Mean Girl

Alice Roosevelt

I've been reading a book, Franklin and Lucy, about Franklin Roosevelt's many relationships with women including one of my grandmother's cousins Lucy Page Mercer Rutherfurd. In the course of the book, multiple family members keep popping up. Even the Roosevelts (Oyster Bay branch) were distant cousins. If my grandmother were still alive, I'd love to know if everyone knew they were related with all the complex interactions and connections. It's a tangled web, that points to a world with fifty people total.

Alice Roosevelt, Eleanor's cousin, and Teddy Roosevelt's daughter is one of the characters. She was married to Nicholas Longworth, another cousin. Between Longworth and Alice, I've discovered some wonderful quotes. I wish I were this quick on my feet. When insulted I tend to simply stammer and say, "uh, no." So enclosed today are some of these quotes that you may use whenever you need. And you can needlepoint a pillow, like everyone on the Upper East Side with Alice's most famous quote, “If you haven't got anything nice to say about anybody come sit next to me.” 

One day, while lounging in a chair at the Capitol, another member of the House ran his hand over Nicholas Longworth's bald head and commented, "Nice and smooth. Feels just like my wife's bottom." Longworth felt his own head and returned an answer: "Yes, so it does.

When asked about his wild daughter, Alice, Teddy Roosevelt said, "I can be President of the United States, or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both."

Alice Roosevelt Quotes:

“I have a simple philosophy: Fill what's empty. Empty what's full. Scratch where it itches.” 

“The secret to eternal youth is arrested development” 

 On a Washington senator was discovered to have been having an affair with a young woman less than half his age: "You can't make a soufflé rise twice."

On President Calvin Coolidge: "He looks as if he were weaned on a pickle"

On President William Taft : "He has so much brain and so little beauty."

On President Herbert Hoover: "The Hoover Vacuum Cleaner is more exciting than the president. But, of course, it's electric."

 On President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was "One-third sap and two-thirds Eleanor."

On President Teddy Roosevelt: “My father always wanted to be the corpse at every funeral, the bride at every wedding, and the baby at every christening”

When President Lyndon B. Johnson proudly showed off an abdominal surgery scar Alice commented dryly, "Thank God it wasn't his prostate."

When Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis married Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, Alice asked, "Hasn't anyone ever warned Jacqueline Kennedy about Greeks bearing gifts?"

The late Senator Joseph McCarthy once took the liberty of calling her by her first name. In response she looked at him icily and declared, "The policeman and the trash man may call me Alice; you.can.not."

Asked by a Ku Klux Klansman in full regalia to take his word for something, she refused, saying, "I never trust a man under sheets."

The Bad, The Powerful, and The Beautiful

At lunch a few weeks ago, Paula Scher asked me if I had any criminals in my family history. The British considered most of them criminals and traitors during the revolutionary war. During the Civil War, some ended up in Union prisons. The most notorious family member was Lewis Thornton Powell, a distant cousin (we have common ancestors on the Lewis, Thornton, Powell, and Harrison lines). Powell was convicted and hanged with the other conspirators in President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Otherwise, the family scandals or rumors of unorthodox behavior were of a romantic nature.

William Christian Bullitt married the noted communist and ex-wife of John Reed, Louise Bryant (played by Diane Keaton in Reds). She slowly went mad, had an affair with Gwen Le Gallienne and died alone in Paris. Amelie Rives Chanler Troubetzkoy divorced her first husband; Astor heir Archie Armstrong Chanler, then married Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy. Troubetzkoy was described by the women of New York and Newport society as “a fine specimen of a man.” Lucy Page Mercer Rutherfurd was President Franklin D. Roosevelt's true love from 1915 until his death in 1945. She was with him the day he died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Warm Springs, Georgia.

The most controversial story is about the nature of cousin Joshua Fry Speed’s relationship with President Lincoln. If nobody ever discussed Lucy Mercer and FDR at dinner, you can imagine that the Lincoln and Speed issue was never mentioned. The facts are these: Lincoln moved to Springfield, Illinois as a young attorney. Upon his arrival, he went to Speed’s store to inquire about a room. Speed suggested Lincoln stay with him, as he had a large bed. Lincoln moved in and they lived together for seven years. Speed eventually returned to the family plantation, Farmington, in Kentucky to marry Fannie Henning. Lincoln had a nervous breakdown and went to Farmington to recover. He then returned to Springfield and married Mary Todd. Speed and Lincoln remained best friends, although a cooling occurred during the civil war. Speed was a southern Democrat and opposed the Emancipation Proclamation. He made many confidential trips to Washington to visit Lincoln, and saw him two weeks before the assassination (refer to Lewis Thornton Powell above—see how convoluted this all is). Speed’s brother, James served on as Attorney General in Lincoln’s administration.

Now whether this friendship was platonic or more isn’t particularly important to me. Who knows? Who cares? What matters to me is that this is now an interesting anecdote to be told at cocktail parties.