Presidential Birthdays September

William Howard Taft (1857-1930)

William Howard Taft was the only U.S. President to be born in the month of September. He also served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court afterward.

William Howard Taft was born on September 15, 1857. He became President in 1908 and later was appointed as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Early Life of William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of Alphonso Taft, a prominent Republican attorney who was Secretary of War and Attorney General under President Ulysses Grant. His father was also U.S. Ambassador to Austria and Russian under President Chester Arthur.

He had five siblings and was raised in a Unitarian family that was active in the community. His mother organized the local and statewide kindergarten movement, an art association, book clubs, and German and French Clubs.

As a child, he played sports and took dancing lessons. Baseball was the young Taft’s favorite sport and he was a second-baseman and was considered a power hitter. Young Taft attended a private school in Cincinnati and graduated second in his class with a four-year grade average of 91.5 out of 100. When he graduated from high school, he chose for the ceremony the subject of women’s suffrage and told the audience about his progressive parents and their activities.

Attending Yale University, Taft graduated second in his class. He later studied law at the University of Cincinnati and became a lawyer. He was appointed to local positions including that of Assistant Prosecutor of Hamilton County, Ohio in 1881.

When he was 28 years old, he married 25-year-old Helen “Nellie” Herron, who influenced him to strive for higher positions in government. In 1911, she and Taft would celebrate their silver anniversary in the White House with 4000 guests in attendance.

Throughout childhood and as an adult, Taft was overweight, at times weighing as much as 300 pounds. The stress of trying to live up to the achievements of his father and mother is said to have contributed to his weight problems.

Taft’s Government Service

From 1887 to 1900, Taft held key legal and judicial posts, including:

  • Judge of the Cincinnati Superior Court
  • Solicitor General
  • Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
  • President of the Commission to oversee the newly won Philippines Islands from 1900 to 1903, becoming governor in 1901.

President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt appointed Taft as Secretary of War in 1903. He assisted the President in establishing a protectorate in Cuba and aided him in the Portsmouth Peace negotiations.

Taft as President of the United States

Taft ran for president in 1908 with Teddy Roosevelt’s support and won over Democrat William Jennings Bryan. However later he lost the support of party, seen to be abandoning progressivism. He was not reelected in 1912 when Woodrow Wilson ran against him and was voted into the office.

While in office President Taft’s agenda included:

  • Lowering tariffs
  • Trust-busting attempt to break up U.S. Steel
  • Continuing Roosevelt’s goal of expanding U.S. foreign trade in South and Central America and Asia.

During the Taft years in the White House, American women began to organizing and demanding suffrage and new roles for women. It was during this time that the word “feminism” came into use. However, the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, did not come into being until 1920.

William Howard Taft was known as a warmhearted and kind man who wanted to be respected in his own right. However he was not known for his leadership qualities. Serving between the tenures of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, his term in office was noted for its lack of accomplishments. He died on March 8, 1930. His funeral was the first to be broadcast on radio when he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.