tv C-SPAN3 Programming CSPAN August 17, 2015 12:01am-1:32am EDT
good evening and welcome to first ladies, influence and image, the life of helen taft. he served from 1909-1913. here to tell us about her life is her biographer. his biography is our musical first lady. you open the book making the case that of the 20th century first ladies -- why did she deserve better? >> because she did some things that were very constructive. the cherry trees, classical music in the white house, and generally trying to make washington a cold tro city of the nation. that was her ambition. it did not work out. she has an agenda that would have made her rank with eleanor roosevelt in terms of transforming washington.
>> she also seemed to have an agenda to get her husband to the white house. >> the story is that she decided during the haze and ministration -- she said she wanted to do that as well. there are a lot of women -- sometimes, she is portrayed as a cross between mommy dearest and lady macbeth, which is not the case. she was a much more constructive influence and a nicer lady. >> helen taft has an interesting story. we bet many of you will be hearing it for the first time. he would like to involve even our conversation. you can send us comments on facebook. you can also send us a tweet using the #first ladies. we will get to your calls in a few minutes. first, we will tell you about her early biography. how does she get to the white house at age 16? her father in cincinnati where
friends with president rutherford b. hayes and lucy hayes and they went to the white house -- she had not yet made her debut. she could not participate in social activities. president hayes and says it was wonderful to have her there. in a taft family lore, she was supposed to have said, i am going to come back. it is not clear that that is what she said, but like many people, she said she wanted to marry a man who blew who will become president. her father was friends with benjamin harrison and had been involved in ohio politics. on her mother's side -- she was quite the intellectual. she was reading darwin and other things at school and she had the ability to play the piano which
she studied quite seriously. i wish there were recordings but there don't seem to be. she had a salon in cincinnati which was a culturally rich city. i'm not saying it is not now, but it was sort of -- they thought of themselves as the rome of the west. >> she was from a political family. -- how did she choose taft as her mate? >> it was a small community. it was after he had gone to jail aleafter he had gone to yell that their lives began to intersect. they began to court. she was in her mid-20's, which was late for marrying in those days and he was almost 29. but they started going out to dinner halls and other things in cincinnati and gradually fell in
love. he was more smitten with her than she was with him. he proposed -- and she rejected which was standard. they had a rather lengthy courtship by our standards. in those days -- they get married in june 1880 six. >> he mention her education. where did she go to college? >> she studied at the university of cincinnati but she was self educated but did not receive a degree. susan swain: how -- well, how common was it for women to go to beer halls in those days? lewis gould: it was not the done thing, though in cincinnati, with its german community and tradition of the, you know, turn verein and stuff like that, it
was where young people went. and young people in the '80s had the same -- 1880s had the same impulses they have today. so that's where people went. they did not date quite the way they would later in the 20th century. susan swain: now, william howard taft was not intending a career in politics when he proposed to nellie taft, nellie heron. lewis gould: he wanted -- he wanted to be a lawyer and he wanted to get to the supreme court. so he would later say, like, any good politician, he had his bull turned upward when offices were falling into his lap. but he definitely, i think, wanted to be chief justice of the united states almost from the time he learned about the law. susan swain: and for those of you who don't know the history, william howard taft made good on his wish. he's the only president who also served in the role of chief
justice of the united states. and we'll learn more about his later part of the career -- his career after the white house, as our program progresses. susan swain: well, if he didn't really poses the soul of a politician, how instrumental was -- was helen in moving him in that direction? lewis gould: well, at the initial stages, she had relatively little influence, but i think that -- because he becomes a state judge, then he becomes solicitor general of the united states and is appointed to the court of appeals in ohio, so she watched him do that. lewis gould: but i think the big turning point came in early 1900 when president mckinley called him and said come to washington, and he offers him the chance to go to the philippines and establish a civilian government in the philippines. and she says, take it. he says, do you want to do this, and she said, by all means. she said this would give my husband the sphere of power and influence that he wouldn't have had any other way. and i think that was the decisive moment in their lives when he's in his mid-40's, moving toward being in politics in a new way. susan swain: we have two quotes, one from each of the tafts, but give you some sense of how interested the -- two of them were in politics, and you can
say -- tell how much this really reflects, really, their overall attitudes. susan swain: from helen taft, she writes of her husband, mr. taft was all but impervious to any friendly advice, which being followed, would have tended to -- enhance his own political advantage. and we have a 1906 quote from william howard taft, and he says, "politics, when i am in it, makes me sick.â lewis gould: some of that was for public consumption. yes, i think he pursued a political career with more zest than we sometimes realize. and what nellie, as everyone knew her, was saying is that he had a way of getting people to push him in a direction that he wanted to go. and so i think she is acknowledging that he moved her as much as she moved him. susan swain: lew gould referenced his career and he
mentioned the two that were in the law. in addition to that, let's take a look at the political positions that william howard taft held over his lifetime. in 1892, he served as solicitor general, as mr. gould told us. he was, as we learned, governor general of the philippines and an important part in that country's development and our relationship with it, in 1901 to 1904. in 1904 was the secretary of war, today called the secretary of defense. then his term as president, 1909 to 1913. and then later on, in 1921 to 1930, his life's wish, become chief justice of the united states. susan swain: of those early positions, secretary of war, governor general of the philippines, which was most helpful in setting his cap toward his experience in the white house? lewis gould: i think the governor general of the philippines made him a national figure.
and then, when he goes into theodore roosevelt's cabinet, he presents himself to roosevelt as the logical choice in 1908. once roosevelt had said i'm not going to run in 1908, then as roosevelt looked over the cabinet to see who might be his successor, elihu root was probably too old. lewis gould: so there was will taft from ohio, a state that really mattered to republicans in those years, and he became sort of the logic of the situation. susan swain: very briefly, why did the united states have the ability to appoint a governor general of the philippines? lewis gould: as a result of the spanish-american war and the treaty of paris in december of 1898, spain ceded the philippines to the united states and they became a possession and would remain so until 1946. susan swain: one of the hallmarks of this program is, we've been taking you to historic sites that are associated with the first ladies and their lives. throughout this program, we will be taking you to the william howard taft national historic site in cincinnati. you see a picture of it there. it is available for you to visit as well. and we hope, those of you who
are getting interested in this series will visit some of these places we're showing you. up next, you're going to meet the superintendent of the site, ray henderson. and he'll tell us more about the time that the taft spent in the philippines. ray henderson: she loved to travel and william howard taft got a chance to be the chairman of the philippine commission. she jumped at the chance, encouraged him to take the job. and they took the family and went to the philippines, where william howard taft was later governor general of the philippines. so she had a chance to travel around the world. she also got the chance to introduce her children to this travel. she learned different languages. ray henderson: banquets were a big thing. in fact, before she and the children got their william howard taft cabled, about some of the banquets he was really invited to, and mrs. taft like to have dinners and incorporate the military people, the philippines people, and these are some programs from the different banquets that were there. ray henderson: the filipino
people loved william howard taft and his family. they treated them just like -- just like equals. mrs. taft invited them to dinners. they attended a lot of the celebrations there at the luneta, where she like to see the bands play. and so entertainment was a big part of the things that she did over there while she was in the philippines. ray henderson: about to go into the collections storage area where we keep some of our more valuable artifacts, as well as things that aren't on display. and as we'd come in, we see a philippines chest. mrs. taft collected a lot of philippines items, furniture, chairs, bed, these types of things. and this is a storage chest that ]they bought while they were over there and it was one of the kneader items that they were able to pick up while they were there. what i have here
is some photographs from some ladies in the philippines. they took some formal photographs here and they wrote inscriptions and gave them to mrs. taft. my dear mrs. taft, best wishes from adela paterno, december 22, 1903, manila, philippines. and it just goes to illustrate the admiration that the philippine people had for the taft's family, especially mrs. taft, as she worked to make them feel integrated in the greater society, make them feel equal to the other people, invited them to the parties, put on musicals and those types of things, helped with their education. ray henderson: and so, they really loved the tafts. and to this day, we still get people coming from the philippines that had that connection with the taft family and the things that they did while they were there.(end video clip) susan swain: and joining us on the set is jane hampton cook, a first lady scholar, whose books include american phoenix and the faith of america's first ladies. jane cook, how important was that in time in the philippines to the development of helen taft and her role as first lady? jane hampton cook: well, it was very important to her development. and when she returned to the united states, she met a
military wife in the army who had known her in the philippines, and she said, you know, in the philippines, you were a queen and here, you are a nobody. and i do not think helen ever thought of herself as a nobody. but when she was in the philippines, she -- she wasn't a queen in a royal sense, but in a -- in an american sense that she invited people to her table, the philippine women, american women and really brought this -- those two cultures together, and she served her husband very well by doing those things. susan swain: there were still colonial powers around the world, how unusual was it for -- i mean, in the piece we heard she treated the philippines equal, we were in there country. so, today, we say why wouldn't she treat them as equal? so how unusual was this outreach? lewis gould: well, the army in the philippines, what they called drew the color line, which meant that they didn't socialize with the filipinos. so for taft to -- and nellie to shake hands with the filipinos, to dance with them was seen as quite radical. and there were elements in the
military that were not thrilled with what taft was doing. he wouldn't have been able to do this in the united states, ironically, at the same time. but in the philippines, that accounts in part for his enduring popularity. though, the filipinos, i think, wanted us out as soon as possible in the way of most colonial people. susan swain: on twitter, presidential ponderings wants to know more about what helen taft thought about the philippine people and the culture when she lived there. and how did it shape her view about diverse populations as a whole? jane hampton cook: well, it extended i think the view that she had in her heart and i think it was something that she, by reaching out to them, and she could see the benefit of bringing their cultures together. and it was something that she was using her executive social skills, her executive management skills. but she would go out horseback riding. she would --
they -- taft ordered a band for the filipino people and they said they'd go to the luneta and then -- which is this big open space and have concerts. and so this was really something that meant a lot to her. and you can see when she wears the filipino formal gowns, she's really embracing this culture. lewis gould: she wanted the luneta to be an example for washington and she started in the spring of '99 before the stroke. susan swain: i'm not familiar with the term. what's a luneta? lewis gould: it's a -- it was a space in manila where on sundays, the aristocracy would gather, with carriages and they would go around and have band concerts. it was kind of the social setting for high society in the philippines. and she wanted that -- this to be a place where washington would do that. and the first couple of times, it was very popular. after the stroke, when she couldn't personally manage it, it faded away. but it was one of those false starts that characterized her career. susan swain: those of you who have been watching us along the way know that our goal this year is to teach you more, help you
learn about each of america's first ladies. we're going to devote time in this series throughout this year to the 20th-century ladies. susan swain: earlier in the year, we did the first ladies beginning with martha washington. and our goal is to present the biography of them to help you understand more about their president's administration and also about our country and how it changed and how the role of women changed. so there's lots to talk about. and we'll give you the telephone number so you can join in the conversation. if you live in the eastern and central time zones, it's 202-585-3880. if you live in the mountain or pacific time zones, 202-585-3881, and we will love having your calls and your questions. they have been a real hallmark of this program as it proceeds. also, we've developed a website for this series, firstname.lastname@example.org. and each week, there's one special item attached to the first lady that we don't talk about during the program. today, if you go to the -- to the site, you'll learn more about a chair that she really cherished that she acquired while she was in the
philippines. so we hope you'll have time to check that out. susan swain: well, back from the philippines, talk to me about a very important relationship, maybe the most important other than william howard taft's with nellie, and that is the relationship with theodore roosevelt. how did that flourish? lewis gould: taft and -- will taft and t.r. get to know each other in the early 1890s. what is significant is, almost from the beginning, there is not the same rapport between edith and nellie. in fact, nellie would say later, i never liked edith roosevelt, and there was a competition between them that pulsed through the 1890s. lewis gould: and when they were in cincinnati, it was not so much, but when they got back to
washington, i wish i knew more about what exactly happened, but they seem to have been two women who just struck odds when they started out. and so you had these two men who were very close, but their intimate families, not so much. and so there was not a strong underpinning of the t.r., will taft relationship once the two women got in closer proximity. it had something to do with cincinnati versus new york, with edith roosevelt being from an aristocratic family or at one time aristocratic family and helen taft being from cincinnati and wanting to be upwardly mobile. susan swain: we learned during edith roosevelt program that mrs. roosevelt had regular salon sessions with all the cabinet wives, which were required attendance. what was the effect of those on helen taft and her own thinking about how she might approach the job of first lady? jane hampton cook: well, edith did have these weekly meetings, they met in the white house library from 11 to 12 once a week. helen did attend. but i think she thought that they were a little too gossipy or the topics of conversation just bored her. it wasn't something that she really enjoyed. and she made
it known to the press before she became first lady that she would not be continuing them because they had not been successful. and that was, you know, quite a slam to edith to say that publicly. she could have been a little more genteel on how she transitioned, but that's the way it was. lewis gould: they supervised some of the women in the washington community. if you had a dalliance with somebody who wasn't your husband, you heard from the white house, you know, you better stop. and so there was a certain amount of nitpicking and gossiping that helen taft, who liked to have a beer, smoke a cigarette, play some bridge, was not as hoity-toity as edith roosevelt.
and that was another source of tension. susan swain: so the roosevelts, wanted their mores to be on social washington. lewis gould: oh yes, whereas helen taft wanted to set a cultural standard of sophistication, but not sort of a busybody about it, but edith roosevelt, who was somewhat priggish wanted to pull the higher moral standard. susan swain: so calls, we're going to begin with kip watching us on atlanta. hi, kip, you're on. >> well, hello, and good evening. i had a question to mr. gould. in your research about mrs. taft, i wanted to know specifically if you're familiar with the miniseries, backstairs at the white house that was -- that aired on nbc in 1979. and it -- and it starred the late julie harris that passed away recently as helen taft. >> and i want to ask mr. gould if you're familiar with -- because that was really my first awareness of mrs. taft. and was that an accurate depiction of her. and i thank you. lewis gould: i think the backstairs at the white house was generally genuinely accurate, but it had some fictional elements in it and i don't think most historians regard it as something you should take to the bank and be very reliable.
and of course, it was dramatized for television purposes. so it's a useful source, but i would use it with caution. susan swain: so theodore roosevelt asked william howard taft to be his secretary of war. they had an opportunity then to see the world. how did that affect them? lewis gould: well, taft and nellie both loved to travel. when taft was president, he just was on the road constantly. in fact, it was something a political liability. but he became a troubleshooter diplomatically for t.r. in fact, when t.r. would go off hunting, he would say i've left taft sitting on the lid in washington, and the image of, obviously, taft holding every -- all the troubles down. but he and mrs. taft traveled a lot. lewis gould: a story that illustrates her ambiguity about this was when she was traveling and very nearly missed the train and she said to the stationmaster, "you've got to help me out. i am mrs. william howard taft," no response. "i'm the wife of the secretary of war," no response.
"i'm traveling with alice roosevelt," instantaneously, the stationmaster got her baggage and got her on the train. susan swain: there had to be a really painful (inaudible) friction between the two. lewis gould: yes. and the family -- the taft family teased her about that, that you were at the mercy of alice roosevelt. susan swain: how common would it have been for senior public officials to see that much of the world? was there a lot of traveling going on at that period time? jane hampton cook: well, at this point, with -- with trains and all the -- the steamships, yes, it was more common. but secretary of war was his position, but he often called secretary of peace in the newspapers, because he was going and he was putting down conflicts in cuba and he was really, really more of a peacemaker than he was focusing so much on defense. and there's a really great story about his time as secretary of war when
the emperors of japan gives helen a tapestry, and she really loves it, she really wants to keep it. but taft says, no, no, no, legally, we need to give it back to the smithsonian. she said, "but i'm a private citizen, i should be able to keep it." and he's -- and so she takes it to roosevelt, she wants it that badly. and roosevelt says, sure, you can keep it, you're a private citizen. and that shows the difference between taft and roosevelt. taft was very much by the law, very much wanted to honor the law, and roosevelt would push the envelope a little bit. and he did that as president, and so in certain ways. so that's a good story to illustrate the difference between the two men. lewis gould: that became a fundamental difference between them and the way that they view the presidency. roosevelt said if it wasn't forbidden, we can do it. then taft said, it has to be explicitly allowed before we can do it. the two views of the presidency were very vivid that they had -- that they had about this. susan swain: here's a real study in leadership, an executive leadership that we had there. lewis gould: yes. susan swain: on facebook, holly hahn wants to know how did mrs. taft got the nickname nellie. lewis gould: that's a good question. i think it was in the -- they were -- she had a number of brothers and sisters, and it was just one of those family names. but that -- her husband refers
to her as my dearest nellie, dear nellie. i don't think he ever called -- and since their daughter was also named helen, it was good that you have nellie instead of two helens. susan swain: and did she call him will or did she call him mr. taft? lewis gould: oh, she called him will, yes. most people who knew taft well called him will, and he was not bill or big bill or something like that, just as almost nobody called t.r. "teddy" who knew him well. susan swain: next is john in houston. hi, john, what's your question? quick hey, i love this show so much. i even know the presidents in order too. i have two questions. one, of abigail -- of the more modern -- of the first ladies of the 20th century, who were the more noteworthy after, like, abigail and dolley, and mary lincoln were noteworthy. were any of the first ladies in the 20th century noteworthy, too? >> (crosstalk) >> and my second question is -- and my second question is, what -- what was nellie's inspiration
for the cherry tree? thank you. what eleanor roosevelt was by far the one with the -- and lady bird johnson, but eleanor roosevelt became a delegate to the united nations. and so, in the post-first lady career, she and lady bird johnson. though, there are others, but those would be two. susan swain: save the cherry tree question. lewis gould: yes, yes. susan swain: because we're going to show some video of it for later on there. lewis gould: that needs more attention. susan swain: next is a call from leroy, who is monticello, kentucky. hi, leroy. court great program. i've enjoyed this so much. i was looking forward to it from last week. well, i didn't get to watch it. but, anyway, i've got a question for ms. cook. was the taft family, president taft and his wife, were they christian people, were they born again christians, did they know jesus and studied the bible? susan swain: what was their religion and how important was it to them? jane hampton cook: well, she
grew up in the episcopal church. he was a unitarian. and at that time, you know, that was -- the difference was mostly about the trinity or not the trinity, the trinity being god, the father; god, the son; god, the holy spirit, which was more traditional christianity. and unitarians didn't embrace the trinity.there was a story i read, though, of a minister in the more traditional tradition who went over to the white house and talked with taft and he came away feeling very confident in his traditional religious beliefs. and so, you know, it wasn't -- it was important to them. it wasn't something -- they weren't evangelical in that tradition. but, definitely, it was something that was part of them. lewis gould: well, taft was talked about to be president of yale in 1900 and decided not to do it. and he wrote his brother a sentence that if it had come out at the time, he would never have been president. he said he does not believe in the divinity of jesus christ.now, it never became
known. in the campaign of 1908, he was both attacked for being a unitarian and having been too friendly to the catholics in the philippines. and t.r. and taft were very cautious about that, how they handled the religious views in 1908. susan swain: michael is up next from washington, washington, d.c. all right, let me move on to calvin in summerville, georgia. >> somerville, alabama. susan swain: i apologize, somerville, alabama. go ahead. >> i was going to ask you about the connection that mrs. taft had with the other first ladies that came from ohio, especially lucy hayes. lewis gould: well, we talked a little bit about that earlier. taft's -- the herrons were very friendly with the hayes family and they did entertain her at the white house. she did spend some time. later on, it became like mrs. or ms. herron was there, you know,
almost every weekend. and that was way overdrawn. i think she only was there according to the hayes' diary once. susan swain: so if theodore roosevelt makes the decision that he's not going to run for reelection and has the opportunity to anoint his successor within the republican party, how does it become william howard taft? lewis gould: it's quite a complex issue, which i'll try to nail down in a couple of sentences. he looks around, as i said earlier, elihu root is too old, though he will outlive both taft and roosevelt, he's also a corporate lawyer, which was not going to be the appeal that you wanted in 1908. so when he looked over the republican party, who was the most sympathetic available candidate, and here was will taft from ohio, secretary of war, well known because of the philippines, interested in the position.and so, roosevelt begins to convince himself that he and taft agree on more than in fact they agreed on. and so there's kind of a
courtship where both invest each other with the qualities they want to have. later on, they would find out that they had somewhat deluded themselves. but from 1906 to 1908, roosevelt becomes a staunch backer of taft. susan swain: well, we have many biographers who talk about helen taft's very serious lobbying of theodore roosevelt to select her husband and because of his known attitudes about politics and his desire for a supreme court role, maybe it indicated that he was a bit more hesitant. here's a quote from helen taft, "mr. roosevelt thought he might to join with other republicans in supporting governor hughes for the presidency, because mr. taft was such a poor politician. i reported this to mr. taft and urged him to display a little more enthusiasm on his own account."so she's working both sides here, working theodore roosevelt and also working her husband who act the part more, act more interested. how influential was she in this decision? jane hampton cook: she was very influential. and think about it, if your wife thinks that you can be president
of the united states, that's a big boost that she has that confidence in you. she did meet with theodore roosevelt at least on two occasions to talk about this. once, when he wanted to offer taft a position on the supreme court, he called her in and she said, oh no, he wants to remain as your secretary of war. wink, wink, nod, nod, he wants to succeed you.and so, in the moment that you're talking about, roosevelt didn't see the passion enough in taft. and so he was trying to nudge taft, hey, there are other men who want this -- want this, if you want it, you need to be more aggressive. and taft did go out and he did some campaigning for congressional candidates in 1906 to prove that, yes, he could, you know, campaign. susan swain: did helen taft meet personally with theodore roosevelt to make the case? lewis gould: yes, in the fall of 1906, she -- taft is out on the road and she does have a luncheon with the president, and he says come on over here and they go over -- over by one of
the windows and chat for awhile, and she said -- and taft and t.r. both believed that she had misinterpreted what he was trying to say, which was really you need to be more aggressive. but he was not threatening to support governor hughes. he did not like governor charles evans hughes, who would later become chief justice of new york. it was very unlikely he would ever have supported hughes.but helen was so sensitive to any variation on t.r.'s part that she interpreted this kind of gentle warning as a threat that he might support the -- the soon-to-be governor of new york. susan swain: and what was the election like for the republicans that year? how did it all turn out? lewis gould: they held on to the house and senate in 1906. they suffered some losses. it was the -- the republicans have been in then by almost, what, 10 years. but basically, taft came out of it as the frontrunner and would get a first-ballot nomination in 1908. susan swain: and how much did he win by? lewis gould: in the...
-- it was a pretty decisive victory. it was not as big as roosevelt overall in parker in 1904, but it was big enough for all practical purposes. bryan essentially carried the south and a few western states. and, taft, who is a better campaigner than anybody thought, did very well. susan swain: there are several parts of the story. as i was getting ready for it, i kept thinking, helen taft seemed to want this her whole life and things often didn't break very well for her. one of those was inauguration day, itself, which there was a blizzard in washington, d.c. lewis gould: yes. susan swain: and that made the ceremony go indoors as opposed to outside. we remember that with ronald reagan's first inaugural as well. we have a video next about the inauguration. and then we'll come back and talk more about that day.(begin video clip) ray henderson: march 4th, 1909, mrs. taft got to realize her dream that she became the first first lady to ride back from the capitol to the white house with her
husband. these are some of the souvenirs from the inauguration. there's a program -- a couple of programs from the inauguration ceremony here, a little dance card from the inaugural ball with a little pin there, you could write down who you're dancing with.and here is an invitation to the inaugural ball that would have gone out to -- to the different folks that the tafts wanted to come. and it usually would come along with ticket and the place for you to park. so we have quite a few of these things in our collection.this is a bible that was -- that was used for swearing in of william howard taft when he was inaugurated in 1909.
it was also used when he took the oath of office of chief justice of the united states. and nellie, of course, would've been right by her side during both of these ceremonies. and so this is a particularly interesting artifact that it represents, you know, the culmination of those two high points in his career.the inauguration was the realization of her biggest dream, to become first lady of the united states. she had pushed her husband through a lot of different positions and even though there was a blizzard, there was a snowstorm, the ceremonies had to be pushed into the capitol building, this was one of the biggest days in her life, to be able to realize that dream of her husband becoming president of the united states.(end video clip) susan swain: so what are some of the stories you'd like to tell the public about inauguration day with the tafts? lewis gould: well, theodore roosevelt said, i knew it would be a cold day when i went out. and then he went off to the train station and went off to oyster bay, and then the tafts road back and the precedent-breaking moment when
she went back to the white house. but it was the night before that was significant for the roosevelt and taft relationship.t.r., quite on his own, had invited the tafts to spend the night. mrs. taft later said in her memoirs, i don't think either mrs. roosevelt or i would have agreed to it if we've known about it in advance. and it was a very awkward evening. and taft, later, four years later, when he -- the subject came up of having the wilsons stay over, he said to his friend, mabel boardman, you were there for that funeral in 1909 and we do not want to do that again.so, already, there was a great deal of tension between the roosevelts and the tafts the day before he was inaugurated. susan swain: i want to put the picture of her in the car coming back from the inauguration back on the screen. one of our viewers on facebook says, i detect a smug look on her face in that picture.what do we know about her emotions? as she made this decision to get
into the car, break with all precedent, former first ladies, and ride back after the inauguration. jane hampton cook: she wrote later, "i had a secret elation in doing something that no other woman had done." this was really her proudest moment, she later wrote, was riding in that car and being by her husband's side. this was -- she set a precedent, you know, first ladies who followed her have done that since.and it was definitely something she was excited about. she did have a little fashion emergency with her hat -- it caught on fire the night before. the feathers, she had to trim them down. and those were called mary widow hats. they were very -- they were named after a play and they were very popular back then, all the flowers and feathers, so. lewis gould: it turned out that was really the high point of her time as first lady. it was almost all downhill after that, because two months later, she has this stroke and that life changes forever. susan swain: but she had a very busy two months and we're going to learn about her approach to the white house.about her transition with edith roosevelt, that also contributed not just the stay-over, but the management of the one family moving out and the other family moving in. i think you referred to that, the -- just the oil and water of these two women.
what about that transition contributed to the friction between them that had political consequences? lewis gould: well, there really was no mechanism for the transition in those days and there hadn't been a transition from one first lady to another in that way before for almost 20, 25 years. so they were making it up as they went along.but helen was eager to get started. and so, she talked about changing who the footmen would be at the white house door. she want -- edith had a gentleman who was white to greet people when they came to the white house. helen wanted to have african-americans in livery. mrs. roosevelt bridled at that.nellie wanted to change the furniture. she had other changes that she wanted to make right away, let's get started. and edith, thinking that, hey,
i'm going to be president, first lady until march 3 said, not so fast. wait a while.and there began to be -- you know, in the taft family, they would say to the president elect, be your own king, you need to take over. and the roosevelt people who had put taft in because he would extend roosevelt's ideas said, wait a minute, what's going on here, what about the cabinet, what about the appointments that are being made? and so the friendship began to erode. it really started to erode when taft wrote t.r. a letter saying, you and my brother charlie are responsible for making me president. and charles p. taft was a newspaper owner and t.r. just was infuriated by that statement. he talked about it for the next two or three years.so here's poor taft, he writes a thank you note and it starts the doom of his presidency. susan swain: and seth, in the parlance of today, says edith
roosevelt and helen taft were not bffs, best friends forever, noted, duly noted, seth tells us. let's go to horace in philadelphia, on the air right now. hi, horace, go ahead please. >> horace (ph): hey, thank you for taking my call. i have been watching this series since the very beginning. susan swain: great. >> horace (ph): even to repeat. and i was anxious when we started back in september. i had a question i wted to ask and i am a little embarrassed to ask it. but i'd like to know when you can tell us the resting places of these first ladies, where are they actually buried. susan swain: ok. >> horace (ph): in a strange sense, it helps us to realize that they once lived and they're not just information on paper or in the books and old -- and old magazines. i'd like to know their resting places when you can get to it. susan swain: sure. well, we'll tell you right now because it's another one of helen taft's and her husband's first. where are they laid to rest? jane hampton cook: arlington national cemetery.
she is the first first lady to be buried there. susan swain: and the only other is jacqueline kennedy, is that right? lewis gould: yes. as secretary of war, i think that's how he qualified to be in arlington cemetery. and then she got to be there because -- so... susan swain: so we want to spend a little bit more time understanding the personality of -- and what she brought to the role of the white house, first lady at the white house. you mentioned earlier that she was very intellectual and that even though she didn't go to college, she was self-educated. how important was this in shaping the role of first lady? lewis gould: well, she -- as i said earlier, she wanted to make washington the truly, the cultural center of the united states. this made people in new york very uneasy. and there were some newspaper columns saying, what is she trying to do. but washington at that time did not have a symphony orchestra, didn't have opera. and she wanted to bring those musical things here.but she also wanted to have the city generally embody american values.
and this was a very ambitious agenda, to transform washington into a city that would be sort of, like, under dolly madison, a focus for national and international attention. and that was partly what luneta was about, the -- making the beautification of the city with the cherry trees. it was all part of her vision of what washington could be.and so she hit the ground running as you said, and she also started going to see congress, visiting the supreme court, advising taft on the cabinet. she was going to be very active as first lady for two months. susan swain: personality-wise, one of the biographers said, i read, described her as outspoken, abrupt, and determined. would you agree with those descriptions? jane hampton cook: yes, i would. she could be quite blunt. but she -- you know, when she
was this young teenager visiting the white house and saw, you know, the magic of it and had the idea that she could maybe one day be there, i think it was because she sense that she had the skills to do it.and you see her as a young woman creating these salon groups in cincinnati where she brings friends together and they have amateur theatrical performances and/or book discussions. and you see her in the philippines using those executive skills. and so i think she was just determined to bring what she had, her skill set, and use it to bring people together socially in washington. lewis gould: she -- she had been president of the cincinnati symphony too. so she had run an orchestra, hiring the conductors in the 1890s. so she had demonstrated that she had executive qualities. and she also -- when taft proposed somebody for the cabinet, she said to him, he's
quite impossible, i can't imagine why you ever suggested him. and that was the end of that candidacy. susan swain: mark is watching us in minneapolis. you're on, mark. good evening. >> yes, yes, hi. how are you doing? i like your series. i just have two questions. the first question is, can you tell us how -- can you tell us what helen taft's thoughts were towards segregation between blacks and whites in the south? and can you tell us what she felt about black men being able to vote and not her being able to vote during her time? thank you very much. susan swain: thank you. very timely questions because that's the next two things on my list. first of all, some people have suggested that she disdained racism, as evidenced in her time in the philippines. would you -- i'd like to hear from both of you on this. would you agree with that characterization that -- that she really was open in her attitude (inaudible) people of other races? jane hampton cook: while she definitely seemed open, it's hard for me to know precisely what she thought about segregation in the south. but she through her actions, brought african-americans in as employees at the white house. and so i think that's best testimony that we have of her
susan swain: can i say but as servants? lewis gould: yes, yes. jane hampton cook: well, that's true. that's true. but it -- you know, when you read her memoir, she uses the language of the day. she uses the term colored, but she's not using other language. and so it's hard to fully -- she was a woman of her time period. and when it comes to the suffrage question for women, she wasn't sure that america was quite ready for women to vote, because they weren't politically active, they weren't public-minded enough. and so they weren't like her.and she was very focused on politics, but she detected that a lot of women weren't, and that was her position on suffrage. susan swain: in using the language of the day, in our last program on edith roosevelt, you -- we referenced your scholarship on the fact that
edith roosevelt had some personal letter used really... lewis gould: racist terms, terms, yes. susan swain: racist terms about african-americans. we've got a lot of nellie taft's writings. did she use those same kinds of... lewis gould: i did not find in her letters the same use of words like the tar brush or some of the other unfortunate things that edith roosevelt said. both tafts observed segregation. they didn't go as far as woodrow wilson in instituting it in the government, but taft hoped to develop the republican party in the south by making it more lily-white than it had been earlier.so i think helen taft was not a crusader for racial justice, but she was not a bigot either. she fell within that broad range of where american society was, whereas edith roosevelt, well, i think further out on the edge. jane hampton cook: well, and they also grew up post-civil war. they were both born during the civil war. and so they didn't live through it. and so they are these post-war baby boomer generation with some newer attitudes. lewis gould: yes, ironically, edith and helen were born the same year, 1861.
susan swain: before we get too far into the story, jennifer sherman wants to go back to that overnight stay before the inaugural, and asked was the roosevelt-taft pre-inauguration overnight a preview of today's outgoing president hosting the incoming president for coffee on the day of? lewis gould: not so much. if it was an initiative that t.r. started, it flopped. the traditions of the transition would evolve in the 20th century and we can't, i think, look at t.r. and taft as any kind of helpful precedent for how one president -- it really was the case of -- they didn't even think through what the transition would be. it was just i'll be president until noon on march 4th and then you'll be president and i'll go to oyster bay and you're on your own. susan swain: we've got a photograph earlier you referenced that she was more modern in her approach to things, like enjoying alcohol and playing cards. we've got actually a photograph of her at the card table that we're going to show people next.
she smoked, she drank. lewis gould: yes. susan swain: and she played cards. how much did that connect her with the public at large? lewis gould: i don't think the public really knew much about that, that she played bridge for money and she would win $10 or so, which sounds pretty tame. but if you put it into today's currency, she was winning about $200 or $300 in purchasing power when she won $10. so if that had come out that she was playing cards, it would have been another political difficulty for her. jane hampton cook: well, and someone once asked president taft what would -- what would helen like to drink and he said anything with alcohol in it. so that was, you know, that was just -- that was her. and that's a contrast to lucy hayes, who, you know, did not -- their family did not drink alcohol in the white house because of the temperance. and that was a nuanced way of reaching out to them. lewis gould: lemonade lucy.
susan swain: and did edith -- right. lewis gould: yes. susan swain: and did edith roosevelt drink alcohol? lewis gould: she had alcohol. her father had been an alcoholic and i -- and there was -- alcoholism runs all through the roosevelt family. the male roosevelts, fdr and t.r. were really the only two who truly escaped the effects of alcoholism entirely. so edith roosevelt was not thrilled with the idea of champagne and other things that helen taft liked very much each day. susan swain: another reason for the rift between them. lewis gould: yes, yes. susan swain: colleen is in barnesville, ohio. hi, colleen. what's your question for us? >> colleen (ph): yes. my great uncle used to be personal secretary of president taft and my grandmother used to go with him and meet the president and mrs. taft. and... susan swain: yes? >> colleen (ph): and like they became really, really good friends. and president taft considered that my grandmother will be principal -- to be the first
belmont county (inaudible) person for the republic. lewis gould: which of the -- of fred carpenter, charles norton and charles hilles was your relative? >> colleen (ph): yes, charles dewey hilles was his personal secretary. lewis gould: yes, charles hilles was the last of taft's secretaries and the most efficient. he helped him get the nomination in 1912. and his papers are at yale and they're almost as big as the taft papers. susan swain: as soon as we get more into current times in the 20th century, we'll have more and more connections that people are able to make with their families. thank you for your call.julie is in ashburn, virginia. hi, julie, what's your question. >> julie (ph): hi, hello. can you hear me? susan swain: we can. thank you. >> julie (ph): hi, i wanted to ask. helen was such a vibrant first lady. i just wanted to know what her transition from being a first lady to be kind of a private
figure in terms of being married to a supreme court justice. how did that work for her? lewis gould: she had eight years of transition. they -- taft after he left the presidency became a professor of constitutional law at yale. and it was really quite nice for mrs. taft because she could -- in those days, you could get on a train and go to new york 80 miles, go to the theater, have a nice meal, do some shopping, and get back in time for dinner at night, so she could see a matinee. so she enjoyed that part of it after the pressures of the -- of the white house.and then, of course, they went back to washington and the role of the chief justice was very much less social than had been the president's. so, somewhat, she took -- sort of took the veil in the 1920s. they also differed over prohibition. taft, chief justice taft wanted
it enforced and mrs. taft, not so much. susan swain: well, one thing we should talk about of another record for william howard taft is his size. he was a very large man. his highest weight was what? lewis gould: about 350 pounds in the presidency and he had -- he had neglected his health. his teeth, he hadn't been to a dentist in a couple of decades. he had -- yes, that gives you in terms of the -- of his avoirdupois at that point. and there's -- there were many stories about his weight. in fact, chief justice melville weston fuller said, the president got up on the street car the other day and gave a seat to three women. susan swain: a lot of jokes going around at that time. lewis gould: yes. there was... susan swain: at that time when the press was really very much following the white house. lewis gould: yes. susan swain: and there was a lot of opportunity for commentary and satire. how did mrs. taft feel about his weight? do we know?
lewis gould: there's one biographer that says this was the source of some marital tension. she of course from a health point of view wanted him to reduce his weight. but this was an area in which he -- he didn't take much dictation in the white house about the weight. i think your point about emotional stress operated.there's a story of him at a cabinet meeting and they had a bowl of fruit and he just picked each one off until the bowl was completely empty. he didn't find the presidency very enjoyable and i think he ate to forget. susan swain: there are stories about the fact that the white house needed an extra large bathtub to accommodate the president. is that true? lewis gould: that's apocryphal. i mean, the idea that they had a big bathtub installed, there's a picture of three guys sitting in a bathtub for taft, but that they had to put it in and it happened on the inauguration is one of those stories. susan swain: there's the taft bathtub on display, so. lewis gould: yes, yes, but it was not done in the way that
they talked about. jane hampton cook: well, and he -- he was a big baby. his -- i have a seven-week-old son and i was reading how his mother wrote when he was seven weeks old that should couldn't put nursery gowns on him that had belts because he was growing so fat. so he just -- it was his metabolism that -- that was just how he was. lewis gould: but he was a very good dancer. jane hampton cook: yes. lewis gould: far better than t.r. somebody said -- asked the -- how was roosevelt as a dancer, and the woman said, he didn't dance, he hopped. whereas, taft was very light on his feet. susan swain: before we leave this section, one other important thing. what was her relationship like with the press, while we're talking about news, media and its burgeoning coverage of the white house? would you like to start? jane hampton cook: she seemed -- she seemed to have a good relationship with the press. they interviewed her after his nomination and she said, i love public life, this is exactly the position, you know, that i think my husband should have, i'm enthusiastic about roosevelt, which she really wasn't, but she said that to the press.they -- one of the reporters commented that she would be an intellectual, she had all these spheres, the intellectual, the
cultural, and the domestic all in one package. and what a great opportunity for america to have helen in the white house with her husband. lewis gould: the only time edith was quoted was when there was a performance of hansel and gretel, the opera in new york that she was a patron of. and she said, how much she loved fairytales. and otherwise, she didn't believe that a woman should be -- appear in the newspaper when you were born, when you were married, when you died. and that was -- and not be photographed.she had to be persuaded to have photographs, eventually, whereas, helen taft was quite willing to share her opinions on lots of issues with the press. she didn't give interviews. she didn't speak out on every issue that came up, but if they asked, and there she was with her husband throwing out the first ball at a baseball game at the democratic convention in
1912.she got out and about a lot more than edith roosevelt did. susan swain: the american public was wildly enthusiastic about the young roosevelt family in the white house. what did the public think about the tafts, and particularly edith? lewis gould: the taft -- well, that taft family was older when they came to the white house. robert was already at yale, soon to be at harvard law school where he finished first in his class at yale and first in his class in harvard law school. her daughter, helen, helen taft was at school in washington and then at bryn mawr. and charles p. taft jr. -- or not jr. -- but anyway, he was at the taft school that taft's brother ran in connecticut.so they were not as charming and exciting as the little quentin and archie, who with their ponies and taking the pony upstairs in the white house and all the pranks that they did. susan swain: we promised you more about the cherry blossoms. let's learn more about how she brought the cherry blossoms to
washington.(begin video clip) ann mcclellan: when helen taft became first lady in 1909, one of the first things she did was to address having cherry trees planted around the tidal basin at potomac river. the tidal basin in the early 20th century was a mess. there was a speedway where people raced their carriages at a top of speed of 15 miles an hour. but there was really nothing to draw people or to make it a beautiful place for people to gather and enjoy nature. and helen taft wanted to change that.so she -- one of the first things she did when she became first lady was to ask for trees to be planted. it was -- they were requested from nurseries in pennsylvania. but the japanese heard about her interest and they decided to give 2,000 trees to the united states in her honor, from the city of tokyo to the city of washington as a gift honoring the american support of japan in russo-japanese war.2,000 trees arrived in january of 1910. everyone was shocked because the trees that were sent were older and very tall and bug-infested.
so it was decided that they would have to be burned. in fact, president taft made the decision that they would have to be burned.the japanese were very accommodating and understanding and decided to send 3,000 trees, which arrived in 1912. and it's those that we still have a few of around the tidal basin.this is the north section of the tidal basin within view of the washington monument, where many of the original trees had been planted. you can tell the older ones because they're wider, they also have gnarly trunks, overarching branches, very typical of the yoshinos, which is the dominant variety of cherry tree around the tidal basin.this is where helen taft would have planted the first cherry blossom tree that came with the shipment of 1912. these trees would not be here if it was not for helen taft. they love the architecture, the plant material, and it was due to her that the trees are here
today. >> permanently transforming the capital city. what else to we need to know about this story? pro-japanese and his foreign-policy. he tilted more toward the chinese. ,r had been more pro-japanese figuring there was no way to stop them in asia by intervening on the asian mainland. japaneseesture by the government to make nice with taft, but it did turn out to be one of the great beautification moves of the 20th century. as taft would say to his daughter, your mother's work with the cherry trees are now coming to blossom, making the city better than it had ever been because of her contribution. >> taft had one term in the white house but it was and lamentsa busy his time in american history. here are couple of the important