The country’s 27th president and a chief justice of the Supreme Court, William Howard Taft spoke on campus two times after leaving the Oval Office.
As World War I unfolded in Europe, Taft told 3,000 people at Hill Auditorium that he supported the idea of a League of Nations to guarantee peace.
U-M President Emeritus James B. Angell, retired from public life, recollected Taft’s Nov. 13, 1915, visit in a letter to his daughter:
“Last ev’g I dined at (U-M President Harry B.) Hutchins’ with ex-Presdt Taft and afterwards heard him give his address on a Plan for Peace after the war is over. It is very sane and full of historical knowledge. He was very entertaining at dinner.”
While on campus, Taft stayed at the President’s House. As he prepared to dress for his Hill appearance, Taft realized his bags had been switched at the train station and he was left with a suitcase filled with women’s clothing.
Wrote Hutchins biographer Shirley W. Smith: “What seemed to intrigue the distinguished visitor most was not his own plight but the thought of what the lady could do with his own tent-like garments.”
“Big Bill” Taft weighed in excess of 300 pounds. His campus speech was delayed as his hosts scrambled to find him appropriate evening attire.
A Republican, Taft returned to U-M in January 1920 to address a Hill Auditorium crowd on the subject of “Capital, Labor and the Soviet.” By then, University policy prohibited blatantly political speeches at Hill, and Taft—eager to again talk about the League of Nations—instead advocated the role of unions in American labor.
Sources: The Michigan Daily; James Burrill Angell: An American Influence, by Shirley W. Smith; Harry Burns Hutchins and the University of Michigan by Shirley W. Smith; Michigan Alumnus
Photo: Library of Congress