We all complain about Valentine’s Day and the crass commercialization of love — not to mention the difficulty of obtaining last-minute dinner reservations when we inevitably forget all about the stupid holiday — but as far as days go, celebrating love for 24 hours isn’t all that bad. Hell, even if you have nobody to celebrate with on Valentine’s Day, you still have all that cheap candy to look forward to the day after. But all the old, smashed packages of cherry cordials in the world couldn’t fill the void left in the heart of the man who suffered the worst Valentine’s Day ever in 1884: Theodore Roosevelt.
Teddy married Alice Hathaway Lee on his 22nd birthday in 1880. Shortly after, he became a member of the New York State Assembly and got to work fighting corporate corruption. On February 14, 1884, Roosevelt was summoned home by his family from the New York state legislature, where he was working on a government reform bill. When he arrived, he found that his mother, Mittie, had died from typhoid fever at 3am. Later in the afternoon, his wife died in his arms after suffering kidney failure, just two days after giving birth to their daughter.
Teddy summed up the events of the day in a heart-wrenching diary entry:
On February 16, Teddy buried both his mother and wife in Greenwood Cemetery. The following day, he christened his daughter Alice Lee Roosevelt in honor of her mother. At the time, Teddy believed his life to be over, ending his February 17 diary entry with, “For joy or for sorrow my life has now been lived out.”
Teddy tried to lose himself in his work as an assemblyman, but he couldn’t shake the memory of that horrible Valentine’s Day. At the end of the year, he left Alice in the care of his sister, Bamie, and set out for the Dakota territories. He spent the next two years raising cattle and working as a sheriff. He also rekindled his relationship with his childhood sweetheart, Edith Kermit Carow, whom he married in London in 1886.
Teddy returned to New York and public life with his new wife in 1886. Young Alice was also reunited with her father upon his return and in the ensuing years, Teddy would do some pretty great things like serving as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, 33rd Governor of New York, and…oh, yeah…25th Vice President and 26th President of the United States.
Although he was eventually able to move on after that devastating Valentine’s Day, Teddy never stopped thinking about his wife. He refused to speak her name ever again and even referred to his daughter only as “Baby Lee.” Alice continued the practice when she grew up, preferring to be called “Mrs. L” rather than Alice.