Thursday, May 22, 2003

Ohio Moments

Nellie Taft knew the way to the White House

On May 22, 1943, Helen Herron Taft - a native of the Queen City and America's first lady from 1909 to 1913 - died in Washington, D.C. She is credited with encouraging her husband, Cincinnati's William Howard Taft, to enter politics.

Born in 1861, "Nellie," as she was called, was the daughter of John W. Herron, a distinguished Cincinnati lawyer, and Harriet Collins Herron, a socialite.

Nellie first saw the White House when she was 17 and she and her parents were guests of President Rutherford B. Hayes, another Ohioan.

She met Taft at a winter party, where he gave her a bobsled ride. They married on June 19, 1886. Although Taft declared no political ambitions for himself, he predicted that his wife would someday become secretary of the Treasury. That never happened, but Mrs. Taft had political plans for her husband.

After she became first lady, she was brimming with ideas to improve Washington. But, less than three months later, she suffered a stroke that left her partially paralyzed. She turned her duties over to her daughter, Helen, who took a year off college to help out. After that year, Mrs. Taft had recovered enough to resume her duties.

She lent her husband's administration luster and polish. Her lasting legacy is the cherry trees that grace Washington - a gift to her from Japan.

Rebecca Goodman

E-mail or (513) 768-8361.

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