- NAME: Helen Taft
- OCCUPATION: Civil Rights Activist, Women's Rights Activist, U.S. First Lady
- BIRTH DATE: June 02, 1861
- DEATH DATE: May 22, 1943
- EDUCATION: University of Cincinnati
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Cincinnati, Ohio
- PLACE OF DEATH: Washington, D.C.
- Nickname: "Nellie"
- AKA: Helen Taft
- Full Name: Helen Louise Herron Taft
- Originally: Helen Louise Herron
- Nickname: "Helen H."
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Helen Taft was a schoolteacher, political adviser and U.S. First Lady who was the wife of President William Howard Taft.
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Helen Taft was born on June 2, 1861, in Cincinnati, Ohio, and went on to work as a schoolteacher before marrying William Howard Taft in 1886. An independent thinker, she became her husband’s primary political adviser and organized his presidential campaign. As first lady she established new traditions and was the first presidential partner to have her memoirs published. She died on May 22, 1943.
"I had always had the satisfaction of knowing almost as much as [William Howard Taft] about the politics and intricacies of any situation. I think any woman can discuss with her husband topics of national interest."
Helen Taft, born Helen Louise Herron on June 2, 1861, in Cincinnati, Ohio, had politics in blood. Her father, John Williamson Herron, was a district attorney, judge and Republican Party activist. Her mother, Harriet Collins Herron, was the daughter and sister of U.S. congressmen. Helen would later recall that the only significant incident in her childhood was a visit to the White House with her parents at the invitation of President Rutherford B. Hayes, a family friend.
While music was Helen's passion while growing up, it wasn't a career option for a woman in Victorian 19th century America. Nicknamed "Nellie," Helen went to private schools before studying for one year at the University of Cincinnati. Afterward, she taught briefly at a school for boys in Cincinnati. She met "Will" Taft at a sledding party in the winter of 1880, and after a long courtship, the couple married in 1886. Taft was a young lawyer with aspirations to become a U.S. Supreme Court justice, but Helen had other ideas.
Helen Taft was her husband's best advocate as he worked his way through state and federal political appointments. In 1890, while William Taft was serving as solicitor general, Helen established connections in Washington's high social circles. After the Spanish-American War, President William McKinley appointed Taft governor of the Philippines. Excited that the appointment would give her husband valuable experience as a chief executive, Helen traveled with him, and made an effort to learn the Filipino language and culture.
In 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt offered Taft the position of secretary of war, and Helen encouraged him to accept, seeing the job as a possible stepping stone to the White House. In 1908, after Roosevelt decided not to run for re-election, Helen met with him privately and convinced him to support her husband for the presidency. During the 1908 presidential election campaign, Helen became Taft's chief advisor, consulting him on how to position himself, sometimes even suggesting the language he used in his speeches. In November 1908, Taft won the election against Democrat William Jennings Bryan.
After only two months in the White House, Helen suffered a stroke that left her temporarily unable to speak. With indomitable will, she worked her way back to health. Upon her return, she concentrated on the social image of the administration, organizing lavish dinners and functions. She also continued her interest in politics, opposing prohibition, and promoting women's suffrage and rights for factory workers.
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When the 19th Amendment was ratified, women were finally given the right to vote, and over the years many courageous women have stepped onto the national political stage as well. In 1916, Jeannette Rankin became the first woman elected to Congress and almost a century later Sonia Sotomayor became the first Latina woman to serve on the Supreme Court. And within the last two decades, the esteemable Hillary Clinton has served as First Lady, a New York senator and Secretary of State. These women, and many more, are setting the stage for the future of female leaders in Washington.
Visit Biography.com's Women's History group to explore more biographies, photos and videos of some the world's most fascinating women."
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