“Princess” Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt and Alice Hathaway Lee Roosevelt, is sometimes regarded as the first American celebrity. Known for her staunch independence, escapades, wit, and nonconformity, Alice cemented a place for herself in history beyond that of a president’s daughter.
In her lifetime, Alice attended thousands of dinners, balls, and parties. She gallivanted around events across the world and made many appearances in the seaside city of Newport. With Roosevelt’s ties to prominent families like the Vanderbilts and Goelets, Alice was certain to be spotted around the city.
Rumors often swirled around Alice’s perceivably eccentric behavior. She placed bets on horse races with a bookie, smoked cigarettes against her parent’s wishes, and had a pet snake named Emily Spinach which she flaunted at parties. She was an early American fashion icon, and a stunning blue dress she once wore inspired a new shade of blue to be named Alice Blue. A famous fable, later proven false, told of a nearly nude Alice dancing at a drunken orgy at a Newport mansion. A renowned line from Teddy Roosevelt about his rambunctious daughter Alice was, “I can be Alice’s father, or I can be President of the United States. I cannot do both.”
In August of 1903, she was spotted at the Astor Ball in Newport at the “first dance of the season,” which took place at the Beechwood Mansion (now owned by Oracle founder Larry Ellison). And in October of 1904, Mrs. Carnelius Vanderbilt hosted a dinner party for Miss Alice Roosevelt at the Beaulieu House in Newport. It is rumored that Alice Roosevelt danced the “hoochie coochie” on the roof of the house during a party there.
After coming across stories of Alice, I wanted to hear her side of things. So, I began my search for her book, Crowded Hours. Copies of Crowded Hours are sparse and expensive. Luckily, my local library here in Rhode Island had a couple on the shelf. The one I grabbed had not been checked out since 1961.
In Crowded Hours, mentions of Newport are few and far between. Alice does mention a party at the Vanderbilt residence. She paints a lavish and exorbitant scene, describing quadrille dances and hearty costumes. Wealthy socialites like Grace Vanderbilt and Elsie Goelet were in attendance.
While many now imagine Newport in the early-1900s as a stomping ground for sophisticated elites, Alice paints a different picture. She describes one visit to Newport as “a visit that was not well looked on in a political year, as in those days Newport was supposed to be the Mammon of unrighteousness in the eyes of the Middle West, and a stink in the nostrils thereof.”
Alice’s descriptions of Newport are not all entrenched in lush excess. She does appear to appreciate the natural beauty of the city, and at one point fondly recalls a time she picked goldenrods (native to Rhode Island) and took a dip in the ocean the morning after a party.
Overall, the book is a fascinating read. Alice’s vernacular and repartee are worth the indulgence. She enchanted audiences late into life, sharing stories of her youth, celebrity, and candor. She lived the longest out of any president’s child, passing away shortly after she turned 96 years old. Many of her past exploits have slithered back into popular culture. HBO Max even has a comedy series about her in the works.
So, next time you take a walk past the Newport mansions or take a dip in the Atlantic, perhaps some part of you will transport to the early-1900s when the ocean was free of plastic, lavish parties were plenty, and Alice Roosevelt was causing a ruckus.