I believe that “First Ladies” can be quite instrumental in the success and/or failure of U.S. presidents, and today’s feature would seem to be no exception. On this date in 1860, Florence Kling Harding (“Flossie) was born. She was the First Lady of the U.S. from 1921-1923. She was the eldest of three children, and her aspirations were to be a concert pianist. That ended when she eloped with Henry Athenton DeWolfe in 1880. He ended up being a heavy drinker and spendthrift. Their union produced her one and only child–Marshall Eugene. The couple divorced officially in 1886. Young Florence refused to live with her baby son at her parent’s house, and she took care of them both by giving piano lessons. She also took her maiden name back.
Warren Harding owned a newspaper, and a whirlwind courtship soon developed between him and Florence. They married in 1891 against the wishes of her father. She completely devoted herself to helping her husband’s career in both the newspaper business and then in politics. His pet name for her was “Duchess.” She was the first “First Lady” to be able to vote (which she did–for her husband) since the Nineteenth Amendment had been ratified the previous summer. When her husband was elected president, she opened the grounds of the White House to the public (they had been closed during the illness of President Wilson). She threw herself into the job of First Lady in spite of her kidney ailment. She was quite vocal and visible during her husband’s presidency, and many think that she was more in charge of the country than he. Interestingly enough, Prohibition was also disregarded at the White House due to liquor being served at their poker parties.
In 1923, both she and her husband were suffering from ill health. They continued their tour of the country, but her husband was certainly not doing well. After a bad reaction to seafood, he unexpectedly died, and she bravely continued the long ride from California to D.C. with his body. Her kidney issues came back, and less than a year later, she died on November 21, 1924.
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