From Publishers Weekly
Anthony (First Ladies
; Florence Harding;
etc.) takes on one of the least compelling First Ladies and does his best to make her colorful. Helen "Nellie" Herron Taft (1861–1943) went through life underwhelmed by power, having visited the White House for the first time at age 17. Despite Anthony's occasional attempts to make Nellie out to be a revolutionary ragtime heroine of women's rights and a precursor of such policy-driven first ladies as Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton, Nellie seems, on the facts, to have been a typical wife of her time and a devoted mother to her three children. Yet, as Anthony shows, the one area where she was decidedly strong was in her always shrewd and sometimes shrill advocacy for her husband and his interests (think Nancy Reagan). Nellie's other attributes—such as her skill at fashioning elaborate White House balls—may be less remarkable to readers. The best part of his narrative concerns the year 1909–1910, when Nellie struggled successfully to come back from a debilitating stroke, continuing to run the household with the help of a daughter retrieved from college. Anthony is also adept at portraying the complex, calculated bitterness with which Nellie greeted TR's 1912 attempt to usurp his onetime golden boy, Taft, when TR mounted a third-party challenge that toppled him. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW
. Agent, Lisa Bankoff.(Apr. 12)
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Although much has been written about the active roles played by Dolley Madison, Edith Wilson, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Hillary Rodham Clinton in their husband's administrations, the astonishingly dynamic Helen "Nellie" Taft has been largely ignored by biographers and historians alike. Politically ambitious on behalf of her husband, William Howard Taft, she shrewdly stage-managed his career and presidential campaign. Once her husband was elected, she upset traditionalists by insisting on being seated next to him in the open carriage on Inauguration Day. During Taft's tenure as president, her behind-the-scenes clout was legendary. In addition to advising her husband on a variety of governmental matters, she supported the controversial women's suffrage movement and fought to improve working and living conditions for the burgeoning influx of immigrants. Although her unconventional look-at-me attitude rankled many, she was genuinely devoted to both Will and to her many causes. This lively biography provides an illuminating glimpse into the life of an until-now underappreciated First Lady. Margaret FlanaganCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved