Last updated: October 13, 2020
Ethel Roosevelt Derby
Ethel Carow Roosevelt Derby was the youngest daughter of Theodore and Edith Roosevelt. Ethel was instrumental in preserving both the legacy of her father as well as the family home, Sagamore Hill, for future generations.
As a child, Ethel and her older brother Kermit would have fun getting into trouble but with her two younger brothers, Archie and Quentin, she acted as assistant mother. When her father became president in 1901, she often assisted her mother by placing meal orders and delegating tasks to the staff.
Ethel kept a low profile and did not enjoy the attention as much as her half-sister, Alice Roosevelt did. While living in Washington D.C., Ethel attended school at the National Cathedral. Ethel had her debut and coming out party in the White House on December 28, 1908, shortly before her father left office. She was 17 at the time of her debut, one-year shy of the typical age that most women debuted. Since the family was preparing to leave Washington, D.C., this would be last opportunity for Ethel to debut while living at a very prestigious address.
Upon returning to Oyster Bay, Ethel met and married Dr. Richard Derby, a surgeon. They had two children, Richard Jr. and Edith, by the time WWI broke out. She was the first of the Roosevelt children to go overseas during WWI. Ethel became a nurse and volunteered to serve in France during World War I. She worked in the American Ambulance Hospital, where her husband, Richard Derby, served as a surgeon.
Also during the war, Ethel became involved with the Red Cross and continued volunteering for the organization for six decades. When Ethel was to have her family portrait painted, she chose to be painted wearing her Red Cross uniform instead of a more traditional evening gown and jewels.
Upon returning to the United States with her husband after WWI, they had two more children, Sarah and Judith. All the children were raised in Oyster Bay, where Ethel was regarded as a church and community leader earning her the nickname "Queen of Oyster Bay". Ethel also served as Nassau County Chairperson for the Red Cross and Chairperson of the Nassau County Nursing Service.
Ethel was very close to her parents and remained at the center of the family even after her mother, Edith, died in 1948. She also donated considerable time and energy to organizations such as Christ Episcopal Church in downtown Oyster Bay and worked to secure low-income housing in the area because she was aware of the discrimination faced by African Americans in Oyster Bay.
Ethel was a trustee of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, which her grandfather, Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., had helped to found in 1869. Conscious of her family’s role in history, Ethel worked assiduously to turn Sagamore Hill into a museum.
Ethel also assisted the National Audubon Society with the creation of the Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center on Long Island to help carry on her father’s interest in the natural world.
Ethel Roosevelt Derby died in 1977 at age 85. She is buried alongside her husband and her parents at Youngs Cemetery in Oyster Bay, N.Y.