However, all that changed with the 1912 election, when my father realized what an asset I was to his campaign.
EC: Did you always enjoy confronting society’s norms by smoking, shooting a gun, driving a car…?
ARL:Of course! Who wouldn’t enjoy doing all that?
EC: Do you agree with this quote, “A Roosevelt is never defeated, not in the polls, and not on the battlefield”?
ARL:The stark reality is that sometimes we do lose a battle—be it in war or the polls—but the important thing is to never give up. My father once said, “The credit belongs to the man who is in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again and again…and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” I agree with that sentiment wholeheartedly—my father never gave up in anything and neither did I.
EC: How would describe your relationship with your husband Nick?
ARL:Ah, Nick, my darling little lamb. Nick was both my greatest friend and my greatest enemy throughout our marriage. I think we both challenged each other (and maybe made the other person crawl through hell on more than one occasion), but we emerged stronger on the other side for it.
EC: Were you angry at your husband for not supporting your dad in the 1912 election?
ARL:Not especially, since I knew what a difficult place my family had put him in, what with forcing Nick to choose between his friend and home state supporter in President Taft versus my father. In fact, my father essentially commanded Nick to support Taft so he could save face in Ohio. That said, I was certainly upset with some of Nick’s extracurricular activities during the election!
EC: Was getting the Pekingese puppy Manchu the best gift ever given to you?
ARL:I certainly received many fabulous gifts over the years—my Cuban pearls and the gold filigreed fingernail sheaths from Empress Dowager Cixi rank right up there—but Manchu was by far my favorite!
EC: Why did you like the saying, “If you can’t say something good about someone sit right here by me?”
ARL:While I’d never take aim at an innocent lamb, I certainly didn’t mind taking potshots at the powerful denizens of Washington. (Who, let’s face it, often deserved it.) Take my cousins Franklin and Eleanor as an example—Eleanor started the Roosevelt family feud with the Teapot Dome stunt she pulled while my brother Ted was running for New York’s governor and Franklin (whom I referred to as Feather Duster) grew power-hungry when he ran for an unprecedented third and then fourth term as president. If someone wanted to sit next to me and dish about them, who was I to argue?
EC: What are your hopes and dreams?
ARL:I had so many over the years: that my father would return to the White House, that I would find love, and that my daughter and granddaughter would live happy lives. I suppose my greatest dream was to wrest every experience from this life, and I think I accomplished that with gusto.
Stephanie Marie Thornton is a high school history teacher and lives in Alaska with her husband and daughter. She has written many historical novels about strong women after becoming obsessed with women from history since she was twelve.