NW Quadrant, East of Rock Creek, Lafayette Square, Sheridan/Kalorama, Architecturally Significant, Female, Society Hostesses, Also of Interest

Helen Herron Taft
(June 2, 1861 - May 22, 1943)

2215 Wyoming Ave. NW, Kalorama neighborhood, DC.  Now the Embassy of Syria.

Taft, known to her friends as Nelly, was the First Lady of the US from 1909 to 1913.  Her memoirs, Recollections of Full Years (1914) were the first memoirs published by a First Lady.

Taft taught French briefly until her marriage to William Howard Taft in 1885, and she served as President of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra after.  She came from a political family; both her grandfather and uncle served as members of Congress, and she actively encouraged her husband's political career.  She moved with him and their three children to the Manila when he was appointed Governor-General of the Philippines. She moved to DC in 1904 when her husband was offered a cabinet position as Secretary of War to Theodore Roosevelt.  She played a large role in advising him in his presidential campaign, and wrote some of his public comments.

Two months after her husband entered the White House, however, she had a stroke that permanently impaired her speech.  After a year's therapy for aphasia, she was able to continue to entertain in the White House, and during Prohibition, her parties were "wet" (they included alcohol), even though her husband was publicly a "dry."

Her most lasting contribution as First Lady was arranging for the planting of 3,000 Japanese cherry trees around the Tidal Basin, along with the wife of the Japanese ambassador, an idea first promoted by the author Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore.  After leaving the Presidency, her husband was appointed to serve on the Supreme Court, making Taft the only person to be both First Lady and Wife of a Chief Justice.  She continued to live in DC after her husband's death and is buried alongside him in Arlington National Cemetery.


The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Lafayette Square neighborhood, DC.

The White House Architect: James Hoban (with Benjamin H. Latrobe). Year: 1803.
Built of Aquia Creek sandstone, this 130-room Neoclassical mansion was largely destroyed by arson during the War of 1812, and reconstructed in 1817. Additions include the South Portico (1824), the North Portico (1829), the West Wing (1901), and the Oval Office (1909). In 1949, the inside was completely gutted to stabilize the building with steel framing. The grounds were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. in 1935. The mansion was named a National Historic Landmark in 1960.

Historic photos courtesy of Library of Congress.