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Warren G. Harding: Family Life

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Warren and Florence Harding had no family life in the White House to speak of. Although Florence had a son by a prior marriage, her marriage with Warren did not produce any offspring. Thus, their social affairs were limited to elegant garden parties and typical affairs of state. They loved to entertain special friends, however, in the upstairs quarters of the White House with ample supplies of liquor (obtained as medical supplies) in private defiance of prohibition. For Harding, social life revolved around the twice-weekly poker games with his cronies, golf games at the Chevy Chase Country Club, yachting, and fishing. He was the first President to have a radio in the White House, and the first to broadcast a presidential message via radio.

Extramarital Affairs

Harding's two publicly known affairs came to light in 1927 with a book published by one of his lovers, Nan Britton, and in 1963, when love letters written by Harding to Carrie Phillips were uncovered. His affair with Carrie Phillips, wife of his longtime friend James Phillips, ran for more than fifteen years, beginning in Marion, Ohio in 1905. At one point, Phillips, a tall attractive woman ten years younger than Harding, had tried to blackmail him into voting against a declaration of war on Germany. As a German sympathizer who had lived in Berlin off and on, she had fallen under the surveillance of the U.S. Secret Service. In 1920, the Republican National Committee bribed Mr. and Mrs. Phillips with a free, slow trip to Japan, $20,000 in cash, and the promise of monthly payments to keep them quiet. She lived until 1960.

While seeing Carrie Phillips, Harding also was deeply involved with his so-called "niece" Nan Britton, a pretty blonde thirty years younger than himself. Their affair began in 1917, when the moonstruck teenager from Harding's hometown of Marion wrote him asking for a job. Harding put her to work in a clerical position at the U.S. Steel Corporation in Washington, D.C. They continued their affair (often seeing each other in the Oval Office) until his death. Nan gave birth to a baby girl on October 22, 1919, named Elizabeth Ann Christian. Harding never saw the child but made generous child support payments that were hand delivered by the Secret Service. After his death, Britton sued Harding's estate to gain a trust fund for her daughter. Failing that, she wrote a best-selling book (ninety thousand copies), The President's Daughter, dedicated "to all unwed mothers, and to their innocent children whose fathers are usually not known to the world." It recounted the specific logistics of the affair in great detail.

Citation Information

Consulting Editor

Eugene Trani

Dr. Trani is the former president of Virginia Commonwealth University. His writings include:

Presidency of Warren G. Harding (part of the American Presidency Series, co-authored with David L. Wilson, The Regents Press of Kansas, 1977; second printing, 1985; third printing, 1989)

The First Cold War: The Legacy of Woodrow Wilson in U.S.-Soviet Relations (Co-authored with Donald E. Davis, published in English by University of Missouri Press, 2002; in Russian by Olma-Press Publishing House, 2002; in Chinese by Peking University Press, 2007)