For Years, The Washington Post Tried to Interview a Cow

During the Taft administration, the paper covered the White House cow like a tabloid would a Kardashian.

Pauline Wayne, in front of the Executive office building, just doing her thing.
National Journal
Feb. 5, 2015, 7:53 a.m.

In 1912, an un­named Wash­ing­ton Post re­port­er asked Pau­line Wayne, Pres­id­ent Taft’s cow, if she was milked by a stranger without her con­sent, as had been re­por­ted. “It is true, Miss Wayne?” the re­port­er asked the 1,500-pound bovine.

And to each query, mod­est Pau­line re­turned from her soft, brown eyes a glance be­speak­ing re­proach and in­dig­na­tion, and a whisk of her tail, which is to say in bovine, with busi­ness hauteur: “He did not.”

Un­af­fected by her soft eyes, the re­port­er asked the ques­tion again. (A bit cruel, if you ask me, if she really was a vic­tim.) “I wasn’t milked on the White House lawn by a strange man,” The Wash­ing­ton Post—the ven­er­able in­sti­tu­tion that would later come to break the Wa­ter­gate scan­dal and win 48 Pulitzers—quoted her, a farm an­im­al, as say­ing.

The ex­clus­ive in­ter­view might have been a low point for The Wash­ing­ton Post. Either Pau­line could speak Eng­lish or The Post’s re­port­ers in­aus­pi­ciously dis­covered LSD. Or per­haps the pa­per com­mit­ted a huge journ­al­ist­ic sin: fab­ric­at­ing quotes.

Between 1910 and 1912, The Post had something of an ob­ses­sion with Pau­line, cov­er­ing her like Us Weekly would a Kar­dashi­an. A search of its archives re­veals more than 20 stor­ies men­tion­ing Pau­line between 1910 and 1912. In at least one in­stance, Pau­line was re­ferred to as the “pro­vider-in-chief [of] the finest milk and but­ter.”

Two years earli­er, in 1910, Taft’s pre­vi­ous cow, Mooly Wooly, died after eat­ing too many oats. “She had nev­er been in­struc­ted by ex­perts that oats are for horses,” The Wash­ing­ton Even­ing Star ex­plained to grief-stricken read­ers. In White House his­tory, it had been fairly com­mon for first fam­il­ies to keep cows on the White House grounds for fresh dairy pro­duc­tion.

Pau­line, a gift from a Wis­con­sin sen­at­or, ar­rived in the fall of 1910 as Mooly Wooly’s suc­cessor. She re­portedly could pro­duce 25 pounds of but­ter a week, and 9 gal­lons of milk a day—plenty of dairy for the fam­ously girthy pres­id­ent.

A Nov. 4, 1910, art­icle ap­pears to be the first in which The Post spoke to Pau­line. The pa­per asked her for her take on Amer­ica’s ob­ses­sion with celebrit­ies like her­self.

“I have been much amused, and I con­fess, rather bored by the om­ni­present pho­to­graph­ers,” she said (again, really doubt­ing The Post’s re­port­ing here). “Civil­iz­a­tion has de­veloped so many ir­rit­at­ing con­di­tions.”

Miss Wayne, as she was of­ten called, had com­plic­ated polit­ics. While call­ing her­self a “pro­gress­ive,” she also said, “I do not be­lieve in muck­rak­ing.” On the re­cord, she said she did not sup­port the suf­frage moovement.

As the na­tion’s most im­port­ant cow, Pau­line of­ten hit the road to con­nect with her fans at live­stock shows across the coun­try. Or­din­ary cit­izens could get a taste of pres­id­en­tial milk in souven­ir bottles for 50 cents, ac­cord­ing to the Pres­id­en­tial Pet Mu­seum. On one such trip to Mil­wau­kee, tragedy al­most stuck. Pau­line was ac­ci­dent­ally put on a stand­ard cattle car in­stead of her usu­al private coach. “The pres­id­ent’s cow was lost en route to the Mil­wau­kee Dairy Show and nar­rowly es­caped death in the Chica­go stock yards,” The New York Times re­por­ted in Oc­to­ber 1911. Pau­line must have been out­raged trav­el­ing like a com­mon cow. After all, this was a cow who was once offered a part in a stage pro­duc­tion of “Way Down East.”

The Chica­go in­cid­ent wasn’t the first time Pau­line had gone miss­ing. On her ini­tial trip from Wis­con­sin to Wash­ing­ton, Pau­line’s rail­car had a missed a con­nec­tion in Pitt­s­burgh, dis­ap­point­ing the throngs of re­port­ers and on­look­ers who came to the D.C. rail­way sta­tion to greet her. A parade from the rail­way to the White House had been planned. Ser­i­ously, the Pau­line Wayne years were a weird epis­ode for Wash­ing­ton.

After Taft’s de­feat in the Novem­ber 1912 elec­tions, The Post again in­ter­viewed Pau­line. The re­port­er asked her wheth­er she could stand to live at the White House un­der Woo­drow Wilson, a Demo­crat. She wouldn’t rule it out com­pletely. 

“You see, I have had a rather try­ing time,” said Pau­line, again some­how cross­ing the in­ter­spe­cies lan­guage bar­ri­er. “Some of the an­im­als here were on hand when Pres­id­ent Roosevelt was in of­fice, and when he star­ted a party all his own I had many lengthy de­bates.” At the very least, Pau­line con­fided to The Post, she would not let Pres­id­ent-elect Wilson taste her milk or but­ter.

The Post ana­lyzed her pre­dic­a­ment. “She real­izes that she is the per­son­al prop­erty of Pres­id­ent Taft, and not of the na­tion, and that if he or­ders [her to stay or leave], she must obey,” the pa­per ex­plained.

Taft was not the last pres­id­ent to bring live­stock to the White House. His suc­cessor, Wilson, pur­chased some sheep to graze on the lawn. They suffered through many troubles, in­clud­ing dis­ease and be­ing struck by new­fangled auto­mo­biles. After Wilson took over the White House, Pau­line re­turned to Wis­con­sin. Away from the lights, cam­era, and re­port­ers, she lived in peace.

COR­REC­TION: An earli­er ver­sion of this post misid­en­ti­fied the party of Theodore Roosevelt. 

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