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  Helen Taft

by John T. Marck

First Lady: 1909 to 1913

Wife of William Howard Taft

Born: January 2, 1861 Died: May 22, 1943

Helen Herron was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the daughter of John Williamson and Harriet Herron. Her father was a distinguished lawyer, and her mother, a fashionable lady.

Helen (or Nellie as she was called), met William Howard Taft at a party where he gave her a bobsled ride. Although their relationship moved slowly, the two were married on June 19, 1886. The couple had three children: The eldest, Robert, became a successful Senator; Their only daughter Helen, became a teacher and a dean at Bryn Mawr College, and the youngest, Charles, a successful lawyer. Nellie convinced her husband to turn to politics, and luckily, President McKinley appointed him to the job of organizing the Philippine Government in 1900, and made him Governor in 1901. Taft handled these positions well, with Nellie presiding over the Malacanan Palace, entertaining in high style. In 1902, President Roosevelt attempted to put Taft on the Supreme Court, however was unsuccessful. Several months later, Taft was approved as Secretary of War. This position made Nellie very happy, as she believed this would be a stepping stone to the Presidency, a position she hoped her husband would finally attain. Upon Taft's election to the Presidency, Nellie had many ideas of improving Washington and the White House. She is best remembered for having the idea of planting the cherry trees along Washington's tidal basin. She received the trees from the Mayor of Tokyo, who generously donated them. She also was the first to hold garden parties at the White House.

Three months after becoming First Lady, Nellie suffered a stroke, leaving her partially paralyzed. As a result she was unable to perform her mistress duties, so she turned the job over to her daughter and sisters. She recovered enough to return to her duties during her husband's last two years in office. After his term was completed, Taft became a law professor at Yale University and Nellie enjoyed very much being the wife of a professor. She enjoyed this lifestyle for eight years, until 1921, when Taft became a Supreme Court Justice, which pleased Nellie all the more.

Nellie died on May 22, 1943 in Washington, D.C., outliving her husband by thirteen years.

Copyright 1990-2022 by John T. Marck. All Rights Reserved. This article and their accompanying pictures, photographs, and line art, may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author. From The First Ladies of the Unites States by John T. Marck.