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.