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The First Lady: 1909

"Mrs. William Howard Taft." First Lady Helen Herron (Nellie) Taft at the H&E studios circa 1909. Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative. View full size.

"Mrs. William Howard Taft." First Lady Helen Herron (Nellie) Taft at the H&E studios circa 1909. Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative. View full size.


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Those who do not smile

It has been said that pretty women smile, and beautiful women do not. Think Greta Garbo.

Big Bill

Taft was a very large man, but if you see him in photographs, you can see that he's actually a barrel of a man rather than a big squishy Hutt. He was also known for his geniality. He was also the only President to become Chief Justice (the job he really wanted anyway).

Hint of a Smile

To my eyes, Mrs. Taft has just a glimmer of a smile hiding behind her proper though she was thinking, "All right, I will make the best of this! I hold my head up high."

Lovely photograph.

Say Cheese

Keep in mind that people didn't used to smile for pictures like they do now. Particularly in the early days of the 20th century, photo portraits were serious affairs, much like portraits done in oil paint. You'd much rather appear serious and dignified, rather than grinning like a simpleton, so don't be too hard on the old gal.

Portly Husbands

It's interesting that so many seem to think that Taft's weight should have disqualified him from having a beautiful wife. I'm sure he had other redeeming qualities--it's too bad that so many people look at fat people and only see them as "fat" and nothing else. Besides, it's not as if Helen is the first woman ever to wind up with a portly and balding mate--it's a rather common phenomenon, it seems to me.

That dress is gorgeous. I can see why she laid off the jewelery--that dress has enough bling going on without adding any more. Wonder what the occasion for the picture was?

Grimace and bear it

Mrs. Taft looks, if not actually unhappy, then at least stoical and resigned: with her eyes staring into some middle distance and her mouth drawn into a straight line. Definitely not a Jacqueline Kennedy or Nancy Reagan, who both reveled in being the First Lady. She's not a great beauty, but is what was called a "handsome" woman, in her day. Quite a catch for her portly husband, who, legend has it, once got stuck in the White House bathtub and had to be helped out by the servants!


Unless those are wee pearls on her ears, she is also interesting because she is wearing no jewelry at all. But she's radiant. I had no idea she was such a beauty.
And yet she was wed to Taft the Raft--for so he must have seemed.


If I am not mistaken, Mrs. Taft suffered a nasty stroke not too long after her husband's inauguration and her hosting abilities were quite limited.


Parece que han sujetado al suelo algunos pliegues del vestido con alfileres...

In time past...

Her husband was HUGE. I saw an exhibit once of dresses from all the first ladies, and the accompanying biographies. Many of these women led very tragic lives including the one whose only living son was killed before her eyes in a train wreck on the way to Washington for her husband's swearing in. I can't remember if Hillary Clinton's outfit was actually a dress or one of her infamous pantsuits.


Times do change

Wonderful picture -- Mrs. Taft is so elegant, yet looks very warm and approachable, and her skin just glows. And that's a fantastic dress.

(And, indeed, some women find large men -- even REALLY large men -- can be quite attractive. Evidently Nellie thought so!)

They also serve

It is ungallant to note that this woman had three children by a man who weighed 300 pounds?


One of the best looking First Ladies I've seen without a doubt especially for that circa.

When Glamor Was Gracious!

...riveting elegance; an unusual posing.


The photographer, of course, intended to crop out the reflector and the window on the right. Close call though.

[That's the opposite of a reflector. It's blocking the light. - Dave]

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