A long-ago visit to Sagamore Hill, the Long Island home of Theodore Roosevelt, didn’t disappoint.
Heavy dark wood and animal-skin floor rugs rendered the mansion’s main room the kind of early 20th-century man cave that any president-adventurer-big game hunter seemingly would have insisted upon.
So it’s startling to learn that it was Roosevelt’s wife, Edith Kermit Roosevelt, who ran the place, managing the estate with its staff of about a dozen servants.
“Theodore just didn’t understand money,” said Lewis Gould, author of “Edith Kermit Roosevelt: Creating the Modern First Lady.”
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Often Edith Roosevelt served the role of grown-up after her 1886 marriage, doling out daily allowances to her well-born husband who would come home with little idea where the money had gone, said Gould.
At the White House, where her husband served as president from 1901 through 1909, Edith Roosevelt took charge in a similar manner, organizing the social galas that illness had prevented Ida Saxton McKinley, the previous presidential wife, from hosting.
“Edith Roosevelt invented the way that first ladies have operated ever since,” said Gould.
But Gould also documents how Edith Roosevelt was bigoted and remarkably petty.
Among her five biological children, she suppressed the memory of her husband’s first wife, Alice Lee, who died in 1884 while giving birth to a daughter.
Edith Roosevelt resented referring to the daughter — Alice — by her name, a problem solved upon the 1887 birth of Theodore Roosevelt Jr., after which Alice became known as “Sister.” Later Edith Roosevelt would tell her children that had Alice Lee lived, her husband would have grown bored of her.
Also, according to Gould, Edith Roosevelt’s perspective on race relations was not enlightened. More than once she invited to the White House performers who specialized in songs that derided African-Americans. Her letters — at least those that survived her careful destruction — included casual use of demeaning racial language.
“It was one of the most surprising things in this book, running into those comments she had,” said Gould, a retired history professor at the University of Texas.
Edith Roosevelt apparently was at the table when her husband invited black educator Booker T. Washington to a 1901 White House dinner. She noted Washington’s presence in her diary without comment.
Politics apparently trumped personal prejudice, Gould said. Theodore Roosevelt, who became president upon the 1901 assassination of William McKinley, desired to be elected in his own right in 1904. That meant first not assuming his party’s nomination and enlisting the support of the party’s southern African-American delegates.
“Roosevelt was concerned with having black delegates in his corner, and the major black Republican in the country was Booker T. Washington,” Gould said.
Gould speaks at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday the Kansas City Public Library’s Plaza branch, 4801 Main St. His appearance is presented by the library with the Truman Library Institute. For more information, go to kclibrary.org.
William Wellman Jr. on his famous father
Not long before he died of leukemia in 1975, William Wellman tried to console his eldest son.
The famed film director insisted that William Wellman Jr. not feel badly for him, as he had lived the lives of 100 men.
“He told me that on his deathbed and, when he said it, I knew it was true,” said Wellman, the author of just-published “Wild Bill Wellman: Hollywood Rebel.” “I now have written two books about my father, and there is still more to tell.”
Wellman speaks at 1 p.m. Saturday at the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial. His appearance will precede a 1:30 p.m. screening of “Wings,” the 1927 silent air combat epic directed by his father, and the first film to receive an Academy Award for best picture. At 4:30 p.m. the museum will show “Lafayette Escadrille,” a 1958 film, also directed the Wellman, that dramatized the exploits of the World War I French air corps unit made up mainly of American pilots.
Wellman had been among them, and that credential made his father the most qualified person to direct “Wings,” Wellman said.
“He was the only director under contract at Paramount who had front-line battle experience,” Wellman said.
His father lost many of his colleagues in combat, Wellman said, and so it was the good fortune of Charles “Buddy” Rogers, the Olathe native, that he reminded Wellman of some of those pilots. His father cast Rogers in “Wings” against the wishes of some studio executives, Wellman said.
“All those young pilots my father had known, Buddy Rogers had the same kind of enthusiasm that they did,” Wellman said. “Most of them had been killed.”
For more information about Saturday’s event, visit theworldwar.org.
Wilson series new location
Because of ongoing repairs at the Central Resource Library, installments of the Thomas Zvi Wilson Reading Series are being held at the Johnson County Library’s Oak Park location, 9500 Bluejacket St.
The series continues at 7 p.m. Tuesday with readings by area writers Eve Brackenbury and Alarie Tennille.