Tuesday, October 4, 2016

How To Raise Boys: 6 Tips From Edith Roosevelt

How does a mom of boys parent her sons? This is not a new question. Edith Roosevelt, TR’s wife and the First Lady who brought us to the 20th century, had four curious, adventurous boys.

How did Edith manage her boys? Here are 6 tips from Edith’s life:

 Let Dad play rough.

 Edith knew to let Dad play with the boys. Gifford Pinchot, the Chief Forester of the USA, came to visit when Teddy was Governor of New York State. When he arrived the mansion was “under ferocious attack from a band of invisible Indians, and the Governor was helping a houseful of children to escape by lowering them out of a second-story window on a rope.” After everyone was safe, Gifford and TR had a friendly boxing match, then they got down to discussing their business.

Theodore Roosevelt and his sons Ted Jr, Archie, Quentin, Kermit

 Give them space.

Edith was privileged to live in large places that provided outdoor space for her boys to play. But she also recognized that her husband needed space, too, which was hard to find at their home, Sagamore Hill, and at the White House when both were constantly swarming with things and people demanding his attention. So Edith purchased a wooded lot in Virginia far off the beaten path complete with a rustic cabin called Pine Knot. Unfinished inside and no road access, this cabin was little more than a roof over your head with a fireplace. And when the pressures of life were too much, the Roosevelts could retreat to the cabin with just their family. Of course, Edith secretly had Secret Service men hiding in the woods for protection, but Teddy didn’t know. He would have just said he didn’t need it. Edith knew not to tell him so he could keep sense of adventure.

Pine Knot, Roosevelt's rustic get away

 Major on the majors.

 Edith had lots of opportunities to choose her battles when it came to her son, Quentin, who was an elementary schooler while in the White House. Apparently in school, Quentin was doing things like dancing when coming into the classroom and drawing instead of doing math problems. The teacher had enough and asked the parents to come in for a conference. Teddy and Edith wrote to the teacher: “If you find him defying your authority or committing any serious misdeeds let me know and I will whip him…” but “I should not be called in merely for such offenses.” Edith had another chance to pick her battles when Kermit was five. During church, he pulled out a baby tooth. He was so excited, he held it up so everyone could see. Edith just pretended to be deep in prayer.

Edith and Quentin

 Let them have adventure

Quentin led a group of young boys in Washington who were called “The White House Gang.” They would climb on the White House roof and roll a snowball down onto a guard. They fired spitballs at Andrew Jackson’s portrait. They climbed magnolia trees on the White House grounds. They attacked TR with pillows during a sleepover. When Edith was hosting an Italian statesman for tea, Quentin and his gang hid in the skylight to spy on them. They began to mimic Italian while pretending to have a monocle. Edith heard them, looked up, and called “Quentin!” The Italian looked up in surprise and dropped his eyeglass into his tea. When her boys were older, she encouraged and allowed adventure on a grander scale. Teddy of course, had always been adventurer at his ranch out west. The boys were able to go along with dad various times for weeks at a time. After the White House years, Teddy and Kermit went on a National Geographic sponsored safari to Africa. As they pulled away for their year-long adventure, Kermit noted that Mom looked perfectly calm and self-possessed although he was sure that her heart was almost broken. Teddy and Kermit also went on a Brazilian expedition into parts that had not yet been explored along the Paraguay River. Kermit, who was working for the Brazilian railroad at the time was given 6 months off to join Dad on this adventure. Later they also went on a hunting expedition in Central Asia.
Roosevelt boys falling in line with the White House guards

Keep the lines of communication open

When her boys were away at school and later when they were around the world working and fighting in the military, she visits them and writes to them. Other first ladies have written to their children. But many look like lectures on paper. Edith writes with love and respect and gives advice gently as suggestion not as a demand. She speaks well of her husband to her children and he speaks well of her.  

"You cannot bring up boys to be eagles and expect them to turn out as sparrows"

Grandchildren later noted that Edith often said this phrase, possibly to soothe her soul when the boys were in their military service. All four of her boys fought in World War I.  Perhaps this phrase also comforted her when she found out about the death of Quentin. He had been shot down behind enemy lines. Unfortunately, Edith went on to see two more of her boys die. Kermit struggled to be useful in the military throughout his adult life. He tried to self-medicate through alcohol. He finally ended the struggle by committing suicide in June of 1943.To protect her heart, Edith was told Kermit died of heart failure. Ted, Jr. was the oldest man at 56 to be in the first invasion wave on D Day. He died of heart failure in July 1944 as he was working from a mobile station planning the next attack on the Germans. He was buried with full military honors with General Patton as one of the pallbearers. Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Roosevelt fought well in World War I and II. He also actively tried to rid the U.S of socialism throughout the fifties and sixties. He died in 1979 at 85 years old.

Edith Roosevelt also raised her step-daughter Alice and her own daughter Ethel. She extended the same opportunities for adventure and independence to her girls, too. Balancing love and limits works for raising both boys and girls.

Edith lived almost thirty years after TR died in 1919. She died in 1948. Her widowhood years showed her own sense of adventure as she traveled the world both to visit her family and for vacations. She also procured Mortlake Manor for herself while keeping a tight rein on her investments and household expenses. She came through the Depression relatively unscathed although towards the end she had to tighten her purse strings and was not able to travel every single time the thought presented itself. She was wise in her household both towards the people in her care and towards the wealth with which she was entrusted.

Information from this blog is from Sylvia Jukes Morris’ biography Edith Kermit Roosevelt, Portrait of A First Lady. (Note: the following link is an affiliate link. Read the disclosure policy here.)


  1. Edith sounds like a woman that I would have enjoyed knowing! Thanks for sharing a glimpse of her life with us.

    1. Yes! Thanks for reading! There were so many more interesting things about her life that made me interested in knowing her. She was confident and even tempered so I think she would have been easy to get to know and to talk with. I especially admired her bravery of all her world traveling throughout her life, even on her own as a widow.

  2. Well...if ever there was a first lady I could identify with and would want to know more, Edith Roosevelt would be her! Such great, insightful, wise thoughts on raising young men! Thank you so much for sharing. I ache to think of how she must have grieved the loss of her boys. With a few of mine being DEFINITE eagles, already talking about wanting to serve their country one day - I can't imagine how hard it must have been on her.

    1. Yes! I did think of you while writing this...you and all your adventurous boys!

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