Nicholas DiFonzo

Nicholas DiFonzo

Around the Watercooler

Gossip Part 1: Portrait of a 20th-century Washington Gossip

A historical example of a political gossip monger.

Posted Oct 01, 2011

Alice circa 1902

By all accounts, Alice Roosevelt Longworth was a favorite subject-and source-of gossip.

Born in 1884, the eldest daughter of then New York Assemblyman Theodore Roosevelt was bright, beautiful, and ... headstrong. After Roosevelt's rise to the U.S. presidency in 1901 she became "Darling Princess Alice" to the American public for her many antics.

Alice had a flair for attracting attention by flouting convention. She smoked cigarettes publicly in a time when smoking by women was taboo; when her father forbade her to smoke in the White House, she puffed atop the roof. Unchaperoned she traveled about in roadsters with men-a daring thing at the time. While on a diplomatic cruise to the Far East, she jumped into the ship's swimming pool fully clothed. She placed bets with bookies. She was often the talk of the town in a highly conventional era.

Alice and Nicholas Longworth 1926

In her later years, "Mrs. L." came to be known as an influential purveyor of gossip among the Washington political elite. A 1969 article in American Heritage magazine recorded her habitually malicious tongue: "‘X is not only a snob,' she said recently, ‘but a stupid snob: snobbish about the wrong people.'"

Here is a sample of scuttlebutt from an interview with Washington Post reporter Sally Quinn in 1974: "I like Julie better than Tricia [daughters of then President Richard Nixon]. I've never been able to get on with Tricia. She seems rather pathetic, doesn't she? I wonder what's wrong with her?"

Alice 1959

Through her many long years as "Washington's other monument," Mrs. L. was renowned for her delight in collecting and disseminating gossip. "Ethel [Kennedy] is behaving very badly these days. There's a certain brash quality about her I never liked. I liked Bobby though, a great deal."

Princess Alice might properly have been crowned the "Queen of Washington gossip."