The Neatest Little Paper Ever Read ®

Issue 974

TIDBITS® REMEMBERS

FIRST LADIES

by Janet Spencer

Come along with Tidbits as we remember presi-dential wives!

HELEN TAFT

• Helen “Nellie” Taft, during a visit to Tokyo, greatly enjoyed the annual cherry blossom festival. When her husband William Howard Taft became the 27th president in 1908, she was determined not only to beautify the White House, but also to improve the city as well. Cherry blossoms were just what she needed. Unfortunately, a search of every nursery in the U.S. turned up only 100 or so saplings. Undaunted, Mrs. Taft contacted the mayor of Tokyo, who graciously donated 3,000 saplings. However, when they arrived they were found to be infected with an agricultural pest and were destroyed. When the Tokyo mayor heard, he joked about George Washington being the first president to set an example of destroying cherry trees— then he sent a new shipment. Today, Nellie Taft’s city improvement program is still enjoyed by millions of people.

• Nellie Taft was the first First Lady to ride in her husband’s inauguration parade; the first to publish her memoirs; the first to own and drive a car; the first to support women’s suffrage; the first to smoke cigarettes; and the first to fight for federal safety standards in the workplace.

ELEANOR ROOSEVELT

• Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt were distant cousins who knew each other from childhood. When they got married in 1905, Eleanor’s uncle, President Theodore Roosevelt, gave away the bride.

• Eleanor championed civil rights causes while she was First Lady. She attended the Southern Conference on Human Welfare in Alabama in 1939. When she found that the audience was segregated, with blacks on one side and whites on the other, she protested by putting her chair into the center aisle that separated the races.

• Soon after Eleanor arrived in the White House, she hired a professional cook to spend a few days teaching her staff how to prepare special dishes. One day, Eleanor’s German shepherd rushed up and bit the cook on the ankle. Eleanor, running in to find out what the commotion was about, declared, “That settles it! From now on, we will have iodine kept in this room!”

• While entertaining some Russian dignitaries, Eleanor took them to see a Fourth of July parade. The Russians were accustomed to seeing great displays of military strength during their own parades. When a group of young men marched by in uniforms, they enquired, “Military?” “No,” she replied, “Boy Scouts.” Then another group of uniformed men marched by. “Military?” they asked. “No,” she said. “Volunteer fire department.” Next a car drove by, and inside it were four aging veterans, stuffed into uniforms they had long ago outgrown. “Military!” she announced triumphantly.

• Eleanor Roosevelt was the first presidential spouse to hold regular press conferences, write a daily newspaper column, write a monthly magazine column, host a weekly radio show, and speak at a national party convention.

 

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