As a young man Warren Harding and two friends bought the Marion Star (Ohio) for $300 and went into the newspaper business. He was a good- looking man. In fact, someone told him that he’d make a dandy-looking president.
But Warren was happy with his life. During the day he’d run the newspaper and at night, he’d play poker.
Florence DeWolfe, a divorcee, met Warren and actively pursued him until he agreed to marry her. For many years she worked with him on the paper and many credit her with making the paper an eventual success. Most people considered Florence the real boss and Warren simply the one out front.
When Florence was 19, she became pregnant and supposedly eloped with the neighbor boy – however, no official marriage license has ever been found so there’s a question whether they were really married. After splitting with the neighbor, she gave piano lessons to raise her son – until she met Warren and convinced him to marry her.
Although, Warren was already a Mason, an Elk, a Rotarian and a member of the Chamber of Commerce and people liked him, Florence wanted him to be even more important. She went to work. She decided Warren should publish his paper daily instead of weekly. She forced him to become a public speaker and soon he was speaking around the area. Even though he thought he was a good speaker, he really wasn’t and often tripped over or mispronounced words. He liked alliteration and in one speech made the statement: “Progression is not proclamation nor palaver. It is not pretense nor play on prejudice. It is not personal pronouns nor perennial pronouncement. It is not the perturbutation of a people passion-wrought nor a promise proposed.”
The author H.L. Mencken said in response to Harding’s speeches that his style was “rumble and bumble, flap and doodle, balder and dash.” Someone else said, “His speeches leave the impression of an army of pompous phrases moving over the landscape in search of an idea.” Still, he was tall and he was handsome and people liked to be around him. He entered politics and soon was elected into the state senate, then as LT. governor of Ohio and from there to the U.S. Senate.
Members of the National Republican party noticed him and decide that he could be chairman of the National Convention with the sole purpose of keeping Teddy Roosevelt from being nominated. It didn’t work.
Four years later his friends sitting in a “smoke-filled” room decided that Harding should be president himself and manipulated him into being nominated. He won on the tenth ballot. When asked if there was anything embarrassing in his past, he said “no,” but later, after he was nominated, it was discovered that he had been having an affair with a wife of one of his best friends, Carrie Phillips. The two families had often traveled together and socialized. (Carrie is a whole other story.) When the affair was discovered, Florence was understandably irate, but this wasn’t the first time she had discovered her husband cheating.
Meanwhile, Florence took over the campaign. Having worked on her husband’s newspaper, she understood how reporters work and she got him lots of publicity. Also, because of Hardings looks – he got the ladies’ vote. In fact, this election was the first time ladies COULD vote. His theme was to get America back to the time where people gathered on front porches and talked with neighbors and he had an addition built onto his own porch in Marion where he gave many campaign speeches. Over 600,000 people came to hear him speak from his porch – including Mary Pickford, the first of celebrity endorsements. The campaign was also the first with radio coverage.
Harding’s presidency is mostly known for it’s scandals. Problem was, all those poker-playing friends from Ohio came along with him to Washington D.C.. Though prohibition was in effect, Harding spent his nights having poker parties upstairs in the White House. The alcohol flowed. Even he admitted that being a president took more than good looks. Although he started with some goals in mind, things quickly began falling apart. Not only were their political scandals but another mistress showed up – Nan Britton. According to a book Nan wrote, she and Harding had a child. In the course of his presidency his black hair turned white. The world was too much with him.
In 1923, he and Florence headed west on a speaking tour and while in San Francisco, he died.
Some say it was a stroke.
Some say it was a heart attack.
Some say his enemies had poisoned him.
Some say that Florence had had too much of his unfaithfulness, and she poisoned him. She did refuse to allow an autopsy and immediately burned all his papers.
So I guess we’ll never know.