“I decided to sire a child every time I killed an elephant. I’m sure my wife was glad that there were only six elephants in American zoos at the time.”
As you’ve seen in our three previous articles about the children of Teddy Roosevelt, the man did this country a service by creating a miniature army of super Americans. Roosevelt children defied gender roles, stormed Normandy into their 50s, and navigated mysterious Amazonian rivers like it was nothing. So as we continue our ongoing Teddy’s Tots series we look into the Roosevelt Daughter who shied away from the limelight…and in doing so still ended up being the first Roosevelt to show up for World War I.
Because you do not fuck with the Roosevelts.
Ethel Roosevelt Derby: Nurse, Philanthropist, and Preserver of the Roosevelt Legacy
Ethel Roosevelt was born in 1891. She was Teddy Roosevelt’s second daughter, and fourth child overall. She was more shy and kept more to herself than Alice, and being a woman and all wasn’t technically allowed to kill Germans in both of the World Wars. So how was Ethel going to distinguish herself as a true Roosevelt?
How about being the first Roosevelt child to serve in World War I?
Yes, while the government failed to realize that a Roosevelt with Fallopian Tubes is about as potent of a war threat as four well trained soldiers, they did at least let her get into the fray to try to save lives. After marrying a surgeon, Richard Derby, in 1913, as soon as the war broke out she joined her husband in France and worked at her husband’s war hospital as a nurse. While it greatly limited her chance to kill Germans, it did eventually allow her to help save American lives, which is still pretty good.
This of course set Roosevelt on her path towards a lifetime of philanthropic service, even as she purposely stayed out of the limelight. Sometimes this involved her wearing silly hats.
“And if you make fun of me for it, my dad will shoot you in the knee.”
She ended up being a volunteer Red Cross nurse for 60 years, and was known as the “Queen of Oyster Bay” for her efforts in the town she ended up residing in with her family. Her calm and unassuming disposition is the only reason she did not insist on being known as the Empress of Oyster Bay, but she did take her position in the town to help advance Civil Rights in the area, forming a committee to create lower-income housing in the town.
Her final contribution to the Roosevelt line centered around her work in preserving the family’s legacy, which she primarily achieved through her work in making Sagamore Hill, the main residence of the Roosevelts, a historical landmark. If you ever have the opportunity to step foot inside the house where Teddy Roosevelt spent the majority of his moustache-growing life, you will have his daughter Ethel to thank for it.
So while Ethel Roosevelt Derby might not have had as many publically Rooseveltian achievements as many of her siblings, she proved to be the calming influence in the family, the caretaker who ensured the family legacy would live on, and helping thousands of people without trying to take the blame.
While we prefer our Americans to be boisterous about their exploits, we can’t find fault with Ethel’s desire to help so many people from afar. Because if we did, Teddy Roosevelt’s ghost would probably show up and shoot us in the ankles.