"Nellie" Herron was born in 1861, and grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. She studied music with enthusiasm, attending a private school in the city. As "the only unusual incident" of her girlhood, she recalled her visit to the White House at age 17 as the guest of President and Mrs. Hayes, intimate friends of her parents.
The year after this notable visit she met "that adorable Will Taft," at a sledding party. They found intellectual interests in common and friendship matured into love. They were married in 1886. A "treasure," Taft called her, "self-contained, independent, and of unusual application." He suggested she ought to become secretary of the treasury!
No woman could hope for such a career in that day, but Mrs. Taft welcomed each step in her husband's. They had three children - Robert, Helen, and Charles by the time he took charge of American civil government in the Philippines in 1900. Helen's willingness to take her children to a country unsettled by war, and the delight with which she undertook the journey were characteristic of this woman who loved a challenge. Travel with her husband brought an interest in world politics and a cosmopolitan circle of friends. His election to the presidency in 1908 gave her a position she had long desired.
As first lady, Helen Taft concentrated on giving the administration a social brilliance. Only two months after the inauguration she suffered a severe stroke. An indomitable will had her back in command again within a year. At the New Year's reception for 1910, she was a graceful figure. The Tafts' daughter left college for a year to take part in social life at the White House, and the gaiety of her debut enhanced the 1910 Christmas season.
The administrations most outstanding event was an evening garden party for several thousand guests on the Tafts' silver wedding anniversary, June 19, 1911. Helen thought of this as "the greatest event" in her White House experience. Her book, Recollections of Full Years, gives her account of a varied life. And the capital's famous Japanese cherry trees, planted around the Tidal Basin at her request, form a notable memorial.
Her public role in Washington did not end when she left the White House. In 1921 her husband was appointed Chief Justice of the United States - the position he had desired most of all - and she continued to live in the capital after his death in 1930. Retaining to the end her love of travel and of classical music, Helen Taft died at her home on May 22, 1943.
You Might Also Like
Collection Animal Ambassadors
Animals, whether pampered household pets, working livestock, birds, squirrels, or strays, have long been a major part of White House...
Podcast Entertaining at the White House
From diplomatic dinners to holiday gatherings, the White House has always played a central role in the nation’s official en...
Collection The First Ladies
Biographies & Portraits
Collection Cherry Blossoms
Since the first cherry blossom planting in 1912 by First Lady Helen Herron Taft, Washingtonians have celebrated the scenic beauty and...
Collection Women and the White House
While there has yet to be a female president, women have played an integral role in shaping the White House...
Podcast Fearless Leadership: A Conversation with Jean Case
Fearless leaders have walked the halls of White House for centuries. In this episode, White House Historical Association President Stewart...
Collection The Presidents
Biographies & Portraits
Reading Lists & Bibliography
General White House Bibliography:Aikman, Lonnelle. The Living White House. Washington, D.C.: The White House Historical Association, 1996. Cunliffe, Marcus....
White House History Table of Contents
NUMBERS 1 THROUGH 6 (COLLECTION I) WHITE HOUSE HISTORY • NUMBER 1 1 — Foreword by Melvin M. Payne 5 — President Kennedy’s Rose Garden by Rachel Lambert...
About Our Authors
WILLIAM ADAIR is a frame historian, conservator, and gilder in Washington, D.C. (WHH #54) WILLIAM G. ALLMAN served more than...
2019 2019 Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY) The Stephen Decatur House: A History Gold, Regional Non-Fiction 2019 Next Generation Indie Book Awards The...
National History Day Resources
The White House Historical Association (WHHA) offers many different resources for students working on National History Day projects.