Healing the heart

Theodore Roosevelt found God's faithfulness after disaster

Issue: "Unholy matrimony," Feb. 13, 1999

Young Theodore Roosevelt's one constant yearning, from soon after he first saw her in 1878, was to marry Alice Hathaway Lee, then a perky 17-year-old with honey-colored hair and a golden smile. Roosevelt wrote of their first meeting, "As long as I live, I shall never forget how sweetly she looked, and how prettily she greeted me." At age 20 TR was a thorough romantic.

The next two years for Roosevelt were a rush of wooing, winning, and producing an honorable record that would make him worthy of such a bride. Roosevelt woke up early, studied hard before breakfast, and worked hard in the morning so that in the afternoon he could head to Alice's house a few miles away and take long walks with her. Sometimes he despaired and wrote in his diary, "I did not think I could win her, and I went nearly crazy at the mere thought of losing her." She turned down his marriage proposal and he, unable to sleep, wandered night after night through the wintry woods near Harvard College.

In January, 1880, however, Roosevelt was able to write in his diary, "after much pleading my own sweet, pretty darling consented to be my wife ... oh, how I shall cherish my sweet queen! How she, so pure and sweet and beautiful can think of marrying me I can not understand, but I praise and thank God it is so." They were married on Theodore's 22nd birthday. She was 19. He was on top of his world following graduation.

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But there was more. At age 23 Roosevelt ran for election to the New York state assembly and won. In Albany, Roosevelt's constant motion and reformist rhetoric made such an impression that at age 24 he became minority leader. Satisfied in marriage, able to concentrate his energies on work, Roosevelt seemed to do everything-walk, talk, think-at a pace much faster than others. Reporters called him "the Cyclone Assemblyman." They enjoyed writing about his huge energy that was apparent even on off-days, which could be used for climbing a mountain or playing 91 games of tennis.

Early in 1884, Roosevelt at age 25 was on fire, working a dozen hours a day on legislative business, enjoying "my own sweetest little wife," and looking forward to the birth of their first child. Suddenly, on Valentine's Day, everything changed. Alice died shortly after giving birth, and on the same day Roosevelt's mother died of acute typhoid fever. His faith that he was getting a square deal out of life faltered. When Alice "had just become a mother," Roosevelt wrote, "when her life seemed to be but 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."

Roosevelt told a friend that his pain was "beyond all healing," and that "time will never change me in that respect." Roosevelt was left with an infant daughter, but he felt incapable of taking care of her (his sister Ann took the baby in temporarily) or carrying on any normal life in New York. His money would have allowed him to ride on a disordered, urban playboy carousel, but instead he rode into the wilderness, often spending 14 hours a day in the saddle on a Dakota Territory cattle ranch in which he had invested.

During that time, Roosevelt learned to drown his sorrow in forthright action, observing after a buffalo hunt that "Black care rarely sits behind a rider whose pace is fast enough." He stopped second-guessing himself or God. When Roosevelt, turned 27 in years and older than that in self-awareness, came back late in 1885 from one of his Badlands trips, he encountered 24-year-old Edith Carow. Edith was a childhood playmate and a teenage friend who had long felt that she and Theodore were made for each other. He had always liked her character and her wisdom, but had dropped her as soon as Alice took his breath away. Edith was not unattractive, but her steely blue eyes and firm jaw (mitigated by a sweet smile) promised a different type of relationship than Theodore had with the charming and sometimes childlike Alice.

Roosevelt, pondering his future, realized that his faith in God and God's precepts remained, but that he himself had changed in many regards from romantic to realist. He and Edith were married in 1886, and three-year-old Alice, born when his first wife died, came with them to a new home on Long Island. Five more children soon came, and Roosevelt loved to romp with his "blessed bunnies." And, 15 years after his remarriage, the Roosevelts moved into the White House. God did bring healing.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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