William Howard Taft: His Wife's Stroke, a Biography

Here is Henry Pringle's account of Mrs. Taft's stroke 1a:
Worn down by the excitement of the past year and the exhaustion of her White House obligations, Mrs. Taft's health had given way in May and for a few days, until she began to improve, the President had looked into an abyss of utter tragedy. The collapse occurred on May 17, 1909. It appears to have been precipitated by an adenoidal operation performed on eleven-year-old Charley Taft that day. Mrs. Taft had insisted on being present in the hospital. At 4 o'clock she joined the President on the Sylph, then being used as the official yacht, for a visit down the Potomac to Mt. Vernon. The vessel had barely pulled out into the stream when Attorney General Wickersham, who had been standing with Mrs. Taft, turned suddenly to Captain Butt.

"Mrs. Taft has fainted," he said. "See if there is any brandy aboard."

She was carried into the saloon where she revived but was unable to speak, as though stricken with paralysis. Butt summoned the President who "went deathly pale." The Sylph put back toward the wharf and a sad procession started for the White House. The next day the President dictated a letter to his older son at Yale:

George Wickersham . . . said something which she did not answer. He said it again and she failed to answer and then he noticed that she looked as if she had fainted. She had not lost consciousness, but she did have a very severe nervous attack, in which for a time she lost all muscular control of her right arm and her right leg and of the vocal cords and the muscles governing her speech.
Her symptoms, the anxious husband and father added, were "very alarming because they indicate paralysis -- that is, a lesion of the brain." But the doctors held out hope that it might be nervous hysteria and not actual paralysis. Mrs. Taft could hear; this was an encouraging sign. The night of the stroke was, however, one of horror for the man who had married Nellie Herron of Cincinnati almost twenty-five years before and whose married life had been an unchanging light of happiness.

"The President, noted Archie Butt, "looked like a great stricken animal. I have never seen greater suffering or pain . . . on a man's face."

The fates, so often kind to William Howard Taft, were not, however, to laugh in mockery at the very time when other troubles were beginning to darken the skies. Mrs. Taft had a stout constitution. In all probability, she had a cerebral hemorrhage, but her health soon began to mend. Her speech was affected, though, and it was a long time before she could resume her place at the head of the presidential table. The President learned, when he reached [the Taft summer home in] Beverly in August, that she was greatly improved.

Indeed, as the winds of probable defeat grew more threatening, the President found a degree of comfort in the fact that his wife, so zealous and so ambitious on his behalf, was protected from their violence by illness. A year later he told Roosevelt who was, consciously or not, causing the winds to blow, that Mrs. Taft was still unable to attend social affairs.

"I am glad to say, " he told the returning hunter, "that she has not seemed to be bothered by the storm of abuse to which I have been subjected and that fact has reconciled me more than anything else."

More than a year later, on May 26, 1910, Taft wrote to Theodore Roosevelt 1b:
My year and two months have been heavier for me to bear because of Mrs. Taft's condition. A nervous collapse, with apparent symptoms of paralysis that soon disappeared, but with an aphasia that for a long time was nearly complete, made it necessary for me to be as careful as possible to prevent another attack. Mrs. Taft is not an easy patient and an attempt to control her only increased the nervous strain. Gradually she has gained in strength and she has taken part in receptions where she could speak a formula of greeting, but dinners and social reunions where she has to talk she has avoided.
As the Tafts were preparing to leave the White House in March 1913,
Mrs. Taft, too, was very much better. In twelve months her husband was able to report happily that she was feeling as she had not felt since before the attack in the White House. 1c
Taft became professor of law at Yale University immediately after his presidential term. In 1914 there was talk of having Taft run for Congress, but he objected. Pringle reports 1d:
Mrs. Taft was happy in New Haven and had been greatly benefited by the quiet life. A campaign might "disturb the even flow and happiness of her existence."
Cited Sources
  1. Pringle, Henry F. The Life and Times of William Howard Taft: A Biography. New York: Farrar & Rinehart, Inc., 1939.
    a  pp.442-444  b  p.543  c  p.857  d  p.884

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