William Howard Taft: His Wife's Stroke

wife's stroke
May 17, 1909: In the morning, Taft's young son Charlie endured a bloody adenoid operation. Later that day his wife suffered a stroke, rendering her unable to speak. "The President looked like a great stricken animal. I have never seen greater suffering or pain shown on a man's face" 1a. Presaging the cover-up of President Woodrow Wilson's stroke, word of the event was kept from the public. Taft kept all his appointments 2a and Mrs. Taft's sisters became White House hostesses 3a. SEE BELOW
There are two good descriptions of Mrs. Taft's stroke. One was written contemporaneously by the President's aide de camp, Major Archie Butt. The other was written by Taft's biographer, Henry Pringle.
  • Pringle's account of the event is complete. MORE

  • From Butt's nightly letters over the years, it's possible to construct a first-hand account of Mrs. Taft's progress through late 1911. MORE

By contrast, Mrs. Taft's description of her stroke in her 1914 autobiography, is slim on details 3a:

In May I suffered a serious attack of illness and was practically out of society through an entire season, having for a much longer time than that to take very excellent care of myself. During this period my sisters... came from time to time to visit us and to represent me as hostess whenever it was necessary for me to be represented.

But even in my temporary retirement, as soon as I was strong enough to do anything at all, I always took a very lively interest in everything that was going on in the house, and from my apartments on the second floor directed arrangements for social activities almost as if I had been well.

Do not, however, get the impression that Mrs. Taft was merely interested in social activities while she was First Lady. She was, by all accounts, intelligent, ambitious, and the President's premier policy advisor until her stroke.

Eventually, she recovered almost completely. She was, however, left with a slight speech impediment, and her written letters lost the fluency of earlier years 2b. Mrs. Taft died in 1943 at age 81 -- 34 years after her stroke 2c. Mrs. Taft may have been predisposed to a stroke, as "paralysis had struck her father" 4a and her mother 3b. [I am suspicious that the reference to her father is a typographical error.]

Cited Sources
  1. Butt, Archibald W. Taft and Roosevelt: The Intimate Letters of Archie Butt, Military Aide. Garden City, NY: Doubleday (1930). Volume 1: pages 1-432. Volume 2: pages 433-862.
    a  p.88

    Comment: Butt, an Army officer, was military aide first to President Theodore Roosevelt and then to President William Taft. On April 14, 1912, Butt was at sea aboard the Titanic returning from a European vacation that Taft had insisted he take. President Taft later said: "When I heard that part of the ship's company had gone down, I gave up hope for the rescue of Major Butt, unless by accident. I knew that he would certainly remain on the ship's deck until every duty had been performed and every sacrifice made that properly fell on one charged, as he would feel himself charged, with responsibility for the rescue of others." Taft was correct. Butt did not survive the sinking.

  2. Ross, Ishbel. An American Family: The Tafts - 1678 to 1964. Cleveland, OH: World Publishing Co., 1964.
    a  p.221  b  pp.221-222  c  p.393
  3. Taft, Mrs. William Howard (Helen Herron Taft). Recollections of Full Years. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1914.
    a  p.365  b  p.233
  4. Manners, William. TR and Will: A Friendship that Split the Republican Party. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1969.
    a  p.95

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