“You are your father’s daughter,” Alice’s mother told her. “Neither of you can help being conspicuous.”
Stephanie Marie Thornton’s American Princess is a delightful account of the life of Alice Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt’s oldest child. She was one of the most famous teenagers ever to live in the White House, and her adult life was spent longing to return to it as a resident.
Thornton’s book is classified as historical fiction, but from what I can tell it’s based on real events, as well as information gleaned from Alice’s actual diary entries–at least, the ones which could be deencrypted from their author’s notoriously illegible handwriting.
Alice was the only child of Teddy and his first wife, Alice Lee, for whom she was named. Alice Lee died two days after giving birth to their child, and Alice’s vivid blue eyes forever reminded her father of her mother. Teddy left his newborn daughter with his sister Anna, who raised Alice for much of her childhood, until he remarried and had more children, then brought Alice to come live with him and his second wife.
Alice had a complicated relationship with her stepmother, who she referred to as “Mother” and whose jealousy of Alice Lee never really faded. As Alice grew into a teenager, her strong-willed nature rendered her unmanageable, and Teddy (now President) knew his relationship with his oldest daughter was similarly troubled. Alice reveled in the media attention she received every time she left the White House — dancing at balls, going on dates with young men, smoking in front of cameramen, driving cars and even wearing pants. She viewed herself as responsible and strong, a woman who did not need a man as a partner.
I will admit that the beginning of this book made me dislike Alice due to her whiny nature. Sure, her childhood was rough but she came across as materialistic and insufferable. It took her growing up a bit for me to find her as interesting and to emotionally invest in her well-being. I’m happy to report, though, that as she careened into adulthood Alice became as formidable and fascinating as you would expect Teddy’s daughter to be.
To avoid spoilers I won’t reveal too many more plot points, but suffice it to say the book does an excellent job of explaining how Alice earned her nickname “The Other Washington Monument.” She never kept her mouth shut about issues and was famous for throwing dinner parties at which alliances were forged and legislation was hammered out. She was a fixture in both the House and Senate viewing areas, at turns for her husband and for her lover. She lived a long, fascinating life, one that I thoroughly enjoyed reading about.