Presidential Mothers: Roosevelt, Taft grew up in wealthy homes

Published 1:51 pm Saturday, March 18, 2023

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By  Betty Etchison West

For the Enterprise

Martha Bullock, the daughter of Major James Stephens Bulloch and Martha Elliott Bulloch, was called “Mittie.”  She was born in Connecticut on July 8, 1835, but the family soon moved to Georgia. They lived in the town that would become Roswell, Ga.

Mittie’s father became a partner in a cotton mill, and the family also owned a plantation where cotton was the main crop. The family owned 33 slaves, most of whom worked in the cotton fields, but some were house servants.

It is said that Mittie had a “shadow,” a person, who stayed with her all of the time and who took care of her every need.  The “shadow” even slept at the foot of Mittie’s bed. Major Bulloch built a mansion, called “Bulloch Hall,” which was where Mittie grew up.  Mittie grew up to be a beautiful young lady, who loved the South.

Theodore Roosevelt Sr. visited in the Bulloch home and was quite taken with Mittie. Mittie and Theodore finally fell in love.  After an appropriate period of time, Mr. Roosevelt wrote to Mittie’s mother and asked if he could ask Mittie to marry him. He approached Mittie’s mother because her father had died. Mrs. Bulloch granted young Theodore the permission that he so desired.

Mr. Roosevelt proposed, and Mittie said, “Yes.”

At a beautiful Bulloch Hall wedding in 1853, Mittie became Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt.  The Roosevelts moved to 28 E. 20th St. in New York City. Mittie moved to New York, but she was always an unreconstructed confederate.

The Roosevelts had four children: Anna, Theodore, Elliott, and Corinne. The children were aware of their Southern roots. Theodore Roosevelt referred to it in his writing.  Theodore did not join the Union Army when the Civil War began because of his feeling for his mother and her love of the South. Theodore did hire a substitute to serve in his place.

Martha Roosevelt was a lovely, charming lady but she was not strong. One writer used the word “sickly” in referring to Mrs. Roosevelt.  The oldest Roosevelt daughter helped with the younger children.

Theodore was also “sickly” as a child. His father did everything he could possibly do to help his son and nothing worked. Mr. Roosevelt finally told Theodore that he would have to cure himself. Theodore did that by undertaking an unbelievable regimen of exercise – which worked.  He became a strong ambitious young man.

Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. died an untimely death. His family was absolutely devastated but they had to carry on. His wife and other family members continued to live in their home at 6 W 57th St. in New York City where they had lived since they had moved from 28 E. 20th St. many years earlier.

Theodore, Jr. continued to support his mother even as the unexpected happened. Theodore fell deeply in love to a beautiful lady named Alice. Theodore and Alice got married in 1880. Theodore loved his wife dearly but that did not dampen his interest in politics. He actually got elected to the New York State Assembly in 1881. Alice, who was expecting a baby, was living in  the house with her mother-in-law, while her husband was still serving in the New York Assembly in Albany.  On a fateful day in February 1884, Theodore received a message that his wife was not doing well and that the baby was on the way.  Theodore left immediately for New York City. When he got home he found the two most important people in his life dying.

His mother, who was only 48, died of typhoid fever or typhus,  and his wife, Alice, died of Bright’s disease on the same day –  Feb. 14, 1884. The grief was more than Theodore could bare so he left his baby girl with his sister, went to North Dakota, bought a ranch, and  worked as a cowboy for two years before finally returning to New York.

Mrs. Martha Bulloch Roosevelt, the mother of 26th President of the United States and the grandmother of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of the 32nd President of the United States, was buried at Green Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY.  (Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt, was the daughter of Elliott Roosevelt, the second son of Martha and Theodore Roosevelt Sr.)

Louisa Maria Torrey was born on Sept. 11, 1827 to Samuel Davenport Torrey and Susan Holman Waters Torrey.  Louisa was born in Boston and grew up there. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College which is also located in Massachusetts.  Louisa, or

Louise as she was called, was a bit of an activist.  From 1846-1858, she and two other girls wrote anonymously, pretending to be three brothers, and published “The Yale Gallinipper,” which criticized students, faculty and the Literary Magazine at Yale.

That came to an end in 1852 when Louisa married Alphonso Taft, a widower who had two sons. Alphonso and Louisa had five children, four who lived to adulthood. The Tafts had high expectations for their children.

William Howard Taft, who enjoyed participating in sports, gave up sports at Yale University so he could concentrate on his academic work because he knew his parents expected him to excel. He graduated from Yale second in his class.

The Tafts lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, where Alphonso Taft, Louisa’s husband, served as a Superior Court Judge. They lived in a beautiful house at 2038 Auburn Ave. It was at this house, which is now open to the public, that William Howard Taft, who became the 27th President of the United States, was born.

In addition to being a busy mother, Louisa Taft was an active lady in her community.  She organized a local kindergarten which became a statewide kindergarten movement. She organized art associations and book clubs. Mrs. Taft was a curious and adventurous lady who took her family to many unusual places and afforded them unusual experiences. Louisa, of course, did that while supporting her husband and moving with him as he assumed different positions.

When Alfonso Taft was appointed Secretary of War by President Grant, the family moved to Washington, D.C. and remained there while Mr. Taft served as Grant’s Attorney General. He stepped down from when the next president was elected.

In 1881 after Chester Arthur became President, Mr. Taft was appointed as Minister to Austria and then Minister to Russia.

After those assignments, Alfonso Taft returned to Cincinnati. He died while visiting in San Diego, Calif. in 1891 when he was 80.  His body was returned to Cincinnati and was buried Spring Grove Cemetery.

Louisa Maria Torrey Taft was  the wife of a Superior Court Judge, who became a Member of President Grant’s Cabinet and a Foreign Minister; was the mother of President of the United States, William Howard Taft, who later served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; was the grandmother of Robert A. Taft and great-grandmother of Robert A Taft Jr.,  both who served  as U.S. Senators; and was the great-great grandmother of Robert A. Taft III, who was the Governor of Ohio from 1999-2007.

Louisa Maria Taft, wife, mother, or the ancestor of many men who served their country honorably, died in 1907. She died less than a year after her son became President. She is buried in the Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, where her husband is buried.

Alphonso and Louisa Taft’s son, William Howard Taft, who served as President from 1909-1913. is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.  He and John F. Kennedy are the only two Presidents who are buried at Arlington.