Helen Herron Taft was the wife of 27th American President William H. Taft. She gained the nickname Nervous Nellie when some critics noticed her perfectionist nature, especially during big events and occasions in the White House. Her quirks extended to having certain requirements for her staff.
Former first lady Helen Taft was inexplicably bothered by bald men. She banned all bald butlers from the dining room at her husband’s birthday party. All waiters in the White House had to have hair.
Who Was Helen Herron Taft?
Helen Herron Taft was born on June 2, 1861, in Cincinnati, Ohio. She was the fourth of eleven children of a prominent lawyer and Republican Party activist, John Herron, and wife, Harriet Collins Herron.
Taft attended private schools in Cincinnati, where she displayed her ambition to make her mark in the country. Taft later met a law student at the University of Cincinnati. The student, William Howard Taft, was her future husband and future president of the United States.
The two were married on June 19, 1886, where Taft helped her husband achieve different posts in the government. William Taft, later on, accepted appointments as a judge of the Ohio Supreme Court, US Solicitor General, judge of the Sixth US Circuit Court. Ultimately, the Tafts were sent to the Philippines, being appointed by President William McKinley as the president of the United States Commission to the Philippines in 1900.
Taft was reluctant to move to the Asian country, but with Helen’s encouragement, which was fueled by her ambition, their family moved to the Philippines in 1901. William Taft was then appointed as secretary of war in 1904. They returned home and resided in the nation’s capital. This is where Helen Taft continued her efforts to make her husband president.
It was reported that William Taft preferred a seat in the judiciary arm of the government. In contrast, Helen’s ambition was to live in the White House. This ambition was fueled when the Tafts visited former President Rutherford B. Haynes in the White House.
It was also reported that when former President Theodore Roosevelt was getting ready to appoint William Taft into the Supreme Court. Helen Taft requested a meeting with Roosevelt because of this. This appointment was said to have thwarted the appointment. And when Roosevelt declined to run for reelection in 1908, he supported Taft to become the Republican candidate for Presidency.
It was reported that the first lady was the most astute and trusted advisor to Taft, having immense influence over the president’s decisions. It was also known that she broke an old tradition and rode with William Taft in his motorcade after leaving the inaugural site.
Helen Taft continued to support her husband’s career until she died in 1943. (Source: Britannica)
The Nickname “Nervous Nellie”
Helen Taft earned a childhood nickname Nellie, which she brought with her as she became the country’s, first lady. In later years, her nickname soon evolved to Nervous Nellie, as written by author Carl Sferrazza Anthony in his book First Ladies. Taft was a perfectionist, especially during important events and formal occasions. Her perfectionism caused her to show signs of nervousness, to which critics added the term nervous to her nickname. (Source: Manila News)
Many reports showed how Taft caused a stir in the White House as soon as they moved in. She made changes in the White House to suit her taste. Taft replaced white ushers wearing black suits with African American ushers wearing blue suits. It was also reported that in President Taft’s birthday celebration, the first lady banned all bald waiters from the dining room. (Source: Mental Floss)