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Florence Kling Harding

U.S. First Lady

Born: 15 August 1860
Died: 21 November 1924
Birthplace: Marion, Ohio
Best known as:

U.S. President Warren G. Harding's wife

Name at birth: Florence Mabel Kling

 

Florence Harding was the wife of U.S. president Warren G. Harding and served as First Lady from 1921 until the president's unexpected death in 1923. Born Florence Kling, she was the daughter of one of Marion, Ohio's richest men. By the time she married Harding she'd already been abandoned by her first husband, Henry "Pete" DeWolfe, and had left her baby son, Marshall, to be raised by her parents. She and Harding, a newspaper publisher in Marion, married in 1891 and Florence went to work managing his Marion Daily Star, from balancing the books to spanking the newsboys. Harding got into politics in the late 1890s and by all accounts Florence was an active participant in his career. Depending on who's telling the story, she was either an enthusiastic, driven supporter of her husband or she was an overbearing and ambitious nag. (Harding referred to her as "the Duchess," a nickname open to interpretation.) As First Lady she opened the White House to regular social activities and proved herself to be a savvy handler of the press. In the fall of 1922 she was seriously afflicted with a kidney infection (an off-and-on problem since having one kidney removed in 1905), but upon recovery she and the president took a trip to the West. On 2 August 1923 President Harding died unexpectedly in a hotel in San Francisco, just as many of his administration's scandals were coming to light. After his death Mrs. Harding destroyed many of their papers and tried to distance herself from her husband's cronies. She died fifteen months after her husband, before tales of his extramarital affairs became public.

Extra credit:

Though no record exists for Florence Kling's marriage to DeWolfe, she was granted a divorce in 1886... Her son grew up and had a son and daughter of his own before he died in 1915; when Harding was president it was not common knowledge that the First Lady was a grandmother... She was the first First Lady to vote for her husband (the 1920 election was the first in which women were allowed to vote)... Like First Lady Nancy Reagan, Mrs. Harding consulted an astrologer on political and personal matters... She famously once said "I have only one real hobby -- my husband."

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