The Dowager’s Diary – Week One Hundred and Ninety-One

November 7-14, 1918

On November 6, 1918 Kate Shippen Roosevelt wrote in her diary, “Election Day. Women voting for the first time in New York State. I did not vote as both tickets seemed pretty rotten. Dorothy did vote. President Wilson made an appeal to the country asking to elect a Democratic Senate and House of Representatives to uphold him and make him all powerful when peace comes. The country at large rebelled and Republicans got the vote in both houses. A Democrat did win the election for governor of New York. Wilson is a good politician. It seemed strange that he should make such a mistake but Colonel House, his advisor is in Europe.” Although he did not serve in the military, Edward Mandell House was called the colonel because of his highly influential back-stage political maneuvering. Born in Texas, Colonel House was an American diplomat, politician and loyal advisor to President Wilson. Kate might have been onto something when she wrote that Wilson had made a mistake in judgment. Although un-diagnosed and undisclosed, President Wilson had been suffering from small strokes since 1917 and was in the early stages of dementia.

President Woodrow Wilson and Colonel House

Those words, written one hundred years ago foreshadowed the same politic posturing fed to twenty-first century voters in an effort to stack the Senate and Assembly with members of President Trump’s party. A century later, the only difference is that the political party asking for carte blanche control of the country is Republican not Democrat.

Jeanette Rankin Speaking in favor of suffrage

Of course, the Roosevelts were Republicans, but Kate certainly could have voted for anyone in their party who was running, but chose not to do so. Was it because she had not bothered to register to take part in this historic event? 1918 was the year that woman gained the right to vote in New York City. Thanks to Suffragettes like Jeanette Rankin, the first woman to be elected to Congress from the State of Montana in 1916 and many of Kate Roosevelt’s contemporaries, women had a say in who was elected. Kate called these crusaders, “soapbox militants” and did not want any part of their new independence. Coming from the comfortable lifestyle provided to her by the Roosevelt fortune, she did not have to worry about mundane matters and felt that she did not have the right to upset the status quo. Of course, her cousin, former President Theodore Roosevelt, ever the politician, sided with the suffragettes.

Governor Al Smith

Doing some research on who the gubernatorial candidates were, I had an inkling why she called one of them in particular, “rotten.” Running for governor of New York in 1918 were the Republican incumbent, Charles Whitman and the Democrat, Alfred Smith. Knowing Kate’s dislike of Catholics, I could only imagine what she thought of having one of “them” as governor. Smith won the election and served four terms as governor and was the first Catholic to run for President of the United States.  A fete accomplished by John F. Kennedy in 1961.

With the election over and done with, Kate’s mind was still on politics and of course World War One. Even going to church did not appease her apprehension about world affairs when she wrote, “To church meeting.  The idea of this praying business seems rather silly. We are too busy these days to waste time going to church and praying. Life is one long prayer and spiritual endeavors in these strange and strenuous times seems futile.” Was Mrs. Kate Roosevelt, the pious Episcopalian becoming an Atheist or simply a pragmatist? Whatever her beliefs, she was never at a loss for words or passed up the chance to voice her opinion.

Sharon Hazard’s Dowager’s Diary appears on Thursday.

On WAT-CAST, listen to Sharon talk about the series.

Photo One:
Women March to Voting Booths in New York, 1918
Library of Congress

Photo Two:
President Woodrow Wilson and Colonel House
Illinois Library

Photo Three:
Jeanette Rankin Speaking in favor of suffrage
Library of Congress

Photo Four:
Governor Al Smith
Bain Collection Library of Congress