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The White House years ended for Edith Roosevelt in a difficult preinauguration evening that foreshadowed the four years of political tension between Theodore and his successor, William Howard Taft. Without consulting either of their spouses, Theodore and Will Taft agreed that the president-elect and his wife would spend the night of 3–4 March 1909 at the mansion. By this time, some of the awkwardness in the relationship between Edith and Helen Taft had surfaced. While she and Theodore recognized that Helen Taft reserved the right to pick her own staff, Mrs. Roosevelt had been disappointed for her friend Belle Hagner, who would not remain as social secretary. The change in status of the white doorkeepers also bothered her. At some point days before the inauguration, Helen Taft had offered the thought that “a certain piece of White House furniture would look better if put in another place.” When told of this comment, Edith Roosevelt reportedly said that “Mrs. Taft might better have waited forty-eight hours” until she occupied the White House.1 As a result of these and other misunderstandings between the two couples, the pre-inaugural evening proved stiff for the Tafts, Archie Butt, and a Taft friend, Mabel Boardman, the secretary of the American Red Cross. The outgoing president did his usual best to keep the conversation flowing, but Will Taft later referred to the occasion as “that funeral.”2 The president-elect departed for a social commitc h a p t e r s i x AFTER THE WHITE HOUSE 114 } { After the White House 115 } { ment, and the two ladies and the outgoing president prepared to say goodnight. Edith grasped the hand of her successor “and expressed the earnest hope that her first night in the White House would be one of sweet sleep.”3 Edith had no formal role in the inauguration ceremonies for Will Taft. Theodore would accompany his successor to the Capitol and then join his wife at the train station to leave for Oyster Bay. An unexpected and bitter blizzard blanketed Washington with ice and forced the ceremonies inside. While Theodore listened to Taft’s inaugural address after he was sworn in, Edith lunched with close friends at the home of her stepdaughter. From there, she and her husband rode to the railroad station. Onlookers applauded as the pair left the capital for the challenges of the years after the presidency. However, Edith had few good memories of the last hours of the Roosevelt administration. As she told Henry Adams, “I am glad you did not come to the station on that dismal day.”4 Home again at Sagamore Hill, the former first lady now confronted the imminent departure of Kermit and Theodore for the yearlong hunting expedition in Africa. The journey suited her husband ’s political, emotional, and scientific needs. For Edith, however, it meant a protracted period of loneliness and the full weight of the manifold responsibilities of operating the Roosevelt estate on her own. Theodore just assumed she would be able to carry on in her usual manner. Edith Roosevelt’s post-presidential life broke into three distinct periods. From March 1909 until Theodore Roosevelt’s death in early January 1919, her priorities responded to the ups and downs of her husband’s political fortunes. She was skeptical that Theodore would ever regain the presidency, but Edith, as she always had done, did not oppose his third-party run in 1912 or his failed bid for the Republican nomination in 1916. As he prepared to make the race for the GOP nomination in 1920, she stood ready to return to the White House as first lady, albeit without real personal zeal, for a second act in the mansion. Following Theodore’s death, she found solace and diversion in extensive travel in the 1920s and 1930s. She wrote about her adventures overseas in several books and publications. Edith also delved into the Tyler side of her family history to bring out her roots in New York 116 Edith Kermit Roosevelt } { Edith Roosevelt in a White House garden. Edith spent many hours in the White House gardens that she did so much to create. Library of Congress society. By the time of World War II, old age reduced her activities and left her as the doyen of the family from the Sagamore Hill headquarters until her death in 1948 at the age of eighty-seven. In March 1909 with Theodore en route to Africa after his departure on...


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