Nellie Taft: first lady in a real sense

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

What can you say about a young, middle-class woman who supported herself financially at a time when women weren’t allowed to vote, and whose chief ambition from an early age was to marry a man who’d become president of the United States?

Some 100 years ago, Nellie Taft, first lady to President William Howard Taft, showed leadership in many ways, large and small:
  • A trained pianist, Nellie became a founder and hands-on president of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

  • She ran the Taft family finances and shaped her husband’s career, persuading him to leave the bench for a stint as solicitor general of the United States, then relentlessly propelling him toward the presidency. She was the first president’s wife to ride beside her husband in the inaugural parade.

  • When Taft served as U.S. governor general in the Philippines, Nellie helped bring education, health and social services there, and pushed hard for racial integration. She and her sister were the first white women to explore the Luzon territory.

  • She was the first incumbent first lady to attend a national presidential convention and the only one to attend the opposing party’s convention.

  • In the first public project spearheaded by a first lady, she created Potomac Park in Washington, D.C., and ordered the planting of 3,000 blossoming cherry trees donated by Japan.
— Adapted from Nellie Taft: The Unconventional First Lady of the Ragtime Era, Carl S. Anthony.

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