Even if you didn’t have the day off work, the onslaught of mattress sale commercials should have reminded you that this past Monday was Presidents’ Day. Along with National Thank a Mail Carrier Day, it’s a busy month.
In honor of the holiday, let’s explore a footnote in the administration of one of our more obscure presidents, William Howard Taft. He’s known as the only person to serve both as president of the United States and chief justice of the Supreme Court, as well as for his unfortunate habit of falling asleep at church, at the opera, at funerals and while discussing business with senators after meals.
Along with these narcoleptic tendencies, Taft appeared to have had a sentimental streak. In 1912, fifteen-year-old Bertha Zaboroski of Erie, Pennsylvania wrote to the president, saying that:
Her mother was in jail and that she and four smaller children had been left in need when the father deserted them. . . Bertha used ten pages of a school tablet and wrote a thrilling description of a fight her mother had with a neighbor, even repeating some of the vicious names the women called each other. She concluded her story with an account of how her mother was arrested for assault.– The Bridgeton Pioneer, March 28, 1912
Bertha’s budding writing skills paid off. According to the newspaper, “not only did she get a reply, promising to investigate, but she received a five dollar bill as well.” Unlike so many similar stories, this one has a happy ending. Although the newspaper is vague on the details, Bertha’s mother was reportedly released and her family was taken care of.
Step aside, Little Orphan Annie. The 20th century has a new plucky heroine to admire.
Disclaimer: The modern era is far from the first to grapple with rampant “fake news.” As I am neither a historian nor journalist, I make no claims about the accuracy or lack thereof of the above historical article. I assert only that it makes for a good story.
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