Florence Harding: The First Lady, the Jazz Age, and the Death of America's Most Scandalous President


A major new biography of the politically powerful forerunner of Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton. Florence Harding reveals the never-before-told story of First Lady Florence Harding's phenomenal rise to power. The daughter of an abusive father in small-town Ohio, mother at a young age to an illegitimate child, Florence Harding saw her escape in Warren Harding, and became the driving force behind his ascent to one of the most scandal-ridden presidencies in United States history. Preeminent First Ladies ...
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1998 Hard cover First edition. Stated First Edition New in new dust jacket. Glued binding. Paper over boards. With dust jacket. 645 p. Contains: Illustrations, index. Audience: ... General/trade. Read more Show Less

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A major new biography of the politically powerful forerunner of Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton. Florence Harding reveals the never-before-told story of First Lady Florence Harding's phenomenal rise to power. The daughter of an abusive father in small-town Ohio, mother at a young age to an illegitimate child, Florence Harding saw her escape in Warren Harding, and became the driving force behind his ascent to one of the most scandal-ridden presidencies in United States history. Preeminent First Ladies biographer Carl Sferrazza Anthony not only captures the drama of Florence Harding's personality, but he uses the White House to bring to life Jazz Age America -- a world of speakeasies and Miss America, Babe Ruth, Al Jolson, and the rise of Hollywood. He shows how Florence's friendship with Evalyn McLean, the morphine-addicted owner of the Hope Diamond and The Washington Post was one of the defining bonds in her public life. With newly unsealed medical information, Florence Harding finally unfolds the mystery of whether the First Lady poisoned the President, whose death occurred seventy-five years ago. Florence Harding is a fascinating and informative look at a lost chapter in American history.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
On inauguration day in March 1921 the new First Lady reputedly turned to her husband and remarked, 'Well, Warren Harding, I have got you the Presidency. What are you going to do with it?' He answered, 'May God help me, for I need it.' Enlarging, with recently emerged documentation, on his First Ladies: The Saga of the Presidents' Wives and Their Power (1991), Anthony has produced an engrossing, full-breadth biography of the spouse of possibly the most incompetent American president, which establishes 'the Duchess' as one of the most remarkable of First Ladies.

Mother of an illegitimate child before her marriage to the proprietor of a small-town weekly, she became a straight-laced, activist helpmate who pushed and prodded her mediocre husband into a political career in which he was increasingly unqualified. Despite a proclivity toward adultery, poker, drink and crooked cronies, Harding still managed to conduct some creditable public business before dying of an apparent heart attack after only two and a half years in office, long enough, however, for scandals among his associates to brew. Protecting his fragile reputation while building her own, his wife promoted women's rights, veterans' welfare, racial equality and national parks.

But her dependence on the White House physician (her incompetent home-town homeopath) would accelerate Harding's decline while, paradoxically, keeping the ailing Florence, five years her husband's senior, active. She died a year after Harding and was quickly forgotten.

Tells the story of Florence Harding's rise from young unwed mother to First Lady and reveals her influence behind Harding's ascent to America's most scandal-ridden presidency and her role in his death. The drama of her life is set against the stage of the White House in the Jazz Age, and involves exciting elements such as mistresses, blackmail, poisoning, and opium addicts. Includes b&w photos. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Think Hillary Clinton has it tough? Then read this. . .bio of Mrs. Warren G. Harding. . .stolid bystander to the most scandalous Presidency in American history.
Megan Harlan
Anthony's insights into why this powerful woman remained loyal. . .illuminate recent White House scandals -- and the complicated heart of the political marriage -- Entertainment Weekly
Kirkus Reviews
A revealing biography with unmistakably powerful contemporary parallels to recent presidential spouses, from Anthony ("First Ladies", 2 vols., 1990, 1991). Plain and five years older than Warren, Florence was more indispensable helpmate than lover to her randy spouse. Anthony discloses what she assiduously sought to conceal, depicting a woman whose air of command (her husband nicknamed her 'Duchess') was a necessity for someone badly served by those closest to her. Escaping from a tyrannical father in small-town Ohio, she bore an illegitimate baby by a ne'er-do-well neighbor at age 19, only to have the father abandon her and their baby. Having obtained a common-law divorce, she later won the handsome Warren, supplying the drive and business acumen that propelled him from newspaper editor to president. Halfway through her marriage, she discovered Warren's affair with her friend Carrie Phillips. Friends such as Harry Daugherty, Jess Smith, Charlie Forbes, and Albert Fall helped destroy her husband's reputation through scandals such as 'Teapot Dome.' A trusted family doctor, Anthony concludes, caused Warren to die by misdiagnosing heart trouble as food poisoning (and led Florence to cover up the mistake). Even boon companion Evalyn McLean, the morphine- and alcohol-abusing owner of the 'Washington Post', allowed Warren to use her mansion for trysts. In many ways, Florence deserved better. She relentlessly pushed causes (aid for veterans, animal rights, Zion National Park, women's suffrage) and, even before Eleanor Roosevelt, made the First Lady a figure of visibility, influence, and popularity. Inevitably, a public gripped by gossip in recent years about popular presidents and theirassertive wives will find echoes in this chronicle, such as affairs, a friend's suicide, and a First Lady who consulted an astrologer. While sometimes overly reflective of Anthony's painstaking research, this biography is a fascinating account of one of the most complex of all the political wives of this century.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780688077945
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/1/1998
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 626
  • Product dimensions: 6.57 (w) x 9.56 (h) x 2.12 (d)

Meet the Author

Carl Sferrazza Anthony, the author of nine books, is considered the nation's expert on the subject of presidential wives and families. He has written extensively for publications, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Vanity Fair, American Heritage, Smithsonian, and Town & Country, and also writes screenplays. He currently lives in Los Angeles.

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Read an Excerpt

She was born above the store, on Main Street. But even before her life began, the odds were stacked against her.

Amos Kling always got what he wanted. He wanted a son. So confident was Kling that as soon as he learned that his wife, Louisa, was pregnant, he bragged to everyone in their town of Marion, Ohio, that his firstborn would he a boy.

From the moment Florence Mabel Kling entered the world, she began a battle of wills with Amos Kling. As an intimate explained, this child "did not take life as she found it. She grasped it fearlessly and firmly and forced it to yield to her demands." Such an attitude distinguished her for the sixty-four years of her existence.

The birth of his first child might have been a distraction for the penurious twenty-seven-year-old Amos, but he was probably at Louisa's bedside with her parents and a midwife in their small flat, just one flight of steps above his hardware store at 127 South Main. However much he "bitterly resented" the sex of the child born on August 15, 1860, recalled neighbor Jane Dixon, Amos devised a practical solution and "consoled himself by bringing her up more as a boy than a girl."

Just then, however, he had business at hand. Amos always had business at hand. By the time eight-month-old Flossie was crawling, the Civil War had begun. Although Kling never had any moral objections to slavery, Marion was a central link in the Underground Railroad, and Ohio was a bastion of support for President Lincoln, elected from the newly dominant political party, the Republicans. Kling became avidly Republican. It was good for business.

It's doubtful that Amos's parents ever even thought about politics. Michael Kling and hiswife, usually referred to as Elizabeth, were farmers in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the parents of four daughters and five sons; Amos was the third child, born on June 15, 1833. Although he had been raised to be a farmer, Amos had broader ambitions. After primary school he apprenticed as a tailor, continuing after his family migrated in 1850 to Richland County, Ohio, and then to Lucas County, where they settled in Mansfield. He began what he called his "battle in the business channel of life" by attending W. W. Granger's commercial college in Mansfield; he graduated in 1854.

In 1855 Amos Kling made for the nearby town of Marion, his motivation uncertain, but he found immediate work as an accountant and a salesman for hardware store owner John W. Bain, earning a salary of twenty-nine dollars a week. Amos kept the books for three years and learned all he needed to about making money in hardware. At twenty-four, he had saved enough money to buy out Bain and begin his own hardware business.

Colonel George Christian, the grandson of a Marion pioneer, a cousin-in-law to the prominent De Wolfe family, which was fatefully to intertwine with the Klings, was gentry compared with the scrappy migrant, but Kling made an immediate impression on him. He later wrote:
In many respects he was the most remarkable personality that had come to try his fortune. He worked early and late and gained not only the confidence of his employer but of the business community as well... amassing a large fortune within a very short period. He made no risky and doubtful investments. His judgement in all business matters seemed to he absolutely unerring. He became a very popular merchant with the trade, buying carefully and always discounting his bills, paying in cash. When the civil war began this popularity resulted in his getting many tips from the great jobbers of building and shop hardware which resulted in heavy purchases of materials that advanced so rapidly in price that the financial returns gave him an independent cash capital of his own to carry on his rapidly growing business.2

War was Kling's fortune, for his most rapid profits were in bulk sales of nails, with a large part of his business being with the Union army, in desperate need of building supplies. The war took its toll, however, on his family. His brothers followed Amos to Marion but lacked his enterprise. The eldest, Jacob, wounded in the war, died a bachelor after working for Amos, while George was taken into several joint ventures with him. Henry was a Union captain killed in November 1863 at the Battle of Mission Ridge, and Michael, a private, had died six months earlier at Milliken's Bend. "When the war began, three of five Kling brothers entered the army by agreement," Amos later snapped when asked why he hadn't enlisted. "When this record has been met by other well known families, I will expect our family to be called upon for further sacrifice."

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2003

    A Masterful Effort

    Florence Harding was a dull and rather unpleaseant woman. She was also a very unhappy and lonely one. Like MAry Lincoln, her only claim to any kind of fame, is that she was married to a President. Lincoln, however, was a far better subject than Harding. Carl Anthony, however, takes this unhappy, shrewish woman and puts life into her, and even makes the reader sympathize and find a tad of affection for her - a difficult and thankless job. He must have made a mighty struggle!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2000

    Poor writng, forgetable topic

    as we all know, of all the incompetant, do-nothing care taker presidents of these hereunited states, warren harding was the most inneffective, weakest, lily-livered of them all, the author attempts to romanticize the president, his marriage and his era, but the facts do not support his claims

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