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Nellie Taft: The Unconventional First Lady of the Ragtime Era

3.73  ·  Rating Details ·  120 Ratings  ·  28 Reviews
On the morning of William Howard Taft's inauguration, Nellie Taft publicly expressed that theirs would be a joint presidency by shattering precedent and demanding that she ride alongside her husband down Pennsylvania Avenue, a tradition previously held for the outgoing president. In an era before Eleanor Roosevelt, this progressive First Lady was an advocate for higher edu ...more
Paperback, 560 pages
Published February 21st 2006 by William Morrow (first published 2005)
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Jean Poulos
Feb 01, 2015 Jean Poulos rated it really liked it
Helen Herron “Nellie” Taft was considered unconventional. She drank alcohol, smoked cigarette and gambled and insisted on participating in her husband’s political affairs. She was the first of the First Ladies to drive an automobile while first lady. The car was a Pierce Arrow.

According to Anthony, Nellie Taft was the one that wanted to be in public office, as women could not vote or hold office she pushed her husband into politics. He was only interested in the law and his goal was to be the Ch
Aug 11, 2016 Brina rated it really liked it
I read The Bully Pulpit earlier this spring and wanted to follow up on its "cast of characters." Nellie Taft is presented as a modern woman at the turn of the 20th century. Her one ambition is to marry a man who would be president and she achieves it at a fairly young age. Manipulative yes but her manipulations make for an intriguing read. The one issue I don't grasp fully is that if Taft truly desired to be Supreme Court Chief Justice, how did he allow his wife to get the better of him? His 4 y ...more
Feb 29, 2012 Graceann rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: history buffs
Shelves: biography
Carl Sferrazza Anthony takes a difficult subject, and parses it out so that, even if it isn't fascinating, you're at least able to follow the trajectory.

Helen Herron (called "Nellie" all her life) made the decision as a young woman that she would marry a man who would become President of the United States. It made no difference that the man who fell in love with her, and whom she apparently loved, had as his life's dream to be on the U.S. Supreme Court. She actively campaigned against him accep
Bobby D
Apr 26, 2016 Bobby D rated it really liked it
I guess by now it is well known that Doris Kerns Goodwin has a new book coming out November 5, 2013 about Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft called THE BULLY PULPIT. I have it on order and expect like all of Kern’s books it will be excellent. In anticipation I remembered that I had in my library a copy of Carl Anthony’s biography of Taft’s wife, Nellie Taft. I had bought it some time ago because I had really enjoyed Anthony’s book FLORENCE HARDING, THE FIRST LADY, THE JAZZ AGE, AND THE D ...more
Dec 03, 2014 Pammy rated it it was ok
I recently visited the First Ladies National Historic site in Canton and this book was suggested reading.
There are lots of good references to prominent people & places in turn of the century Cincinnati (just right down the river from me). A great deal is based on surviving letters, mostly from Taft. They think Nellie may have selectively destroyed many of her own that she did not wish to share. The book is quite detailed......shows his obvious passion for the judicial and not for the preside
It's not far fetched for little Nellie, who's father was a confidant of one president and a friend to another, to set a goal of going to Washington in the top spot available to a woman... the wife of the president.

Having recently read about Alva Vanderbilt, I chose this bio. of her contemporary. These are two very ambitious women living in a time of limited options for women. Neither bio. suggests their paths crossed, but it would seem that they should have. Both battled the odds, one to be the
Jane Buchbauer
Feb 24, 2015 Jane Buchbauer rated it really liked it
While the writing, as all books I have read by Carl Sferrazza Anthony on the first ladies, was excellent, I must admit that I was disappointed in the story of Nellie Taft. She simply was not as extraordinary has I had expected her to be. She, frankly, was not an especially likable character as her ambitions for her husband and her own self-serving nature seemed to affect many in a negative way. While her ambitions may or may not have been the best thing for William Howard Taft, when all was said ...more
Dec 28, 2015 Stacy rated it really liked it
This is one of the few non-fiction books that I read this year. At just over 400 pages, it was a lengthy read for me, packed with information. However, I believe that the author did an excellent job of arranging the narrative of this book, and so, even though it was full of information, the book also had a sense of drama that compelled one's interest.

Ever since I was a little girl, I have been interested in Presidential figures, and keenly remember reading about them, with some mentions of thei
Jennifer Nelson
I wouldn’t have normally chosen to read a book such as this, but I had a hard time finding a biography of William Taft that looked good to me (I am reading through all of the presidents). The story of a very head-strong, determined, bossy woman does not appeal to me in the least, but I still did find this book interesting to read and a good peek into early 1900s life in America. What an interesting time period it was! There were a lot of changes going on in the world at that time.

I was especial
Aug 18, 2012 Goose rated it liked it
I did enjoy this book about Nellie Taft. It was not as interesting as this author's book on Florence Harding but then Florence Harding just was a more interesting individual than Nellie Taft. Unfortunately, Nellie also had her stroke after being First Lady for only a brief time. My favorite parts of this book were actually about Nellie's life prior to becoming first lady especially her time in the Philippines. I did think it interesting that Nellie had some very modern thoughts of what women cou ...more
“‘Not quite grand enough’ sometimes seemed to be the rally cry which drove the ambitions of Nellie Taft.”

It has been a long held view that William Howard Taft never wanted to be President of the United States. He loved the law, and it was his desire to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. His wife, Nellie Taft, had other ambitions for him. In Carl Sferrazza Anthony’s biography of the “ragtime era” first lady, we learn how Mrs. Taft had such a great influence upon her husband, that he agreed to an off
Mar 12, 2015 Maureen rated it it was ok
This was an interesting enough book, if you have much interest in that period of American history. After getting into Taft's presidency, I had about enough of Nellie & company and did not finish the book.

If you are truly interested in the details of this time period in American history and politics, then you will probably enjoy this book more than I did.
Brenda C Kayne
The rest of the title of the book is, "The Unconventional First Lady of the Ragtime Era," and how true that is! There is no way President Taft would have been president without the wily ways of Nellie. She was remarkably ambitious and if she had been born later in the century, there is no doubt in my mind that she would have run for president herself.

I never knew that Taft really wanted to be a Supreme Court judge. He never really wanted to be president at all. His dream finally came true at the
Picked this up on a whim, and it turned out to be a really enjoyable read. Nellie Taft was a woman who was much ahead of her time; had she been born in the 20th century I think she would have been politically ambitious for her self, instead of for her husband. NB: the narrative text only goes to page 411; the remainder is notes and so forth.
Aug 20, 2008 Alison rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who like political biographies.
I finally finished the Nellie Taft book - not due to lack of interest, but in lack of time for reading... I really enjoyed learning more about the First Lady and all she did that was quite progressive for her era. For instance, she was the first First Lady to ride with the President down Pennsylvania Avenue after the inauguration! She created the partnership with Japan for the Cherry Blossom trees around the Jefferson Memorial (which wasn't there at the time) and was a savvy politician in her ow ...more
Apr 23, 2015 Monika rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
Started off slow, but was really interesting. Connected many random historical facts for me.
Dec 17, 2007 Raully rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography-memoir
Nellie Taft drove her husband into the presidency (he fancied the Supreme Court) and then became the first political First Lady of the modern era. Among her achievements: handling the Phillipino occupation with her husband; creating the Potomac Basin park in DC and planting all those cherry trees; and promoting women's education and suffrage. Unfortunately she was struck down halfway through the term by a stroke, unable to deal with TR's ambitious betrayal in 1912, and forced to watch her husban ...more
Jul 03, 2014 Carolyn rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bios
Very readable account of this ambitious and capable woman who famously pushed her husband into the presidency while holding her own with TR.
Jul 05, 2009 Mandy rated it really liked it
Continuing on with my odd fascination with first ladies, I came out of this with a new appreciation for William Taft and Nellie (fun fact - she's responsible for bringing the cherry trees to Washington), and a kind of horror that intellectualism can degenerate so rapidly in a family. Nellie and William fell in love in the salons she hosted in Cincinnati. I'm not sure if Ohio's most recent governor would even enter one.
Mar 17, 2014 Lindsay rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think Nellie Taft is one of my new favorite historical figures. She is often overshadowed by other first ladies, but she was quite remarkable, and even made her own path.
Jessica Powell
Aug 20, 2007 Jessica Powell rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone!
There were so many great vingettes about my favorite president William Howard Taft in this book! Who knew that Nellie Taft propelled her husband to the presidency, which he never desired for himself, then promptly suffered a stroke and was socially incapacitated for almost his entire term?
brooke sellers
May 04, 2007 brooke sellers rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I got this book from a friend (Sarah Schraw!) who loves biographies of remarkable women. This meets the bill. I was surprisingly involved in Nellie's story.
Oct 13, 2015 Jane rated it really liked it
Fascinating woman at a critical time in US history. Story of a marriage as much as the history of the age. Loaded with general history of the era.
May 05, 2007 Sarah marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I bought this for my lovely friend Brooke. She liked it, so I think I should probably read it too!
Feb 12, 2012 Kathleen rated it it was amazing
Great book, well-written and an interesting look at that era.
Steve Cate
Good look into the life of the Taft family.
Feb 15, 2013 Edward rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Nellie was an interesting woman!
Jun 11, 2012 Rebecca rated it it was ok
not very easy to read
Gillian Robinson
Gillian Robinson marked it as to-read
Sep 28, 2016
Bethany marked it as to-read
Sep 28, 2016
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