Taft the Party Animal

By Kevin Grace

Statue of William Howard TaftIs there a Taft fashion cult lurking about campus?  This morning saw the William Howard Taft statue outside the College of Law decked out like he was going to a Jimmy Buffet concert.  Replete with hula skirt, tee shirt, shades, and beanie, Big Bill definitely looked like he was ready for an end-of-summer blowout.

The Taft statue was erected on the east side of the law school in 1992.  Sculpted by William T. Moore III, the statue shows Taft in his judicial robes and clasping a law book in his hand.  A graduate of Woodward High School, Yale, and the Cincinnati Law School, William Howard Taft served as dean of his law alma mater from 1896 to 1900.  The Cincinnati Law School was the last remnant of the original Cincinnati College founded in 1819.  As dean, Taft assisted with the 1897 merger of his school with the Law Department of the University of Cincinnati and served as dean of the combined programs, called the College of Law.  He was appointed by President William McKinley to the Philippine Commission in 1900 and soon became governor of the Philipines.  From 1904 to 1908, Taft served as Secretary of War under Theodore Roosevelt.  As the Republican candidate, he was elected President of the United States in 1908, completing one term in office from 1909-1912.  After he left the White House, Taft taught in the Yale Law School until 1921 when President Warren Harding named him Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, a position he held until his death in 1930.

Taft with his brothers, Henry, Charles Phelps, and Horace at the 1925 Alphonso Taft College of Law dedication

William Howard Taft from the 1900 UC yearbook

Sketch of the Taft statue from the 1992 dedication program

It is said that William Howard Taft was never a happy president – his dream was always to be a jurist.  And, when he was unhappy he tended to eat.  Reflecting on his waistline after he left the presidency, he is reported to have written to a friend that he was much happier now, the proof being that he could button his trousers without the help of a valet.  The statue shows a very happy Taft, in fact, a man in full smile.  The bronzed Taft has been decorated before, and though some people suspect students from the College of Medicine are behind the pranks, it isn’t really known who is operating behind the scenes.  It’s certainly not an open-and-shut case.  And, no one has found the briefs.

To learn more about the statue or about Taft’s years at the University of Cincinnati, contact the Archives & Rare Books Library at 556-1959, archives@ucmail.uc.edu, or on the ARB website, http://www.libraries.uc.edu/libraries/arb/index.html.