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Fourth child of Harriet Collins and John W. Herron, she had grown up in Cincinnati, Ohio, attending a private school in the city. She met Will Taft at a sledding party at age 18. They found intellectual interests in common; friendship matured into love; Helen Herron and William Howard Taft were married in 1886. Mrs. Taft welcomed each step in her husband's political career: state judge, Solicitor General of the United States, federal circuit judge. In 1900 he agreed to take charge of American civil government in the Philippines. By now the children numbered three: Robert, Helen, and Charles. Further travel with her husband, who became Secretary of War in 1904, brought a widened interest in world politics and a cosmopolitan circle of friends.
As First Lady, she still took an interest in politics but concentrated on giving the administration a particular social brilliance. Only two months after the inauguration she suffered a severe stroke. Her daughter Helen left college for a year to take part in social life at the White House. During four years famous for social events, the most famous was an evening garden party for several thousand guests on the Tafts' silver wedding anniversary, June 19, 1911. Mrs. Taft remembered this as "the greatest event" in her White House experience. Her own book, Recollections of Full Years, gives her account of a varied life. And the capital's famous Japanese cherry trees was planted around the Tidal Basin at her request.
Her public role in Washington, DC did not end when she left the White House. In 1921 her husband was appointed Chief Justice of the United States and she continued to live in the capital after his death in 1930. She died at her home on May 22, 1943.