The Poster Child of the Unconventional Woman
Updated: Oct 31, 2020
I've been thinking quite a bit lately about unconventional women. Despite three waves of feminism, and possibly being in the middle of a fourth, a woman who speaks her mind with any force today is still referred to as "nasty." While many women have taken ownership of the term as a point of pride, turning out t-shirts, hats, and other ways to own the moniker, it is still thrown around as a epithet by.....certain people. If you haven't already noticed, I like talking about the Unconventional Women of history. They are the ones who will not be silenced, or made to fit into society's mold of the ideal feminine stereotype.
One such DC resident that flew in the face of convention, and who I LOVE studying, is Alice Roosevelt Longworth. I recently visited her grave at Rock Creek Cemetery, in the upper part of NW DC. There's also a meme that's floating around listing her particularities and I'm happy to see how often it pops up, which means others are sharing it! She was a sharp-tongued, cigar-smoking, whiskey drinking, promiscuous socialite and daughter of Teddy Roosevelt and his first wife Alice Hathaway Lee. It's widely acknowledged by Roosevelt historians that her father didn't dote on her much, as her mother had died just two days after she was born from kidney failure and she undoubtedly reminded Teddy of his loss.
When her father became President, she became an instant fashion icon, wearing a dress a shade of blue that thereafter became known as "Alice Blue." She had an early interest in politics, and she was never shy about expressing her opinion. She was notorious for bursting into the Oval Office while her father was working to weigh in on a particular topic. Even after he left the White House she would play tricks on the grounds, including burying a voodoo doll of the incoming first lady Nellie Taft in the front lawn. She was banned from the property after that. She accompanied a US delegation around Asia and Hawaii which was America's largest delegations to go around the world at that time. When the boat was on its way to Japan she jumped fully dressed into the water, and convinced Congressman Nicholas Longsworth to join her. They were married after the trip concluded.
She would savage people with her opinions, in particular as she got older. She was quoted as saying "if you have nothing nice to say, come sit by me." She would verbally spar with her cousin Joe Alsop, an equally sharp witted columnist for the Washington Post. He was vicious in his commentaries on the political and the social scene, but apparently he could dish it but not take it. She also started out as a Republican but her political affiliation changed after the Civil Rights movement as she observed the struggle of the black people around her, including those who worked for her. She once told off a cab driver who addressed her chauffer as "you black bastard" after her car pulled ahead of him. Nonetheless she apparently was a good friend of Nixon's, even after his resignation. She could never be accused of being predictable.
Political figures hated being ignored by her as much as they hated being the subject of her ire. That is what happens when you have strong opinions and are brave enough to say them without reserve. People almost can't help but want those opinions to be about them. She surrounded herself with likeminded people, bohemians, and other unconventionals such as Mary Pinchot Meyer, who was an artist in Georgetown and JFK's mistress. She passed away in 1980 at the age of 96 in her mansion in Dupont Circle.
I look at women like Alice, who are just being themselves as opposed to performative "look at me" types, and I think where are the women like this? Granted, she was rich and came from privilege. When you have that kind of background and are a "wild woman" you had the luxury of being dismissed as simply "eccentric." If she had come from a different economic background she probably would have been discounted and ignored as just another weirdo. Nonetheless, being at that level of society also exposes you to an immense amount of public scrutiny and she just didn't care. She could be unapologetically nasty.
So thank you Alice. May you continue to inspire Unconventional Women everywhere.
To learn more about other Unconventional Women of DC, come check out my Ladies of the Georgetown Set tour! I'll introduce you to some women who changed the face of history by challenging their traditional roles. https://www.otmdc.com/bookings-checkout/ladies-of-the-georgetown-set