White House Weddings: Alice Roosevelt’s among the most elaborate

Published 10:23 am Tuesday, August 29, 2023

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By Betty Etchison West

For the Enterprise

The last wedding which took place in the White House in the 19th Century other that of President Grover Cleveland and Frances Folsom, was the wedding of President Rutherford Birchard Hayes’ niece, Emily Platt, who married General Russell Hastings.

Emily’s mother, Fanny, was the sister of Rutherford B. Hayes. Fanny died leaving a little 6-year-old daughter, Emily. Emily lived with her uncle’s family, the Rutherford B. Hayes family, a great deal of the time after her mother’s death, even after Mr. Hayes was elected President.

It turned out that Emily had much executive ability so she ended up handling all the details of the First Lady’s calendar while living in the White House.

General Russell Hastings was a member of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry.  He first met Emily, not in the White House but in Columbus where she was rolling bandages for the wounded soldiers.

Years later, Russell Hastings met Emily in the White House where he went to renew his friendship with his former brigade commander, President Hayes. Hayes was not the only president who had served in the Ohio Volunteer Infantry; the other was President William McKinley.

It was in the White House that Emily caught the former soldier’s eye.  He had been a widower for three years when he saw a lovely young lady during the White House visit.  That young lady was Emily Platt.

Emily is described in the book, “White House Brides” by Marie Smith and Louise Durbin, in the following manner: “She had a beautiful complexion, dark brown hair, a gentle manner and a gift for conversation. She was also quick, well-educated, and had traveled in foreign countries as well as her own country.”

Hastings was quite taken with Emily, and the friendship turned into true love. The General proposed. Emily said “yes.”  The engaged couple decided that they wanted a quiet wedding, but the President Hayes and the First Lady, Lucy Hayes, wanted them to have a beautiful White House wedding that they would remember.

That is what happened.

There was a small number of guests, but the White House was beautifully decorated for the wedding that took place in the White House Blue Room on June 19, 1878.

At seven o’clock in the evening of June 19, the Marine band struck up the Mendelssohn’s wedding march. The President entered the room first with the bride’s sister, the First Lady entered on the arm of the groom, and the bride entered on the arm of her father. There were no attendants.

Again, quoting from the book: “The bride’s gown was of ivory brocade and was fashioned along princess lines with a long train bordered with deep pleating of plain silk, caught at the top with a wreath of orange blossoms.  Wreaths of orange blossoms also trimmed each side of the gown and down the front were bows of white double- faced ribbon. The square neckline was filled with tulle, caught with a spray of orange blossoms and single blossoms held puffs of illusion bordering the neck.  Ruffles of plain silk edged the sleeve, which reached half way to the wrist.”

Bishop Thomas A. Jagger of the Southern Diocese of Ohio officiated using the Episcopal ceremony.

After the ceremony, an elaborate dinner was served in the family dining room. Toasts were give using tea, coffee, or lemonade because no alcohol was served in the White House during the Hayes administration. Remember: The President Hayes’ wife got the nickname, “Lemonade Lucy,” because she refused to serve any alcohol while she was First Lady, and she sure did not change her policy for a wedding.

Finally, the President’s carriage took the newlyweds to the train station just in time to catch the train to New York. After the honeymoon, the Hastings came back to Washington to live, but General Hastings, who had been badly wounded during the Civil War, could not tolerate the cold Washington weather.  One morning while having breakfast, Emily and Russell decided to pull up stakes and go to Bermuda for the winter.  When in a warm climate place, General Hastings’ old wounds caused him less distress.

In 1883, Emily and Russell decided to make Bermuda their permanent home. They built a home called “Soney” on Point Share, Saltine Bay. The Hastings had three children: Lucy Webb, who was named for the First Lady, Lucy Hayes; Fanny, who was named for Emily’s mother; and Russell Platt Hastings, who was named for his father.

General Hastings died in 1904, 26 years after he and Emily were married at the White House.  Emily lived eighteen more years and died in 1922.

One of the most brilliant weddings that has ever taken place at the White House is the first one that took place in the 20th Century—the wedding of Alice Roosevelt and Rep. Nicholas Longworth.

Alice Roosevelt was the daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt and his first wife, Alice.

When Theodore Roosevelt met Alice Hathaway Lee, he described her as, “So marvelously sweet, pure, lovable, and pretty that I seem to love her more every time I see her.”  Immediately after Theodore graduated from Harvard, he and Alice were married.

In 1884, Theodore was serving in the New York Assembly in Albany, and his wife, who was expecting a baby, was staying at the Roosevelt home in New York. On Feb. 12, 1884, Roosevelt received a message that his wife had the baby and was very ill. Theodore left Albany for New York. Alice, the love of Theodore’s life, died on Feb. 14, 1884, and Theodore’s mother, who he also adored, died the same day.

The death of his beloved wife and his mother, who he loved so deeply, was more than Theodore could handle. He left his baby, who was named Alice for her mother, with his sister and fled to North Dakata. He bought a ranch and spent the next two years as a working cowboy, sometimes staying in the saddle 12 hours a day.

After spending two years working though his grief, Theodore decided to go back east.

After he got home, he became reacquainted with a person that he had really known all of his life, but, after renewing his acquaintance with Edith, something was different. The lady, Edith Carow, and Theodore fell in love.  Soon, Edith became Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt and the Roosevelts moved to a house that Theodore had had built while in was in North Dakota.  They named the house Sagamore Hill.  It was/is a big house at Oyster Bay on Long Island. That is where Theodore’s daughter, Alice, grew up with her father, step-mother, four brothers, and one sister.  It seems that Alice was always the eccentric one, and one who would find a way to cause trouble. (The Sagamore Hill House at Oyster Bay is still open to visitors.)

After Roosevelt was elected President and the family moved to Washington, Alice defied many of society’s rules, which was probably just to attract attention.  For example, she smoked in public who was unheard of at that time and that was just one of “Alice’s sins.”  Her father finally said,     “I can handle Alice or I can handle the duties of the President of the United States but I can’t do both!!”

Alice met Congressman Nichlos Longworth who was quite taken with mischievous Alice. So taken in fact, that a fabulous wedding took place on February 17, 1906.  That took place in the White House East Room which is 80 feet long, 37 feet wide with ceiling 22 feet high.  The following is a description of the decorations in the East Room from the book, The White House by Smith and Durbin, “The four windows on the east side of the room were draped with a large lambrequin of old gold plush with curtains on either side.  Large ropes of smilax and bunches of Easter lilies hung from every possible loop and border. Forming a background between the platform and the windows were masses of palms and smilax with a great bunch of Easter lilies in the middle. On either side stood a large Satsuma vase filled with Easter lilies and beyond each of them a vase of Easter lilies set up a pedestal.” (The East Room in the White House is larger than many hoses.)

680 people arrived at the White House for the wedding, and they were seated in the East Room.  Guests included members of the cabinet and their wives; the Diplomatic Corp; many family members, which included Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, who was the niece of Theodore Roosevelt; a multitude of friends of the bride and groom, which included the groom’s friends from his college days as well as colleagues from the House of Representatives; and the list goes on.

As the Marine Band played the First Lady and her three sons entered the room.  They were followed by the wedding party.  First the Episcopal Bishop of Washington entered the room and then bridegroom, Nicholas Longworth with his best man, Thomas Nelson Perkins, and then exactly at noon, Alice entered on the arm of her father, President Theodore Roosevelt.  The bride’s dress was a magnificent creation of cream satin princess in style with an 18-foot-long train of silver brocade.  The yoke and elbow sleeves were of lace that had been past of her mother’s wedding dress.  The tulle veil worn off the face over her dark pompadour style hair was caught with a coronet of orange blossoms. Clusters of the same flowers were nestled in the lace on her shoulders. That was Smith and Durbin, the authors of The White House, description the bride’s dress.

The guests were invited to a breakfast after the wedding.  About three o’clock after the breakfast and accompanying celebration, during which there were many champagne toasts, the bride and groom were escorted to an automobile for the trip to their honeymoon destination.   It is said that Alice’s stepmother, Edith, let Alice know how happy she was that she would no longer be living with them because she had caused so many problems!  (The fact that champagne flowed was certainly different from the wedding during the Hayes administration!)

After her marriage, Alice got interested in Longworth’s work in the House of Representatives where he was finally became Speaker.  She spent many hours in the gallery observing the work of the House of Representatives.  Alice did not give up her love of partying and of drawing attention to herself by making outlandish statements, etc.  Alice lived to the ripe old age of 96, and she remained active on the capital social circle.  She was described as being “peppery and plain-spoken,” and it is said that she had a pillow in her home which said, “If you can’t say something good about someone, sit right here by me.”  Nicholas Longworth died in 1931, and Alice lived 49 years after her husband’s death.  She died in 1980.  Alice Roosevelt Longworth continued to be a lady who attracted attention as long as she lived.