Helen Herron Taft
January 2, 1861, in Cincinnati, Ohio
May 22, 1943, in Washington, D.C.
Helen Taft was 48 years old when she became first lady and served throughout her husband William Howard Taft’s single term in the years 1909-1913.
It was Helen who persuaded her husband to pursue politics, for she had wanted to become first lady since she was 16 years old and had attended a party for President Hayes and his wife at the White House with her parents. When Taft became president she not only fulfilled the traditional responsibilities of a first lady, but also continued to act as a political advisor. Helen exploited her position not only to influence policy, but also to help others. Helen was particularly helpful in assisting women obtain government jobs that had previously been denied to them. She also advocated for immigrant rights and sought to improve working conditions for girls working in factories. And when the Tafts chose to commemorate their 25th wedding anniversary with an elaborate celebration at the White House, Helen boldly included prominent Catholic priests, Protestant ministers, and Jewish rabbis among the 8,000 guests.
During Taft’s administration, Japan donated 3,000 cherry trees to the U.S. Helen is credited with having the trees planted along the Potomac River near the Jefferson Memorial, and Washington, D.C., has celebrated the spectacular beauty of their cherry blossoms every spring since.
Helen noted about life with her husband during his presidency, “I had always had the satisfaction of knowing almost as much as he about the politics and intricacies of any situation. I think any woman can discuss with her husband topics of national interest. I became familiar with more than politics. It involved real statesmanship.”