Thursday, October 21, 2010

President Taft's Dogs and Cows

President William Howard Taft was a large man, and by "large," I mean "overweight."  He weighed about 350 pounds, which back in those days was pretty unusual, although nowadays you can find more people who weigh that much.  So anyway, when Mr. Taft went to live in the White House, he took a cow named Mooly Wooly.  And the reason he took this cow was because he wanted to make sure he and his family had plenty of milk and butter.  But Mooly Wooly didn't really produce enough of this yummy dairy stuff, so President Taft got a different cow, and she was a Holstein named Pauline Wayne.  So Pauline grazed on the White House lawn, and she made lots of milk, and everybody was happy.

Pauline, the First Cow

Oh, and the Taft family also brought a dog with them to the White House, but I will tell you about that later.  First I want to tell you a little bit about Mr. Taft and Mrs. Taft and about how they ended up being the president and first lady.  

Mr. Taft was born on September 15, 1857, near Cincinnati, Ohio.  His family was well known, and his father was a lawyer.  Mr. Taft went to Yale College, and after that he got a law degree at Cincinnati Law School.  He had a dream of one day being the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, so he worked in a lot of different legal jobs, and then he got appointed to the Ohio Supreme Court in 1887 and to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1891.

Meanwhile, in 1886, Mr. Taft got married to Miss Helen Herron, who was mostly called "Nellie" by all her friends and family.  She was also from Cincinnati, and she had a good education.  She worked as a teacher before she got married and also for a little while after she became Mrs. Taft.  Eventually, the Tafts had three children:  a son named Robert, a daughter named Helen, and a son named Charles.

Mrs. Taft had a dream, just like her husband did, but her dream was that Mr. Taft would someday be the President of the United States.  So she did a lot of stuff to sort of move his career in a different direction that was not so much about being a judge.  In 1900, after the Spanish-American War, President McKinley appointed Mr. Taft to be the Governor-General of the Philippines, which made Mrs. Taft very happy.  The Tafts moved there, and Mrs. Taft got very interested in meeting the Philippine women and learning their language and helping them have better lives.  This was the first time a white woman had done such a thing in that country.

After the Tafts came back to the U.S., Mrs. Taft convinced President Theodore Roosevelt that her husband would be a good president, so President Roosevelt began grooming Mr. Taft for that job -- which is not exactly the same thing as grooming a dog, even though it is like it in some ways.  And Mr. Roosevelt made Mr. Taft his Secretary of War.

The Taft inaugural parade on a snowy day.
Mrs. Taft was the first First Lady to take part in an inaugural parade.
Then Mr. Taft ran for president in 1908, and Mrs. Taft helped him with his campaign by giving him advice on what to say in his speeches and what positions to take and stuff like that.  And Mr. Taft won the election and got to be president, even though what he still wanted was just to be the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  But the Tafts moved into the White House, and they brought their family dog, but nobody knows now what the name of that dog was.  And there was the cow, Pauline, like I told you before.

Then one time a famous opera singer named Enrico Caruso came to the White House to sing for the Tafts, and he thought the daughter, Helen, might like to have a nice dog that would be more fun for her than a cow, so he gave her a little white dog.  She was very happy to get this dog, and she named him Caruso.

Helen is holding her little white dog in this picture, but it's hard to see.
I wish Mom had a hat like these ladies had because it would be fun to chew it up!
Mrs. Taft made a bunch of changes at the White House, like for instance she hired African-Americans for the important job of being ushers, which only white men did before.  She also invited more types of people to the White House, and not just Society people.  She invited all the members of Congress and their families, divorced people, and military people of every rank.  Also she had the White House people start riding in automobiles instead of carriages pulled by horses.

Then in 1909, a sad thing happened, because Mrs. Taft had a stroke, and it took her a long time to get better.  She had to learn to talk all over again, which was not easy, and she always talked sort of funny after that, which made her not want to speak in public or to the press.  And another reason she did not want to talk to the press was because she didn't want the public to know that she liked to smoke and drink and play poker, because women mostly didn't do those things back then, especially if they were the First Lady.

The Taft Family
Mr. Taft loved his wife very much, and he took care of her while she was sick.  But she was not able to give him the good advice and help that he was used to getting from her, and he turned out not to be a very good leader of the nation.  A lot of important Republicans got mad at him, and they didn't want him to be president again.  And when he ran for re-election in 1912, he lost to Woodrow Wilson.

President Taft giving a speech
After that, Mr. Taft did some teaching, and he also founded a group called the League to Enforce Peace.  But it was hard to make peace in those days because World War I was happening.  

Finally, after the war ended, Mr. Taft had his dream come true because he was appointed the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by President Harding in 1921.  Mr. Taft was very happy being on the Court, and he said "I do not remember that I was ever President."  He was the only person in U.S. history to have been both the Chief Executive and the Chief Justice.  

Chief Justice Taft is in the middle of the front row.
Mr. Taft probably had what is called obstructive sleep apnea, which is something that overweight people have sometimes, and it is dangerous for your health.  He lost 80 pounds, and then he felt better and had a lower blood pressure.  In fact, he felt so much better that he went on a trip to Alaska.

On February 3, 1930, Mr. Taft retired from the Supreme Court because his health was getting very bad.  He died only five weeks later, on March 8.  He was the first president to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Mrs. Taft died at the age of 81, on May 22, 1943.  She was also buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The only other First Lady who was ever buried there was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.


  1. Thank you for this one. I learned a whole lot that I never knew. Having come from the Cincinnati area, I was always aware of the Tafts. I also heard that when he was President, a larger, special bathtub was required at the White House. I think they still have it at the Smithsonian or some place in DC.
    Aunt Lynn

  2. Dear Aunt Lynn,
    When I was doing my research on the Tafts, I saw pictures of President Taft's big bathtub, but since I don't like tubs or anything having to do with water, I didn't put any tub pictures on my blog. It is sad that there is not much information about the Tafts' dogs, but Mom thought that Mr. and Mrs. Taft were very interesting, even without dogs, and especially Mrs. Taft, so she told me to go ahead and write about them. I'm glad you liked my blog.
    Your friend, Piper

  3. Great blog; I, too learned several things I did not know. At first I was thinking Mrs. Taft sounded a bit pushy, but by the end of the blog, I liked her A LOT!! :) Being a collector of "cows" - I really liked the idea they had a cow at the White House! I'm a day late w/my comment. Thanks for the info.
    Love, AP