Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Birthday Girl: Yankee Princess

Let's wish a very happy 129th birthday to a woman of extraordinary longevity and vivid personality, someone who through sheer force of character dominated the social life of the American capital (and occupied a significant place in the national imagination) from the middle of the Edwardian era right on through the depths of the Carter administration.

Alice Lee Roosevelt Longworth was, in no particular order, a beauty, a wit, a presidential daughter, a political animal, a woman of her time and class, a difficult wife and mother, a crashing snob, a Republican, a feminist (if of a very peculiar kind), a devoted grandmother, a tormentor of presidents and first ladies no matter whether she was related to them, a fashion sensation, a Bull Moose, a survivor, an author, a White House bride, a fierce egalitarian, a prototypical mass-media craze, an aphorist, a Democrat, an activist against racism, and a hell of a hostess, operating out of an Embassy Row townhouse of supreme eccentricity and luxe.  She was the embodiment of the Whitmanesque virtue of contradicting oneself, and so without question a quintessentially American personage.

She is one of my favorite people, for a great many reasons, from her remarkable adventures in Japan and China when dispatched on a quasi-official international tour by President Daddy in 1907, to her serenely mischievous dotage, when she surrounded herself in her mid-'90s with a young and admiring circle of acolytes.  She shone in many ways, through many decades, but rarely more brightly than when she informed the egregious Senator Joe McCarthy, after he declared that he had decided to call her by her first name, "Senator McCarthy, you are not going to call me Alice. The trashman and the policeman on my block call me Alice, but you may not."

She's someone I do hope the current presidential daughters have firmly in mind.  I would hate to see them turn into pale copies of Margaret Truman or the Bush II twins, and certainly when it comes to role models, it's hard to imagine anyone bettering her example...

1 comment:

  1. When I lived n Washinton DC in the early 1980s, I used to take the N2 bus from Dupont Circle up to American University. The bus stop was right in fort of this horrible, weed infested town house. I asked a fellow bus rider as we waited one day what was going on with the property. "It was Alice's house. All those weeds are poison ivy that she planted to keep people out. The whole thing is still in probate. She was a pistol."

    She outlived her parents, her husband, her daughter, Presidents, and her siblings. Tough as nails, and she didn't suffer fools.