Ivanka and Alice – A Tale of Two First Daughters

By Susan Kuebler

There are probably, at most, seven people in the United States who do NOT know who Ivanka Trump is.  The first-born daughter of Donald Trump, she was raised mainly by her mother, at least according to Donald himself.  There is no doubt that she is beautiful, possibly smart, and is an important influence on her father.  Reportedly she will occupy the East Wing offices of the First Lady in the White House, and serve as de-facto First Lady instead of Melania Trump. Some people are in an uproar of her possible usurpation of this role.  Big whoops.

What might come as a surprise to people who have not studied American history is that Ivanka is not the first controversial First Daughter.  Nor is she the first one who offered political advice to her father.  That honor belongs to Alice Roosevelt, the first-born daughter of Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt.  Like Ivanka, she did not have a close relationship with her father growing up, but this was due to a family tragedy, not parental indifference.  A few days following her birth, her mother, Teddy’s first wife died.  His mother also died on the same day.  Devastated, Roosevelt turned over the raising of his daughter to a female family member and went about trying to recover from his grief.

When Teddy eventually remarried, Alice came back into the family fold. She was considered quite a beauty in her age, and photographs of her bear this out.  She was 17 years old in 1901 when her father became President following the assassination of William McKinley.  An overnight sensation in Washington, she was also something of a wild child who “smoked cigarettes in public, rode in cars with men, stayed out late partying … and was seen placing bets with a bookie.”

Long before Ivanka’s possible involvement in the Trump administration, in 1905 Alice participated in America’s largest diplomatic mission to date.  Along with the Secretary of War, William Howard Taft, she accompanied congressmen, senators, diplomats, officials, and businessmen on visits to Japan, Hawaii, China, the Philippines, and Korea.  She would later marry one of the congressmen, Nicholas Longworth, who would go on the be Speaker of the House.  She was also known to frequently interrupt her father in the Oval Office to offer him political advice.  After her third interruption of Roosevelt’s conversation with a friend, when Teddy threatened to “throw her out of the window” the weary President ruefully exclaimed, “I can either run the country or I can attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both.”

Long before Ivanka hit the campaign trail for her father, Alice also actively campaigned for her father.  However, things got a bit complicated when Alice supported her father’s Bull Moose presidential campaign, while her husband supported his mentor, and Roosevelt’s opponent, President Taft.  She even appeared on stage with her father’s vice-presidential candidate in Longworth’s own district, which he, Longworth, then lost by 105 votes. Alice joked that she “was good for at least 100 votes.”  While Longworth went on to win re-election the next time and remained in the House for the rest of his life, the marriage was somewhat chilly afterward.

While it remains to be seen what Ivanka Trump’s impact on Washington will be, Alice Roosevelt Longworth went on to be a highly sought-after Washington hostess, noted for her devastating wit. She was the one who said, “If you don’t have something nice to say, come sit here right by me.”  Responding to claims that Wendell Wilkie enjoyed a strong grassroots campaign, she responded yes “the grass roots of 10,000 country clubs.” She issued a devastating snub to Senator Joe McCarthy who jokingly said at a party that he was going to call her Alice.  She rebuffed him saying “Senator McCarthy, you are not going to call me Alice.  The truckman, the trash man and the policeman on my block may call me Alice, but you may not.”

Unlike Ivanka, Alice was a life-long Republican.  In her later years, she did fall under the spell of the Kennedy clan.  She supported Lyndon Johnson in 1964 and was a supporter of Bobby Kennedy.  Yet she remained a steadfast friend of Richard Nixon until he used her father’s words describing his grief over the loss of his wife and mother on the same day to Nixon’s own resignation from office.

Will Ivanka Trump be the next Alice Roosevelt Longworth?  Will she show the class, the style, the panache, the intelligence, and wit of her predecessor?  That remains to be seen. However, it is doubtful that Washington will ever see the likes of Alice Roosevelt again.

 

One comment

  1. Huh–interesting. I remember a little about Alice, and how Teddy talked about her, but few mentions to remind readers that she was his daughter. Great information–when it comes to reading about Teddy again, I’ll have to keep in mind Alice and look for info on her.

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