On March 4, shortly after noon, Helen Terwilliger, 13, sat comfortably in her eighth grade U. S. history class in the Walden, N. Y., public school. She was primed for what she was about to hear over the radio. She had memorized the Presidential oath, as prescribed by the Constitution, and was positive it ended with the words: "Preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Alert, clear-eyed, sharp-eared, she heard Chief Justice Taft begin the oath: "You, Herbert Hoover, do you solemnly swear . . ." And what was her amazement to hear him conclude, "preserve, maintain and defend the Constitution of the U. S." That was a bad misquotation of the text, thought Helen, who sat right down and wrote the Chief Justice a polite note of correction.
August in Washington, Mr. Chief Justice replied with a letter equally polite. He admitted his departure from the text, but did not think it invalidated the oath. "When I was sworn in as President by Chief Justice Fuller, he made a similar slip," Mr. Taft recalled, "but in those days when there was no radio, it was observed only in the Senate chamber where I took the oath. . . . You are mistaken in your report of what I did say. What I said was 'preserve, maintain and protect. . . . You may attribute the variation to the defect of an old man's memory."
But Helen was positive that the Chief Justice had said "preserve, maintain and defend," not "preserve, maintain and protect." Finally the movietone was invoked to settle the question. Its sound record proved Helen right, the Chief Justice wrong, on both counts. Mr. Taft, highly diverted, said he didn't think it was important. Perhaps, after he has sworn in nine presidents, like Chief Justice Marshall, or even seven, like Chief Justice Taney, his memory of the lines will not fail Chief Justice Taft.
Meanwhile Helen has become Walden's most distinguished pupil. A smooth-haired, frank-faced girl, she likes "any outdoor sport and taking care of babies." She enjoys "most any type book, particularly college stories." She also says: "I would like to be a high school teacher when I have completed high school and college."