Alice (that's her in the family portrait above, leaning over the new baby along with big sister Vicky) showed early on a deeply compassionate nature; she enjoyed visiting the laborers who lived on the Royal estates at Osborne and Balmoral and was genuinely interested in their lives and living conditions. She was close to her older brother and sister, and became Bertie’s closest friend among the family. She was perhaps not as academically brilliant as Vicky (who was definitely the brain of the family), but shared her father’s broad practical streak. None of Victoria’s children were beauties, but she was pleasant-looking, as can be seen in the portrait and photograph below.
Alice came into her own in 1861, when her practical and sympathetic sides made her the natural choice in the role of family nurse. She spent a great deal of time with her dying grandmother (remember the Duchess of Kent?), and only months later, did her best to nurse her father through his fatal illness. After that she was the chief attendant of the distraught Queen Victoria, sitting with her mother through sleepless nights and tearful days. Perhaps it was to escape this difficult job that she accepted the proposal of Prince Louis of Hesse and by Rhine a few months later. He was a kindly, well-meaning man, but not the intellectual equal of Alice; their marriage, while outwardly successful in a quiet way, proved to be a source of disappointment to Alice.
Alice spent her married years producing seven children and becoming a pioneer in the creation of the nursing profession, establishing nursing schools and women’s hospitals and becoming a fast friend and correspondent of Florence Nightingale. Some of the institutions she established still exist today…but Alice is probably best remembered today as the mother of Empress Alexandra of Russia and Grand Duchess Ella of Russia, both murdered in the Bolshevik Revolution in July 1918. She is also the source of the hemophilia that plagued the Empress’s son, having inherited it from Victoria and passing it on to several of her children. However, Alice didn’t live to see these tragedies or even to see her children reach adulthood; she died in December 1878 at age 35, on the anniversary of her own father’s death, after nursing her children through a diphtheria epidemic.