Like a lot of people I guess, I had never heard of Theodora Roosevelt Rauchfuss Keogh until The Telegraph ran her obituary today. An obituary, as a matter of fact, Keogh had requested not run at all, according to The Charlotte Observer who said that one time novelist, socialite and ballet dancer had requested there be “no funeral or obituary and leaves no children of her own, according to family and friends.”

Keogh died January 5th at age 88 and was, according to The Telegraph, the granddaughter of President Theodore Roosevelt and “the author of nine novels, all of them dark in tone and many of them peopled with sinister figures.”

The remarkable early novels treated young girls facing sexual conflict in New York and Paris, and critics could not decide whether Theodora Keogh possessed extraordinary understanding of these matters or was merely aiming to shock.

Though Keogh’s work gained some critical respect, in the United States her novels were produced as pulps and are all out of print, though in the last few years, reports The Telegraph, “she was tracked down by a disparate group of new readers from various lands, some bearing offers of republication.”

Theodora Keogh published her first novel, Meg, in 1950. Partly autobiographical (the heroine came from an Upper East Side family), it tackled dark areas – the heroine was raped, and passed her history exam by threatening to expose her teacher as a lesbian.

John Betjeman described it as a “brutally frightening picture of what may happen to a little girl in New York”, and Nigel Nicolson wrote: “A great many people will be outraged by this book, but I place it first on my list because of its remarkable originality, good sense and utter lack of sentimentality.”

In the Saturday Review, Patricia Highsmith gave an unknown woman a rare favourable review: “She writes with a skill and command of her material that should set her promptly into the ranks of the finer young writers of today.”

Though from the little I’ve been able to learn about Keogh, I think she would have hated all this fuss about her, The Telegraph obituary paints an amazing portrait of a life well lived. The author herself might have paused before making some of this stuff up. The Charlotte Observer adds a bit here and here.

Ironically, we bring you the news about Keogh’s death on the very day former first daughter and mystery author Margaret Truman Daniel passes away at age 83. The Rap Sheet has that story here.

11 thoughts on “Theodora Keogh Dies”

  1. I am Theo’s stepdaughter.

    Her life, as it affected my family, was hardly “well lived.”

    Ask me and my four siblings what she sent one of us when our father died.

    Ask us how she betrayed our mother, who had taken Theo.

    Ask us about Theo’s voodoo.

    Ask us about the family’s linen, crystal, china, furniture, and photographs she destroyed rather than give to her stepchildren.

    Ask us about her involvement with drugs.

    A well-lived life, yes, and a strange one. Also a life that destroyed a gullible family.

    Christine Rauchfuss Gray

  2. A new book published this month offers glimpses of Theodora’s life in Paris, circa 1950-1952, that enlarge somewhat on the Telegraph’s obit and the biography. Sally Pierone, who was art director of the Marshall Plan at that time in Paris, tells of the wild, bohemian life she experienced with Tom and Theodora Keogh. Sally, now 86, isn’t proud of those days, but she did turn her life around. Sally—The Older Woman’s Illustrated Guide to Self-Improvement. (

  3. Theodora was a great woman. She would have done anything to help anybody. I have known theodora my whole life. My grandfather bought theodoras house and property when her step son steve rauchfuss embezzled her money while she was sick in the hospital. Theodora never even tried to get her money back from him. It disqusts me to she theodoras step daughter christine trash her character even when she is dead. Its not Theodoras fault that Arthur found a woman he loved more than your mother. So let the past go…..

  4. Dear, you saw only one side of, as she is known by our family, Theowhora.

    No, no, Sweetie. Stephen did not embezzle.

    Let the truth be known: Thee Thee wanted Stephen to run her business growing marijuana in the basement of my father’s house.

    Really, now, you should ask those whose family was damaged–not destroyed, mind you–by Theowhora.

    And the Roosevelts et al. and their “friend” Joan do not frighten me one wit!

    Dr. Gray

  5. Professor Gray, I just have to wonder if you’ll still be speaking about your stepmother in such terms after her novels are republished (by some university press rather than by and make their way into American literature and women’s studies curriculi.

    When that happens, I’m sure, there will be plenty of panels (at the MLA and elsewhere) and theses and papers in journals about her work.

  6. As I understand a man , Calvin Rich, that made his money smuggling cocaine in bee hives from Flordia swindled the land from Theodora by sleeping with her, then he,I am told, sold the timber and sold the swindled land to Theodoras neighbor and her exs kids got nothing at all,and Theodora was not in the hospital, she died at home

  7. It really bothers me how Theos step daughter tries to trash her character even after she pasted away. She was an amazing women and author. Christine's father fell in love with Theodora and he made the choice to divorce christines mother and he made the choice to leave Theodora the house and property. If Theodora was such a bad person why did he leave your mother for her? Why did he leave the house and property to her? She abviously meant a lot to him. And most people have smoked a little marijauna sometime in their past so you cant fault her for that. Keep in mind that she had cancer for a long time and marijauna is also used for medical purposes. Stephen did embezzle money from her 10-20 years before she past away when she was sick in the hospital, thats why theo had to sell the property. Sweety you need to get over the past and relieze Theo was a great woman and will always be remembered by all the people that loved her and her books.

  8. i feel so sad for Theodora that she is being villanized in this way. I realize I have no stake to put in the ground here, but my memories are so different than some of those expressed here. My Uncle (tommy O'Toole was married to her in the 60's through the late 70's. We all have great memories of visiting them both in their Chelsea apt. and then on their farm in BOONE North Carolina.So many Spring breaks we spent down there with them and their friends. They had a lot of exotic animals.she was always more than kind to all of us.we all have GREAT memories of sad to see that into some lives she was seen in such a poor light. Sorry that after they seperated we didn't keep in touch with her, but as teenagers your life seems to be so much more important than anything else.Always wanted to make a trip back there just to see the farm and the little pond.She will be remembered by the relatives of Tommy o'toole fondly:)As will he.

  9. I met Tommy O'Toole in 1966, (Summer of ), I was a tall and quite lanky deckhand on the Manhattan 2…a tour boat owned by Capt. Jerry Driscoll and on which Tommy was the first mate. It was the best summer job I ever had, and I fondly look back on those sweet summer days and nights spent on the Hudson. One of the most poignant memories I have of that time was how sweet it was to drop Tommy off at the Battery every night and to see his anxiously waiting wife and he walk off hand and hand at days end, very much in love! God bless them both.

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