The Alethea Club met recently in the fellowship hall of First Baptist Church.
The program, presented by Jeanette McGrew, was the sixth in the series, “Lesser Known First Ladies,” and covered the life of Edith Carow Roosevelt.
Highlights of the program included:
Edith Carow Roosevelt, the wife of Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, possessed great sense of self. Because of her self-confidence, she was able to accomplish a great deal during her husband’s two terms in office. She initiated changes in the executive mansion that a more insecure woman would have hesitated to risk. In slightly less than eight years, she solved the old problem of how to separate the president’s residence from his official home, developed a new model for dealing with the insatiable demand for information about the president’s family, removed herself from decisions about official entertaining by turning to professional caterers, and hired a secretary to handle her official correspondence, thus institutionalizing the job of first lady in a way that had not been done before.
Edith opposed Theodore’s run for vice president in 1900, just as she had previously objected to his attempts to win other elective offices, because she understood that the financial drain would be considerable. When the Republican ticket won and then President William McKinley was assassinated only months later, Edith had to face the prospect of moving her family to Washington. Edith, who had just turned 40, had to solve the problem of how to spread a president’s salary to cover the cost of her family of eight, and yet meet all the obligations of her husband’s job.
She scheduled weekly meetings with the wives of cabinet members. On Tuesdays, while their husbands conferred on one side of the White House, the women met on the other. These were planning conferences engineered by Edith to set the limits on entertaining and help keep expenses down. With a presidential salary of $50,000 and an equivalent allowance for running the household, Edith needed to economize. By announcing just what she planned to serve or wear or how she would decorate or entertain at a particular reception or dinner, she restrained exuberant hostesses and assured the insecure ones who feared falling behind.
When Edith vacated the White House after nearly eight years, in 1909, opinion was almost unanimous in her favor. The shield of self-confidence insulated her against criticism that had worried some other presidents’ wives.
After the program, a formal business meeting was held. The hostesses, KarLynn Roberts and Audrey Borecky, then served chocolate pie, petite pimento-cheese sandwiches and coffee. The chocolate pie was made from a recipe handed down from Roberts’ mother, Lillian Payton.