William Howard Taft and the 1905 U.S. Diplomatic Mission to Asia

The Photographs of Harry Fowler Woods

The statue of W.H. Taft at the University of Cincinnati

FOREWORD by Kevin Grace

On a patch of lawn between the College of Law and the Carl Blegen Library on the University of Cincinnati campus, there is a bronze statue of William Howard Taft. Portrayed in judicial robes and holding a law book in his right hand, Taft looks happy, his walrus moustache slightly crinkled below the cheeks raised in a smile topped by a satisfied gaze. Dedicated in 1992, the statue is fitting for two very important reasons. From the founding of the University of Cincinnati in 1870 (the professed 1819 founding date indicates that the original Cincinnati College which began in that year, and its Law School, were later absorbed by UC), the Taft family has been deeply involved in the welfare of the university, from its initial planning in which Alphonso Taft made his opinions known in terms of educational methods
to William Howard Taft effecting the merger of Cincinnati College’s Law School with UC’s College of Law and to various Taft funds that enrich scholarship and teaching.  

The second reason is that Taft, serving his community and country as a judge, as a law school dean both at UC and Yale University, as secretary of war and governor of the Philippines, and, as president of the United States and chief justice of the Supreme Court, was most content as a teacher and jurist. In laboring as president from 1908 to 1912, he answered the call of his wife, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Republican Party. But he was not a happy chief executive. Those particular years in Washington, D.C. were ones of duty. But, he loved the law. He loved teaching about it, writing about it, and administering it. Garbed in his bronze statue gown, Taft’s personality and ardor are evident.

Taft’s father, Alphonso, was a member of the Law School faculty of Cincinnati College in the years following the Civil War. In his own career, Alphonso was also a diplomat, a jurist of some repute and he worked in Ulysses Grant’s presidential cabinet variously as Attorney General and Secretary of War. Solicited by the city of Cincinnati in 1869 to help form the nascent University of Cincinnati, Taft made public speeches on behalf of the effort, and once it was founded, was named to the first Board of Directors.

William Howard followed in his father’s footsteps. He graduated from Woodward High School in Cincinnati, took his undergraduate degree at Yale, and then attended the Cincinnati Law School where Alphonso had taught.

After admission to the bar in 1880 and working for a time as a Hamilton County prosecutor before being elected to the Ohio Supreme Court, Taft became dean of the Cincinnati Law School in 1896. He served as both judge and dean for a few years as he worked to merge his institution with the University of Cincinnati. In 1900 he began his national endeavors under President William McKinley with the Philippines position before becoming Secretary of War under Roosevelt in 1904. And back in Cincinnati, there was a contingent of students who wished for him to become president of UC. Four years later, he would be President of the United States.

Taft as Dean of the Cincinnati Law School

The Taft brothers at the 1925 dedication of Alphonso Taft Hall on the U.C. Campus

William Howard Taft often returned to Cincinnati to visit his brothers and friends. In 1917, he promoted the sale of war bonds in a community-organized drive in the Queen City, and on October 28, 1925, along with his brothers Charles Phelps Taft, Henry W. Taft, and Horace D. Taft, he dedicated Alphonso Taft Hall, the home of UC’s College of Law. All four sons of Alphonso were graduates of the Cincinnati Law School. Among the audience that day were two other UC graduates, Vice President Charles G. Dawes and Speaker of the House Nicholas Longworth. Of course, at that same time, Taft was the Chief Justice. It was a notably influential time for UC alumni in national affairs.

In his dedication speech, Taft stated that a grounding in general education was essential for lawyers, “No man can sit in a court of justice and not realize how men suffer, how injustice is done that cannot be remedied…”

The Taft family legacy at the University of Cincinnati is a commitment of service and support. In 1922, Mrs. Charles P. Taft established Taft Fellowships for scholarship and in 1930 the Charles Phelps Taft Memorial Fund was established to endow teaching and research in the humanities, a fund that enriches learning to this day. And in 1961, Louise Taft Semple created a trust fund for the Department of Classics, continuing Taft family support since the 1930s that made UC Classics a renowned leader in archaeology and history.

It is inconceivable that the University of Cincinnati would be the world-class institution it is today without the involvement of Alphonso Taft and his progeny. And in this volume, there is considerably more evidence of the Taft ideals of service and global responsibility.



  1. 1857 Born September 15, 1857, in Cincinnati, Ohio to Alphonso Taft and Louise Torrey
  2. 1878 Graduated from Yale College
  3. 1880 Appointed assistant prosecutor for Hamilton County (Cincinnati)
  4. 1886 Married Helen Herron on June 19, 1886, they had three children
  5. 1887 Served on the Superior Superior Court of Cincinnati
  6. 1890 President Harrison appointed him Solicitor General of the United States
  7. 1892 President Harrison appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, based in Cincinnati
  8. 1896 Taft became dean and Professor at the Cincinnati Law School
  9. 1900 President McKinley appointed Taft on the commission to organize a civilian government in the Philippines
  10. 1904 President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Taft to become Secretary of War
  11. 1905 Secretary Taft led the U.S. Diplomatic Mission to Asia
  12. 1909 Became President of the United States
  13. 1913 Became Kent Professor of Law and Legal History at Yale Law School
  14. 1921 Became Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
  15. 1930 Died in Washington, D.C. on March 8, 1930