Modern Women Take on TR:
Actress Dana Delany

By Dana Delany / March 29, 2021
This Women's History Month, we have been asking modern women from all walks of life to contribute their thoughts on Theodore Roosevelt. Over the past number of years running social media for the Theodore Roosevelt Center, it has never ceased to amaze me the variety of people who follow us on social media from around the world. including a number of well-known figures. I noticed that the actress Dana Delany was quite the TR enthusiast, and asked her if she would like to be included in the series of blog posts.

Dana, known for her roles in China Beach, Desperate Housewives, and Body of Proof, also recently starred as Edith Kermit Roosevelt in The American Guest, a mini-series about Theodore Roosevelt's trip up the River of Doubt in Brazil. The film, which also stars Aiden Quinn as Theodore Roosevelt and Brazilian actor Chico Diaz as as Col. Candido Rondon, will be available soon on HBO Max. To prepare for the role, Dana did a lot of reading and background research, and became drawn to the Roosevelts' relationship. "I think the marriage of Theodore and Edith Roosevelt is one of the great unsung love stories."

For today's blog post, Dana chose to write her own piece on Edith and Theodore's love story.
Actress Dana Delany is pictured as Edith Roosevelt on the set of the HBO mini-series, The American Guest.
Photo courtesy of Dana Delany.
When Edith Kermit Carow was four years old and Theodore was six, they watched President Lincoln's funeral procession pass through lower Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. As a child she was invited to study with the Roosevelt children at their home on 20th Street because she was a friend of Corinne Roosevelt. But it was the young asthmatic "Teedie" who would become her closest companion. They would share a love for nature and books. When he traveled abroad with his family for a year, it was "Edie" to whom he would write.

As they grew into adolescence, they were inseparable and Edith was part of the family. Their contrasting natures seemed to liven and support each other. Theodore was prone to a sensitive melancholy and believed head-on action was the antidote. As the child of a beloved alcoholic father, Edith was composed and carefully observant. What they had in common was a strong moral core and strength of character.
Theodore Roosevelt, Corinne Roosevelt, Edith Kermit Carow, and Elliott Roosevelt, pictured in 1875.
Photo courtesy of Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site.
Unfortunately, that strength was nearly the end of them. When Edith was seventeen, Theodore came home from Harvard for the summer, which they spent sailing on Oyster Bay. One day at the summerhouse there was a violent disagreement that seemed to end their friendship. Neither ever discussed what occurred but Theodore returned to Cambridge and soon thereafter met and married the very pretty Alice Lee. As Edith was a friend of the family and a girl of great pride, she attended the wedding and "danced the soles off her shoes."

Edith's world turned upside down. Her father, Charles Carow's health continued to deteriorate and the family's shipping fortune dwindled. Her one chance of saving the family was to marry into money, for which she seemed to lack the heart. By Victorian standards she was heading for spinsterhood. When the man who had taught her to ride, love the theater and dream of far-off places finally died, it was decided the family could no longer afford to live in New York. And like a Henry James novel, Edith and her mother and sister were to move to Italy.

But fate intervened. Tragically, Alice Lee Roosevelt died on Valentine's Day, two days after giving birth to Theodore's daughter, Alice. Overcome with grief, he headed West, where he physically punished himself with hunting and cattle herding. After a year he returned to New York. As a man of his era, he never planned to remarry; it was a betrayal of his beloved. We will never know if it was by chance or design, but Edith and Theodore soon bumped into each other at his sister's house. They were married one year later in London, 1886.

Edith had never stopped loving Theodore "with all the passion of a girl." There were three times in her early life when she learned how quickly things could be taken away. The first was in that summerhouse, the second was the death of her father. And the third was when Theodore was asked to run for Mayor of New York City.

After eight years of marriage, Edith and Theodore were living in Washington, DC, for his job as Civil Service Commissioner. With four toddlers, Edith was loathe to give up their life there for the vagaries of the electorate and said so. She was also always shrewder about the long game of politics. Theodore turned down the offer and again went out West to ruminate; he was doubting his place in the world. When Edith realized how much it meant to him, she was distraught. And made the decision to never question her husband's need for action again. She knew that she could not rein him in or change his restless nature. Nor did she want to.

By the time Theodore became President after William McKinley's assassination in 1901, the Roosevelts were an impressive team and Edith thrived as First Lady. Her most noted accomplishment was renovating the White House. With six children in tow, there was no room to sleep without disturbing the business of the Presidency. And the Roosevelts were a rambunctious bunch! Edith hired the esteemed firm of McKim, Mead and White to build the West Wing of executive offices so that the East Wing could be reconfigured as living quarters. She oversaw every detail herself, including the tennis court off the West Wing so that her husband would try to keep fit.
Theodore Roosevelt family at Sagamore Hill, Oyster Bay, New York. Left to right: Ethel, President Roosevelt, Ted, Archie, Alice, Kermit, Edith, Quentin. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.
Her tenure as First Lady is seen as the first time the position was viewed as a job. She hired a social secretary named Isabelle Hagner for help with correspondence, scheduling and meting out approved copies of the photogenic family to the press. When she discovered that much of the White House furniture and tableware was missing or broken, she began to catalogue every piece so that there was an accounting. It resulted in the White House China collection. Even though Edith herself did not care to have her picture taken or painted, she established the gallery of portraits of First Ladies, which stands today. And she had weekly invited musicales, where a young cellist, Pablo Casals, played 60 years before he would be invited back by Jacqueline Kennedy. She even had a luncheon for the "Master" himself, Henry James.

Of course, all of this was done with great thrift by the practical Edith who understood the value of a dollar. She herself would recycle clothes, to the point where there was nothing left of her Inauguration gown to donate to the Smithsonian, save the bottom half. When it was reported Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish said, "The wife of the President, it is said, dresses on three hundred dollars a year, and she looks it," Edith was so amused, she pasted it in her scrapbook.

For all of Edith's need for privacy and a distaste for exhibitionism, she was a deeply passionate sensual woman. In 1905, she bought (for $195) a small wooden cabin for "rest and repair" away from the demands of the Presidency where she and Theodore could be alone. Located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Albemarle County, Virginia, "Pine Knot" was accessed by hiking a mile off the road and over a stream. The President would do all the cooking and they would take long walks in the woods and read aloud to each other at night. Unbeknownst to her husband, she quietly arranged for two Secret Service men to stand guard every night from nine until dawn.
Pine Knot, located in Albemarle County, Virginia, was a country home for the Roosevelts during the presidential years. Image courtesy of our partners at Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site.
When Roosevelt left office after his second term in 1909, he went on safari (along with his son Kermit) in Africa for 11 months. He thought it proper to leave the new President Taft alone and he also knew he had to ward off the black dog of depression with an adventure. In missing Edith, he wrote to his editor: "I think that the love of the really happy husband and wife—not purged of passion, but with passion heated to a white heat of intensity and purity and tenderness and consideration, and with many another feeling added thereto—is the loftiest and most ennobling influence that comes into the life of any man or woman, even loftier and more ennobling than the wise and tender love for children."

When he finally met up with Edith in Egypt, he leapt onto the train and disappeared into her private car for quite a long time until emerging with her in smiles.

After her husband lost his third Presidential bid as a Progressive Party candidate to Woodrow Wilson in 1912, Edith said, "I trust the Republican party will cling to its name and reform from within. I have lived, most reluctantly, through one party split and no good comes of it." No good indeed. Theodore carried a bullet inside him from an attempted assassination and if the Republican party had nominated him instead of Taft, he would be carrying out his third term.

Longing to quell his disappointment, Theodore undertook (along with a team that included Kermit and Brazilian hero Colonel Cândido Rondon) the exploration of an uncharted river in the jungle that led to the Amazon. It nearly killed him and most certainly hastened his death. But even more wounding was the death of the Roosevelts' youngest son, Quentin. He was shot down over France in aerial combat in 1918. He was 20 years old.

The next day, Theodore wrote to Kermit, "Mother has been as wonderful as she always is in a great crisis. She has the heroic soul…she went for a couple of hours row with me out on the still, glassy water towards the sound; there was a little haze, and it all soothed her poor bruised and aching spirit; then we took a swim; and as we swam she spoke of the velvet touch of the water and turning to me smiled and said, 'there is left the wind on the heath, brother!'"

Six months later, Theodore Roosevelt died at their beloved home on Oyster Bay.

Edith Roosevelt would spend much of her life traveling, visiting the far-off places that young Teedie described in his letters home. She outlived three of her sons and died at the age of 87 in 1948. Her modest wish was that her epitaph read "Everything she did was for the happiness of others." And "do not take off my wedding ring." She is buried next to her first and only love at Sagamore Hill.