- Did anybody else feel that Ethel Roosevelt-Derby was sort of slighted
in the Book "Roosevelt Women" by Betty Boyd Caroli (Spelling). I
think this was an extraordinary woman and i thought she got the shaft
in that book. She wasn't as controversial as Mrs. L or as tragic as
Mittie or as poetic as Corrine. But, if you look at her
achievements - I don't think the TR association or the Sagamore Hill
house would be around without her. Also, while probably not as well-
known, Would Sylvia Morris' first rate bio of Edith Roosevelt owes a
debt of gratitude to Mrs. Derby for the interview and so the
footlockers of materials she gave her??
I don't think enough was written about this woman particularly around
the time of World War I and her devotion to her husband. Sadly, i
thought the "Roosevelt Women" sort of dropped the ball on the history
there because it was Ethel Roosevelt's story that i really thought
Chris - Tampa Bay
- This was printed in the TRA Journal about five years ago:
Betty Boyd Caroli, The Roosevelt Women, New York, New York: Basic Books,
1998; 511 pp.
When Betty Boyd Caroli, famed biographer of First Ladies, set out to write
about Eleanor Roosevelt, she became intrigued by the influences that shaped
Eleanor's character. She found an amazing assortment of female Roosevelt
relatives - grandmother, aunts and cousins - whose personalities left their
mark. This book is the result.
From Martha "Mittie" Bulloch, the sparkling Georgia teenager who married
Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. of New York and whose descendents have changed the
world, to Corinne Robinson Alsop, the first Roosevelt woman to be elected to
public office, this is an amazing collection of fascinating, intelligent and
very vocal women.
These are not full biographies - that would need a bookshelf, not a book.
The work is, rather, an exposition of their characters and personalities.
With so much to say about so many women, choices have to be made about
material to include. At times, the choices the author has made give an
oddly skewed view. To those readers familiar with the women in this book,
this may not be so apparent. To those unfamiliar with the Roosevelt women,
they may come away with a false impression.
TR's sisters, and Eleanor's aunts, Anna (Bamie) Roosevelt Cowles and Corinne
Roosevelt Robinson, have excellent chapters that capture their spirit, as
does the one on Corinne Alsop.
Two Roosevelt wives, Edith Kermit Roosevelt (TR's wife) and Sarah Delano
Roosevelt (FDR's mother), share a chapter. While it is good to see Sarah
Delano Roosevelt's actions set against the context of other women of her era
and class, the main dynamic in her relationship with her daughter-in-law
becomes lost. Sarah provided the irritant that forced Eleanor to grow.
It is when Caroli gets to TR's daughters that the skewing becomes evident.
Minor errors are repeated. Alice's pet snake Emily Spinach comes out as
Spinach Emily. Ethel's home in Oyster Bay, Old Adam, comes out as the Old
Adams House. Alice appears as merely self-centered and "famous for being
The view of Ethel Roosevelt Derby is, however, the place where Caroli has
dropped the ball. While Ethel's indomitable spirit in the face of tragedy
has been chronicled, her triumphs have been trivialized. The book states
"hers was a world centered on a small town on Long Island and on her
family - husband, daughters, mother, and many friends." Caroli only briefly
mentions that Ethel was involved with the Red Cross, and leaves out the fact
that she was Nassau County Chairman during World War II, later serving as
Chairman of the Nassau County Nursing Service. Her long involvement, even
while traveling, is shown by her correspondence still residing in the Nassau
County Red Cross archives. When the Red Cross recently brought her Fifty
Year Service Pin to Sagamore Hill, they had to correct themselves - it was
not fifty years of service, it was sixty. When it came time to have her
portrait painted, she did not choose to wear an evening gown and jewels, she
wore her Red Cross uniform. All the years of work she put in to turn
Sagamore Hill into a National Historic Site have been dismissed with a mere
two lines, while paragraphs have been devoted to her concern over the cost
of servants. The most surprising omission, however, is that Caroli did not
mention that Ethel was one of the first two women to serve on the Board of
Trustees of the American Museum of Natural History.
In all, the criticisms of the book are minor, centering mainly on only one
chapter. This is a massive work, long overdue. The book is extremely
readable, and gives credit to a group of women who have, before this, been
given scant recognition by historians. One can only applaud Caroli's
efforts, and hope that further work will be forthcoming.
Linda Milano is the Assistant Director of the Theodore Roosevelt
----- Original Message -----
From: "optic1858" <optic1858@...>
Sent: Tuesday, January 06, 2004 12:28 PM
Subject: [tr-m] Ethel Roosevelt-Derby
> Did anybody else feel that Ethel Roosevelt-Derby was sort of slighted
> in the Book "Roosevelt Women" by Betty Boyd Caroli (Spelling). I
> think this was an extraordinary woman and i thought she got the shaft
> in that book. She wasn't as controversial as Mrs. L or as tragic as
> Mittie or as poetic as Corrine. But, if you look at her
> achievements - I don't think the TR association or the Sagamore Hill
> house would be around without her. Also, while probably not as well-
> known, Would Sylvia Morris' first rate bio of Edith Roosevelt owes a
> debt of gratitude to Mrs. Derby for the interview and so the
> footlockers of materials she gave her??
> I don't think enough was written about this woman particularly around
> the time of World War I and her devotion to her husband. Sadly, i
> thought the "Roosevelt Women" sort of dropped the ball on the history
> there because it was Ethel Roosevelt's story that i really thought
> was interesting.
> Chris - Tampa Bay
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