Tags: Presidential History | first lady | howard taft

Helen Taft: The Causes That Defined President Howard Taft's First Lady

By    |   Friday, 12 Jun 2015 10:15 AM

Helen Taft was 27th President William H. Taft’s first lady who supported him throughout his political career.

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The couple met when Helen was 17 and their immediate friendship soon became courtship, as she once referred to him as “that adorable Will Taft,” and called Helen his “treasure,” according to a biographical sketch on whitehouse.gov. 

Helen was opposed to marrying for the sole purpose of starting a family and her marriage with President Taft was based upon a mutual intellectual interest in literature and politics.

The couple made little effort to hide the extent to which she advised him on policies and other political affairs.

Below are the causes that Helen cared about most:

Racial Equality and Tolerance
While living in the Philippines because of her husband’s job as Governor-General, Helen worked to learn and respect the language and culture of the natives.

She broke social norms when she invited natives to her social events.

In the White House, Helen gave all of the White House usher jobs to African Americans.

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The domestic staff position was considered prestigious by white men, making her action all the more shocking at the time.

Workers’ Conditions
Helen Taft supported the National Civic Federation, a group that sought to improve workers’ conditions by joining workers and industrial leaders together.

One of Helen’s few speeches was at the National Civic Foundation’s National Convention in 1908.

Helen later became the National Civic Federation’s women’s division honorary national chair in which she worked to improve children’s labor conditions in North Carolina cotton mills.

Helen encouraged her husband to issue a 1912 executive order that created sanitation, health, and safety measures for workers.

West Potomac Park
The creation of the West Potomac Park is the most acclaimed feature of Helen’s legacy.

With the help of the Agriculture Department, Helen brought Japanese cherry blossom trees to the D.C. park, hoping to make the area look like Luneta Park in Manila, where all social classes of society would go to listen to music and watch concerts.

She soon gained the favor of the city of Tokyo, who donated approximately 3,000 trees.

Anti-Prohibition
Helen was not a supporter of the prohibition movement.

Her insistence on serving her ‘champagne punch’ at White House events outraged the Ladies Home Journal and fueled lobbying efforts on behalf of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.

However, Helen tried to hide the fact that she drank, smoked, and gambled from the media.

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Helen Taft was 27th President William H. Taft’s first lady who supported him throughout his political career.
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