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Florence Kling Harding - History

Florence Kling Harding - History

Warren Harding was elected by a landslide in 1920. It seemed that the public was pleased to again have a vigorous President with an eminently sociable First Lady. The Hardings described themselves as "just plain folks" and it was reported that the First Lady would often greet tourists at the White House. She was known as a successful hostess at huge receptions and garden parties. Unbeknownst to most of the public, however, the Hardings defied Prohibition and regularly served liquor for the President and his close friends. Florence Harding enjoyed playing bartender and the President's cronies enjoyed having her around. They called her "Duchess" and even the President referred to her as such.

Florence was devoted to the achievement of high political office for Warren. At the time of their marriage, she was a divorce with a young son. Her father, an extremely wealthy banker in Marion, Ohio, strongly opposed her relationship with Harding (who was five years Florence's junior.) After the marriage, Florence's father did not speak to her for some seven years.

She once said, "I have only one-real hobby-- it's my husband." Without his strong willed wife, poker-playing Warren probably would not have become President. It is said that Florence insisted that he run for the nation's highest office. Although he didn't want to be President, She certainly wanted to be First Lady!

The Harding administration was known for being scandal-ridden and corrupt. President Harding once said that, "In this job I am not worried about my enemies. It is my friends who are keeping me awake." This bitter remark referred to the members of Harding's so-called "Ohio Gang," the cronies who turned out to have been poor friends indeed. In an effort to shore up his declining public image, the President and First Lady embarked on a cross-country "Voyage of Understanding" in June 1923. On August 2, the President died in San Francisco, probably of a cerebral blood clot. Florence eventually burned almost all the presidential papers, an act which has certainly served to cloud the truth regarding the Hardings' knowledge of the corruption around them. Florence Harding survived her husband by only little more than one year, dying in 1924 of complications relating to chronic kidney disease.



Warren Harding’s Early Years

Warren Gamaliel Harding was born on November 2, 1865, on a farm in the small Ohio community of Corsica (present-day Blooming Grove). He was the oldest of eight children of George Harding (1843-1928), a farmer who later became a doctor and part owner of a local newspaper, and Phoebe Dickerson Harding (1843-1910), a midwife.

Did you know? In 1923, as part of a cross-country tour, Harding became the first American president to visit Alaska, which had been a territory since 1912 and would achieve statehood in 1959.

Harding graduated from Ohio Central College (now defunct) in 1882 and moved to Marion, Ohio, where he eventually found work as a newspaper reporter. In 1884, he and several partners purchased a small, struggling newspaper, the Marion Star.

In 1891, Harding married Florence Kling De Wolfe (1860-1924), a Marion native with one son from a previous relationship. The Hardings had no children together, and Florence Harding helped manage the business operations for her husband’s newspaper, which became a financial success. She later encouraged Warren Harding’s political career and once remarked, “I have only one real hobby–my husband.”


Florence Kling Harding

Known as "The Duchess," Florence Mabel Kling Harding served as First Lady from 1921 to 1923 as the wife of President Warren G. Harding.

Daughter of the richest man in a small town--Amos Kling, a successful businessman--Florence Mabel Kling was born in Marion, Ohio, in 1860, to grow up in a setting of wealth, position, and privilege. Much like her strong-willed father in temperament, she developed a self-reliance rare in girls of that era.

A music course at the Cincinnati Conservatory completed her education. When only 19, she eloped with Henry De Wolfe, a neighbor two years her senior. He proved a spendthrift and a heavy drinker who soon deserted her, so she returned to Marion with her baby son. Refusing to live at home, she rented rooms and earned her own money by giving piano lessons to children of the neighborhood. She divorced De Wolfe in 1886 and resumed her maiden name he died at age 35.

Warren G. Harding had come to Marion when only 16 and, showing a flair for newspaper work, had managed to buy the little Daily Star. When he met Florence a courtship quickly developed. Over Amos Kling's angry opposition they were married in 1891, in a house that Harding had planned, and this remained their home for the rest of their lives. (They had no children.)

Mrs. Harding soon took over the Star's circulation department, spanking newsboys when necessary. "No pennies escaped her," a friend recalled, and the paper prospered while its owner's political success increased. As he rose through Ohio politics and became a United States Senator, his wife directed all her acumen to his career. He became Republican nominee for President in 1920 and "the Duchess," as he called her, worked tirelessly for his election. In her own words: "I have only one real hobby--my husband."

She had never been a guest at the White House and former President Taft, meeting the President-elect and Mrs. Harding, discussed its social customs with her and stressed the value of ceremony. Writing to Nellie, he concluded that the new First Lady was "a nice woman" and would "readily adapt herself."

When Mrs. Harding moved into the White House, she opened mansion and grounds to the public again--both had been closed through President Wilson's illness. She herself suffered from a chronic kidney ailment, but she threw herself into the job of First Lady with energy and willpower. Garden parties for veterans were regular events on a crowded social calendar. The President and his wife relaxed at poker parties in the White House library, where liquor was available although the Eighteenth Amendment made it illegal.

Mrs. Harding always liked to travel with her husband. She was with him in the summer of 1923 when he died unexpectedly in California, shortly before the public learned of the major scandals facing his administration.

With astonishing fortitude she endured the long train ride to Washington with the President's body, the state funeral at the Capitol, the last service and burial at Marion. She died in Marion on November 21, 1924, surviving Warren Harding by little more than a year of illness and sorrow.


America’s First Ladies #29 – Florence Kling Harding

The wife of 29 th US President Warren G. Harding, Florence Kling was born on August 15, 1860, in Marion, Ohio. She was the eldest of three children born to Amos Kling, a successful banker in Marion, and Louisa Bouton. Her father was of German descent, and her mother’s ancestors were French Huguenots who came to the United States to escape religious persecution.

As most children of wealthy or well-off parents, Florence had an excellent education that included a strong focus on the arts and culture. Therefore, it was no surprise when Florence expressed a desire to study to become a concert pianist. When she was old enough, she began studying at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. However, as many young women before and after her, romance took the lead over studies in her priorities. When she was 19 years old, she fell in love with and subsequently eloped with Henry DeWolfe. They were married in Columbus, Ohio on January 22, 1880.

Florence gave birth exactly nine months to the day after her elopement, on September 22, 1880. This child, a son named Marshall Eugene DeWolfe, would be her only child. And, as so many marriages between very young people go, Florence and Henry DeWolfe found their relationship to be too volatile to sustain. They separated not long after Marshall’s birth and divorced in 1886.

Florence’s father was not happy about any of this. Amos Kling was a man used to getting his way, and Florence both dropped out of college and got married without his permission or approval. When she returned home without her husband, but with a baby in tow, Amos agreed to raise young Marshall, but refused to support Florence. She made a living for herself by teaching piano.

One of Florence’s students was Warren Harding’s sister, Charity, and the two met through her. However, their would-be courtship was not without its obstacles. For one, Warren owned The Star, a newspaper in Marion, and often found himself in conflict with Florence’s father, of whom Warren was critical in the paper. In retaliation to the constant bad press from Warren, Amos Kling started a rumor in town that the Harding family had African-American ancestors in it (which was a social scandal in white society at the time), and encouraged local business to boycott Warren’s paper. Warren, in turn, threatened to beat the tar out of Amos if he did not retract his slanderous statements about the Harding family.

In the midst of the feuding between Warren and Amos, Warren and Florence managed to fall in love and get married. They were wed on July 8, 1891, in Marion, at the Queen Anne-style home they had designed together for themselves. Florence’s father naturally opposed the marriage and claimed Warren was social climbing by marrying her.

She and Warren had no children together, and it was widely believed that Warren was sterile due to having mumps as a child. However, he was known to have affairs during his marriage to Florence, who he affectionately called “The Duchess.” One of these affairs was alleged to have produced a daughter named Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s mother even wrote a book about it after Warren’s death and said he sent her child support money every month, even though he never met his daughter.

Historians argued over whether Elizabeth could have been Warren’s daughter for decades, until 2015, when DNA technology finally proved she was, in fact, Warren’s biological child.

Though they had no children together, Florence’s son, Marshall, lived with them on and off, alternately staying with them and with his grandparents, who had agreed to raise him. Warren encouraged his step-son to enter journalism as a career.

When Warren was ill, before beginning his career in politics, Florence showed incredible business acumen by taking over operations of The Star. She did everything, including purchasing new equipment at good prices, installing the paper’s first news-wire device, organizing a circulation department, and even hiring new employees. Those who worked with her expressed a belief that Florence was the true driving force behind The Star.

In 1905, Florence required emergency surgery for nephritis (referred to at the time as “floating kidney”). She relied on a homeopathic doctor who was close friends with the family, and this decision proved controversial among relatives and the public. During her convalescence, Warren began his first known extramarital affair, with Carrie Phillips. It was one of a few affairs he had while married to Florence, and while she did consider divorce when she learned of it, she never pursued it.

In fact, after her recovery, Florence managed everything for Warren, including his finances, social life, and public image. It was thanks to her efforts that Warren was able to enter politics in the first place. By 1914, he was in the US Senate, and by 1920, he was being considered as a candidate for president, though was not a front-runner in the contest at the time.

Florence gave him a lot of support in his presidential bid, thanks to a prediction by Washington fortune-teller Madame Marcia Champrey. Champrey correctly predicted Warren would win, and also that he would die while in office. During the election, Carrie Phillips tried to extort money from Warren by threatening to expose his adultery. However, Florence’s experience with newspapers allowed her to deflect Carrie, as well as questions about her own first marriage to DeWolfe. Since DeWolfe was dead by this time, Florence merely told the papers she was a widow when she married Warren, and not a divorcee, which would have been frowned upon at the time.

Florence hit her role as First Lady with enthusiasm, beginning by prompting Warren to read a speech she had written at the inauguration. She had strong political opinions on many issues and was always willing to make these opinions known. Her most passionate cause was the care and welfare of war veterans, which she promoted with vigor.

Florence was the 1 st First Lady to own a radio, invite celebrities to the White House, operate a movie camera, and, most importantly, to vote, as women gained that right nationwide the year before she became First Lady.

She also flew in planes, introduced new fashions to the nation, and showed movies to guests after White House dinners. She even quietly served alcohol to White House during Prohibition. Like her father, Amos, Florence did what she wanted, and was used to being given her way.

By two years into Warren’s presidency, both he and Florence were ailing. They went on a coast-to-coast rail tour of the country, anyway, and Warren died on this tour, in San Francisco. Though Florence did not request an autopsy, the cause is widely believed to have been a heart attack, brought on by pre-existing and misdiagnosed heart issues.

While Florence wanted to continue living in Washington during her widowhood, her kidney ailment returned shortly after losing her husband, and her homeopathic doctor recommended she move to a cottage at the health retreat he operated in her hometown of Marion, Ohio. She did but died of kidney disease only a little more than a year after becoming a widow.

She left most of her estate to her two grandchildren by her son, Marshall.

She and Warren were both kept in the receiving vault at the Marion City Cemetery until the completion of the elaborate Harding Tomb. They were both moved there, and are there today. The Harding Tomb is also in Marion.


Florence Harding, Not Eleanor Roosevelt, May Have Created the Modern First Lady

Florence Harding started out life as the wealthiest young woman of an Ohio town. She ended it the widow of a scandal-plagued president.

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Born on this day in 1860, Florence Harding would go on to gain the White House nickname “The Duchess,” originally bestowed on her by her husband. “Energetic, strong-willed and popular,” Florence Harding  was “an important influence on her husband’s business and political careers,” writes Encyclopedia Britannica. Warren G. Harding’s presidency–and its many scandals–has been written about at length. He is remembered as being one of the country’s worst presidents and his wife has been remembered as “a shrew,” though both were popular while alive. Here are five things to know about her unconventional life.

She was always independent

Florence Kling was born in Marion, Ohio. Her father, Amos Kling, was “the richest man in a small town,” according to the White House Historical Association. She worked in her father’s businesses throughout her childhood, writes the National First Ladies Library. At his hardware store, she helped customers as well as doing book-keeping and general business maintenance. “As a teenager, she also rose her horse out to collect rent on outlying Marion County farms owned by her father,” the library writes.   

Her first marriage may have never happened at all

“Much like her strong-willed father in temperament, [Harding] developed a self-reliance rare in girls of that era,” writes the White House Historical Association. After training as a pianist in Cincinnati, she partnered with a Marion man named Henry De Wolfe. Accounts of their relationship differ on whether or not the two ever married or whether their relationship was entirely common-law. Either way, it angered her family. The couple had a son.

After the relationship fell apart, she refused to move home, the White House Historical Association writes, and instead “rented rooms and earned her own money by giving piano lessons to children of the neighborhood.” Her son stayed with her father, writes History.com.

Florence Harding, sometime between 1915 and 1923. (Library of Congress)

After her marriage to Harding she became a hard-headed business manager

She married a young Warren G. Harding, then the owner and editor of  The Marion Daily Star, five years later. A few years after that, writes the National First Ladies Library she became the paper’s business manager, turning skills gained at her father’s businesses to another purpose. “She did not draw a separate salary, but did share profits with her husband and they opened a joint personal checking account,” writes the library.

She ran Harding’s political campaigns

From the start of Warren G. Harding’s involvement with politics, Florence Harding was directly involved. “I have only one real hobby–my husband,” she said according to the White House Historical Association. “During his two terms as state senator… and lieutenant-governorship… she managed his social and political contacts, finances, public remarks, even his clothing,” writes the National First Ladies Library. When Warren G. Harding was running for president, she became “the first candidate’s wife to speak with the press.”

She revolutionized the role of First Lady

Although Eleanor Roosevelt is usually said to have created the modern First Lady’s role as political partner to the President, historian Katherine A. Sibley argues that Harding was the actual pioneer. “Journalists of her time recognized that her influence would assist them in reaching the president,” Sibley writes. One newspaper account of the time said that “She [shared] his life in a fuller, deeper and wider measure than do the wives of most public men.”

About Kat Eschner

Kat Eschner is a freelance science and culture journalist based in Toronto.


Florence Harding

Daughter of the richest man in a small town—Amos Kling, a successful businessman—Florence Mabel Kling was born in Marion, Ohio, in 1860, to grow up in a setting of wealth, position, and privilege. Much like her strong-willed father in temperament, she developed a sense of self-reliance.

A music course at the Cincinnati Conservatory completed her education. When only 19, she eloped with Henry De Wolfe, a neighbor two years her senior. He proved a spendthrift and a heavy drinker who soon deserted her, so she returned to Marion with her baby son. Refusing to live at home, she rented rooms and earned her own money by giving piano lessons to children of the neighborhood. She divorced De Wolfe in 1886 and resumed her maiden name he died at age 35.

Warren G. Harding had come to Marion when only 16 and, showing a flair for newspaper work, had managed to buy the little Daily Star. When he met Florence a courtship quickly developed. Over Amos Kling’s angry opposition they were married in 1891, in a house that Harding had planned, and this remained their home for the rest of their lives. They had no children together.

Mrs. Harding soon took over the Star’s circulation department. "No pennies escaped her," a friend recalled, and the paper prospered while its owner’s political success increased. As he rose through Ohio politics and became a United States senator, his wife directed all her acumen to his career. He became Republican nominee for president in 1920 and "the Duchess," as he called her, worked tirelessly for his election. In her own words: "I have only one real hobby— my husband."

She had never been a guest at the White House and former President Taft, meeting the president-elect and Mrs. Harding, discussed its social customs with her and stressed the value of ceremony. Writing to Nellie, he concluded that the new first lady was "a nice woman" and would "readily adapt herself."

When Mrs. Harding moved into the White House, she opened mansion and grounds to the public again—both had been closed throughout World War I and President Wilson’s illness. She herself suffered from a chronic kidney ailment, but she threw herself into the job of first lady with energy and willpower. Garden parties for veterans were regular events on a crowded social calendar. The president and his wife relaxed at poker parties in the White House Library, where liquor was available although the Eighteenth Amendment made it illegal.

Mrs. Harding always liked to travel with her husband. She was with him in the summer of 1923 when he died unexpectedly in California, shortly before the public learned of the major scandals facing his administration.

With astonishing fortitude she endured the long train ride to Washington with the president’s body, the state funeral at the Capitol, the last service and burial at Marion. She died in Marion on November 21, 1924, surviving Warren Harding by little more than a year of illness and sorrow.


--> Harding, Florence Kling, 1860-1924

Known as “The Duchess,” Florence Mabel Kling Harding served as First Lady from 1921 to 1923 as the wife of President Warren G. Harding.

Daughter of the richest man in a small town–Amos Kling, a successful businessman–Florence Mabel Kling was born in Marion, Ohio, in 1860, to grow up in a setting of wealth, position, and privilege. Much like her strong-willed father in temperament, she developed a self-reliance rare in girls of that era.

A music course at the Cincinnati Conservatory completed her education. When only 19, she eloped with Henry De Wolfe, a neighbor two years her senior. He proved a spendthrift and a heavy drinker who soon deserted her, so she returned to Marion with her baby son. Refusing to live at home, she rented rooms and earned her own money by giving piano lessons to children of the neighborhood. She divorced De Wolfe in 1886 and resumed her maiden name he died at age 35.

Warren G. Harding had come to Marion when only 16 and, showing a flair for newspaper work, had managed to buy the little Daily Star. When he met Florence a courtship quickly developed. Over Amos Kling’s angry opposition they were married in 1891, in a house that Harding had planned, and this remained their home for the rest of their lives.

Mrs. Harding soon took over the Star’s circulation department, spanking newsboys when necessary. “No pennies escaped her,” a friend recalled, and the paper prospered while its owner’s political success increased. As he rose through Ohio politics and became a United States Senator, his wife directed all her acumen to his career. He became Republican nominee for President in 1920 and “the Duchess,” as he called her, worked tirelessly for his election. In her own words: “I have only one real hobby–my husband.”

When Mrs. Harding moved into the White House, she opened the mansion and grounds to the public again–both had been closed through President Wilson’s illness. She herself suffered from a chronic kidney ailment, but she threw herself into the job of First Lady with energy and willpower. Garden parties for veterans were regular events on a crowded social calendar. The President and his wife relaxed at poker parties in the White House library, where liquor was available although the Eighteenth Amendment made it illegal.

Mrs. Harding always liked to travel with her husband. She was with him in the summer of 1923 when he died unexpectedly in California, shortly before the public learned of the major scandals facing his administration.

With astonishing fortitude she endured the long train ride to Washington with the President’s body, the state funeral at the Capitol, the last service and burial at Marion. She died in Marion on November 21, 1924, surviving Warren Harding by little more than a year of illness and sorrow.


1860-1924

Biography: Daughter of the richest man in a small town--Amos Kling, a successful businessman--Florence Mabel Kling was born in Marion, Ohio, in 1860, to grow up in a setting of wealth, position, and privilege. Much like her strong-willed father in temperament, she developed a self-reliance rare in girls of that era.

A music course at the Cincinnati Conservatory completed her education. When only 19, she eloped with Henry De Wolfe, a neighbor two years her senior. He proved a spendthrift and a heavy drinker who soon deserted her, so she returned to Marion with her baby son. Refusing to live at home, she rented rooms and earned her own money by giving piano lessons to children of the neighborhood. She divorced De Wolfe in 1886 and resumed her maiden name he died at age 35.

Warren G. Harding had come to Marion when only 16 and, showing a flair for newspaper work, had managed to buy the little Daily Star. When he met Florence a courtship quickly developed. Over Amos Kling's angry opposition they were married in 1891, in a house that Harding had planned, and this remained their home for the rest of their lives. (They had no children.)

Mrs. Harding soon took over the Star's circulation department, spanking newsboys when necessary. "No pennies escaped her," a friend recalled, and the paper prospered while its owner's political success increased. As he rose through Ohio politics and became a United States Senator, his wife directed all her acumen to his career. He became Republican nominee for President in 1920 and "the Duchess," as he called her, worked tirelessly for his election. In her own words: "I have only one real hobby--my husband."

She had never been a guest at the White House and former President Taft, meeting the President-elect and Mrs. Harding, discussed its social customs with her and stressed the value of ceremony. Writing to Nellie, he concluded that the new First Lady was "a nice woman" and would "readily adapt herself."

When Mrs. Harding moved into the White House, she opened mansion and grounds to the public again--both had been closed through President Wilson's illness. She herself suffered from a chronic kidney ailment, but she threw herself into the job of First Lady with energy and willpower. Garden parties for veterans were regular events on a crowded social calendar. The President and his wife relaxed at poker parties in the White House library, where liquor was available although the Eighteenth Amendment made it illegal.

Mrs. Harding always liked to travel with her husband. She was with him in the summer of 1923 when he died unexpectedly in California, shortly before the public learned of the major scandals facing his administration.

With astonishing fortitude she endured the long train ride to Washington with the President's body, the state funeral at the Capitol, the last service and burial at Marion. She died in Marion on November 21, 1924, surviving Warren Harding by little more than a year of illness and sorrow.


Florence Kling Harding - History


Florence Kling Harding

Daughter of the richest man in a small town--Amos Kling, a successful businessman--Florence Mabel Kling was born in Marion, Ohio, in 1860, to grow up in a setting of wealth, position, and privilege. Much like her strong-willed father in temperament, she developed a self-reliance rare in girls of that era.

A music course at the Cincinnati Conservatory completed her education. When only 19, she eloped with Henry De Wolfe, a neighbor two years her senior. He proved a spendthrift and a heavy drinker who soon deserted her, so she returned to Marion with her baby son. Refusing to live at home, she rented rooms and earned her own money by giving piano lessons to children of the neighborhood. She divorced De Wolfe in 1886 and resumed her maiden name he died at age 35.

Warren G. Harding had come to Marion when only 16 and, showing a flair for newspaper work, had managed to buy the little Daily Star. When he met Florence a courtship quickly developed. Over Amos Kling's angry opposition they were married in 1891, in a house that Harding had planned, and this remained their home for the rest of their lives. (They had no children.)

Mrs. Harding soon took over the Star's circulation department, spanking newsboys when necessary. "No pennies escaped her," a friend recalled, and the paper prospered while its owner's political success increased. As he rose through Ohio politics and became a United States Senator, his wife directed all her acumen to his career. He became Republican nominee for President in 1920 and "the Duchess," as he called her, worked tirelessly for his election. In her own words: "I have only one real hobby--my husband."

She had never been a guest at the White House and former President Taft, meeting the President-elect and Mrs. Harding, discussed its social customs with her and stressed the value of ceremony. Writing to Nellie, he concluded that the new First Lady was "a nice woman" and would "readily adapt herself."

When Mrs. Harding moved into the White House, she opened mansion and grounds to the public again--both had been closed through President Wilson's illness. She herself suffered from a chronic kidney ailment, but she threw herself into the job of First Lady with energy and willpower. Garden parties for veterans were regular events on a crowded social calendar. The President and his wife relaxed at poker parties in the White House library, where liquor was available although the Eighteenth Amendment made it illegal.

Mrs. Harding always liked to travel with her husband. She was with him in the summer of 1923 when he died unexpectedly in California, shortly before the public learned of the major scandals facing his administration.

With astonishing fortitude she endured the long train ride to Washington with the President's body, the state funeral at the Capitol, the last service and burial at Marion. She died in Marion on November 21, 1924, surviving Warren Harding by little more than a year of illness and sorrow.

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Watch the video: Random Knowledge: The Kickass-itude of Florence Harding (January 2022).