Dec 27, 2008

A First Lady a Day - Helen in 1909

Christmas break is over and we come back with Helen. Yes, we are still in the 20th C. That’s Helen Taft. A woman who wanted the job if ever there was one. She had been First Lady of the Philippines while her husband William Howard Taft was the Governor. Apparently she liked the job, and had ambitions for more. Even her official White House bio ( and these are always kind) refers to her indomitable will and says “His election to the Presidency in 1908 gave her a position she had long desired“. She was the first wife of a president to ride down Pennsylvania Ave with her husband.

The thing is, in the 19th C, and even into the early 20th C, Presidents’ wives were generally background figures, as were the vast majority of women. Some in the 19th C were even invalids who were rarely seen socially. So Helen Herron Taft must have been quite the exception. Sadly, about 2 months into his term, Helen Taft had a severe stroke. She worked hard and was able to perform many of her duties afterwards, but never fully recovered. For more:
http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/firstladies/ht27.html

On to The Dress.

My, My. Very, Very Grand. Perhaps a little too grand? In a day or so I will post a group shot of the other dresses of her general time period, and you will see this one is ostentatious even for the 1900 - 1920 era. But it’s certainly of the period. Nice line. I have no idea of the color. It’s pretty, but it’s awfully regal for a civilian wife of a civilian president. If it says anything to me, it says “ I wanted this job and by golly I am going to make the most of it!” And for that, it gets a B.



from http://siarchives.si.edu/history/exhibits/thisday/march.htm:

“Marking the beginning of the First Ladies Gowns Collection, the gown worn by Mrs. Helen Herron Taft at the Inaugural Ball of President William H. Taft on March 4, 1909, is accessioned by the United States National Museum. Mrs. Taft then solicited additional dresses from the descendants of earlier First Ladies.”

1 comment:

fuzzylizzie said...

That dress is actually a creamy white, with the embroidery being a few shades darker. In person, the dress is simply stunning!

The dress is back on display at the Smithsonian, after over 2 years of renovating. It isn't the old exhibit of all the Fisrt Ladies in a row from Martha on down, but instead is an abreviated version.