My Dearest Nellie
The Letters of William Howard Taft to Helen Herron Taft, 1909-1912
Lewis L. Gould, editor
Few presidential couples enjoyed a closer relationship in the White House than Will and Nellie Taft. Throughout William Howard Taft's rise in American politics, she had been his most intimate confidant. When circumstances separated them, as when Helen Herron Taft became incapacitated by a stroke and was unable to accompany the president on his storied travels—or was herself on recuperative trips—she pressed him for letters, and he obliged with gossipy correspondence that provides a fascinating account of his presidency at decisive moments in his single term.
These 113 letters, all but a few never before published, represent a rare glimpse into the mind of a chief executive speaking candidly about individuals and issues. In them, Taft commented on political issues he encountered and decisions he made-as well as his growing disillusion with Theodore Roosevelt, his unhappiness with Congress, and his struggles with his weight and golf score. Breathing new life into a bygone era in all of its complexity and humanity, they also open a new window on Washington early in the twentieth century—providing Taft's reactions not only to social figures of the Progressive Era but also to the impact of innovations like the automobile and rudimentary air conditioning.
“This collection of 113 previously unpublished letters from Taft to his wife, Nellie, exposes the uncertainty and struggles experienced by the 27th President. Edited by Gould, the book shows Taft to be a compelling, avuncular personality who happened to be ill suited for the job at hand. Taft conveys his increasing frustration with former friend and new competitor for the 1912 election, Theodore Roosevelt; his thoughts on tariff and election reform; and rationales behind his frequent vetoes of congressional bills.”
“Taft’s letters to his closest adviser and confidant, his wife, Helen, do show a man of thoughtfulness, decency and conscience.”
—Ohioana QuarterlySee all reviews...
“Should stand as standard works and valuable resources for those interested in the twenty-seventh presidency and his wife.”
“These letters—intimate and intellectual, personal and political—offer stunning insights into Taft’s presidency and the broader time period. Gould’s introductions provide invaluable historical context, with expert insights on key policy issues. Reading this volume one gains an unmatched appreciation for the development of the modern presidency, and for the difficult relationship between the impressive figures who occupy this office and the almost inhuman demands of executive leadership. Taft’s letters reveal how a man of intelligence and integrity struggled to lead a powerful nation.”
—Jeremi Suri, author of Henry Kissinger and the American Century
“Nellie Taft has long been seen as one of our most involved first ladies—ambitious to advance her husband’s career and shrewd at sizing up his opposition. President Taft’s letters to her show how much he valued her counsel and support. Why else would he update her on tariffs, mull over his chances for reelection, and confess his worries about his weight and his golf scores? Lew Gould has produced a superb editing of the letters, using his thorough knowledge of the Taft years to help the reader identify obscure players and put events in context. The book adds an important dimension to the Taft presidency, mixing political maneuverings with behind the scenes gossip.”
—Betty Boyd Caroli, author of First Ladies: From Martha Washington to Michelle ObamaSee fewer reviews...
Sometimes indiscreet and frustrated with his political prospects, Taft comes through as a man who worked hard at a job for which he was not well suited. Indeed, Taft has been written off as a failed chief executive who was pushed into office by his wife; yet, as he insisted to Nellie, he was a creditable chief executive confronted with a changing political environment. Taft's letters may not warrant calling him a great president, but they reveal a more thoughtful occupant of the White House than scholars have acknowledged.
Other than those that Harry Truman wrote to Bess, there is no comparable archive of modern presidential letters to a spouse that equals the letters to "Dearest Nellie" that Will Taft sent. Edited and introduced by a leading historian of the Progressive Era, Taft's letters not only reveal the inner workings of a presidency at decisive moments but also humanize a chief executive to whom history has been less than kind.