TR Center - Derby, Ethel Carow Roosevelt

Ethel Roosevelt Derby

Ethel Carow Roosevelt Derby (1891-1977) was the daughter of Theodore and Edith Kermit Roosevelt. Pragmatic and compassionate even as a girl, Ethel graduated from Washington’s Cathedral School for Girls in 1906, and made her debut in the White House two years later. Ethel Roosevelt with her mother Edith in 1900. From the Roosevelt family albums, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs division. As First Daughter, she was much more private than her older half-sister, Alice. Ethel married Harvard and Columbia-educated surgeon Richard “Dick” Derby at age 22 in 1913. They lived in Oyster Bay with their children, Richard, Sara Alden, Judith, and Edith. 

When World War I began in Europe in 1914, Ethel joined her husband in France and toiled in the American Ambulance Hospital tending to wounded soldiers. Eight-year-old Richard died in 1922, causing his father to suffer a six-year depression during which time Ethel bore the brunt of caring for him and their children. By 1928, Dick Derby was better and working at the Glen Cove hospital. Ethel began what turned into six decades of volunteering with the Oyster Bay Red Cross.

Ethel was very close to her parents, and remained at the center of the family even after Edith died in 1948. She donated considerable time and energy to organizations such as Christ Episcopal Church and the Nassau County Nursing Service in Oyster Bay. She 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 national historic site. 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.

Dick Derby died in 1963, and the Derbys' daughter Judith passed away in 1973 after a long illness complicated by alcoholism and depression. Ethel sought solace in travel to places like Kashmir and Machu Picchu. In 1977, age 86, Ethel Roosevelt Derby died. With her husband and parents, she is buried at Young’s Cemetery in Oyster Bay.


Ethel and Richard Derby during their engagement, 1913. From the Roosevelt family albums, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs division.