Skip to main content

tv   First Ladies Influence and Image  CSPAN  August 30, 2015 8:00pm-9:36pm EDT

8:00 pm
through conversations with experts, video tours of historic sites, and questions from c-span's audience, we tell the stories of america's 45 first ladies. on firstence harding ladies. this is about 90 minutes. susan swain: florence kling harding once said she had only one real hobby and that was warren harding. she was a significant force in her husband's presidency and adept at handling the media. despite hardships, scandals, her husband's infidelities and his death in office as well as her own poor health, florence harding set many precedents that would help define the role of the modern first lady. good evening. and welcome to c-span's series first ladies: influence & image. tonight, we're going to be telling you the story of florence harding, the first lady that one of our guests said has been neglected and derided by -- throughout history. but in her time, the hardings
8:01 pm
came in as very popular people. we're going to learn more about the trajectory of her time and her husband's time in office and her interesting story that not many people know today. let me introduce you to our two guests. katherine sibley is a history professor at st. joseph's college in philadelphia. she's a biographer of the first lady. her book is called first lady florence harding: behind the tragedy and the controversy. thank you for being here. david pietrusza is a guest as well tonight. presidential historian and the author of many books including "1920: the year of the six presidents." and that's really where i want to start tonight because we think of warren harding and we think of teapot dome and the other scandals of his presidency. but in 1920, when he came into office. it was in a landslide. 60% of the popular vote, 404 electoral college votes. so, set the stage for what brought these people into office and what the mood of the country was. david pietrusza: the mood of the
8:02 pm
country is really bad. and it's a year when just about any republican can win. and the trick is to get to the nomination. tr was supposed to be the nominee. they had the big split in 1912, the progressives are still in tatters. that's patched up. unfortunately, tr died in his sleep in january 1919. there are some people who want to fill the bill, leonard wood, who remembers him? frank louden, the governor of illinois. i can't even remember how to pronounce his name correctly. i'm always being corrected on it. hiram johnson, who's just too irascible to reach out forward, which leads you to actually naturally the fourth man, the available man is andrew sinclair, one of his biographer said. warren gamaliel harding because he's not too hot, hot too cold, not too interventionist, not too much of anything except he's really handsome. he's a fairly good speaker. he's been in the national stage at the 1916 republican convention. he nominated taft in 1912. so, he is the alternative and in that year, the alternative to wilsonism wins.
8:03 pm
swain: well, the hardings' trajectory -- personal trajectory came from small town, marion, ohio, where there were the publishers in newspaper. give us their short history of publishing a newspaper to national politics. katherine sibley: yes, thank you so much. so, the marion star was a very small paper when harding acquired it and he made it into a much more successful paper over time. thanks to the efforts of wife, florence. now, florence harding and he will talk later about how they met. but for the point of getting to the discussion of how they got to 1920, she was a key element here. so, what happens is they are working in the newspaper and it's going very well, but it's a little dull for her and she'd like to see him get involved in some other things. so he does go on the chautauqua circuit and as you've said, he was a very good speaker. he did an alexander hamilton oration. he was quite successful.
8:04 pm
and she thought, you know, he could go for bigger things, so he did. he ran for state senate. he was elected two times in ohio, tried to go further than that with lieutenant governor. later ran for governor, it was not successful, but just as you've said he was positioned, he was visible in ohio and by the time of 19 -- by the time of 1913 when there's a new law in this country which allows senators for the first time to be elected popularly, he's positioned to run. and in 1914, he's elected to the senate in ohio -- for ohio, i should say. and he thus becomes the first popular elected senator from that state and the first senator actually to become president as a sitting senator and, of course, florence, his wife is right there alongside him. and her role is quite significant in developing this trajectory. we could talk more about that. swain: well, you write in your book on 1920 that he was -- himself unconvinced about his viability as a candidate. even among his fellow congressional republicans his
8:05 pm
support was negligible at the outset. there was a matter of his health and ultimately, he did die early. and then there was carrie, carrie philips and we'll learn more about her. then there was nan and nan's baby and there were other women as well, you write warren harding's personal life was quite a mess. so, do people look the other way in these days for candidates? pietrusza: in those days? swain: yes. pietrusza: i think there are a lot of things which were not talked about. scandal of public figures was not written about. it -- unless there was a divorce case, unless something went into the courts. the papers would not touch it and something that's never occurred to me until now. he's a newspaper man. maybe he's part of that club and asmaybe he's part of that club and they're not going to write about it. that may work very much in his favor. but you also see in that era that there are other
8:06 pm
infidelities going on. there is mr. weeks, who he appoints the cabinet. he has a mistress. there is certainly some issues about woodrow wilson, maybe in the bahamas or bermuda rather before he is president. there is the famous incident of alice roosevelt longworth and her child, deborah or deborah which is named actually -- or she wanted to name it deborah. it becomes pauline, but that is the illegitimate daughter of senator william e. borah, a very famous guy at that time. and then franklin roosevelt cheating on eleanor roosevelt in 1917. so, the rich have their prerogatives and they take them. swain: one of our viewers on facebook asks, "how did mrs. harding respond to the rumors of harding's wandering eyes?" sibley: yes, it's a great question. and i didn't -- i think it's
8:07 pm
kind of fun -- i think we're going to have a little bit of a debate about some of these relationships, this extramarital relationships that warren g. harding had. he did have this affair with carrie phillips, who was woman, they met early on old friends, they were both a couple phillipses and the hardings who all were related as a -- in a connected way in ohio. and what happens over time is that warren falls in love with -- with carrie. and florence eventually finds out about this. so, sometime between 1905 when florence gets sick for the first time in 1911, she discovers this affair. and they were still friends and they were still vacationing together and the -- the caller asks how was this happening and how did florence react to this. well, not very happily. and in fact, she asks him to consider a divorce, but warren refused. he knew very much that he needed her partly for the reasons that i alluded to before for his career and in other ways. so he agreed to kind of downplay this affair and in fact, i think, i believe he committed to sort of ending it but, in fact, he did not as it turns out.
8:08 pm
and so, such as by 1920 as he is running for president, it is a bit of an embarrassment. it's been on and off. it hasn't been a very active affair for some years at that point but there are flaring moments of it that came up and down. and because of that, in the end, she is -- she is essentially bought off by members of the republican party and others who come up with funds to kind of get her out of the way, and no, florence was not happy about this at all. and i think there are some wonderful quotes we've read in her diary to get back to this wonderful question where she expresses how the difficulty of dealing with an unfaithful husband like hers was. swain: we have one of her diary quotes, but how much of a diarist was she? how much is preserved? sibley: you know, it's a very interesting question. her diary is not very reliable as far as the dates, but i believe it is an authentic version of her thoughts. it was a small book that was discovered about, gosh, 15 years ago in a barn in ohio and it's a list of nostrums, recipes, remembrances by her and these statements that you're going to share with our audience.
8:09 pm
and so, from what i can tell, there is a very clear sense of her own views and beliefs in there. i think it's credible, but it's not extensive and it's not dated. so it's a little bit -- we have to -- we have to take that into account when we read it. pietrusza: it's barely a formal diary. i think it's like in a date book or calendar or something. sibley: exactly. yes. pietrusza: it's catch as catch can. there's going to be huge gaps in it, but it seems to be real. sibley: yes. swain: well, one quote that we will share to capture her thinking about this is this one. to sanction the inequity of man but demand purity of woman has become an attitude of society. the happy woman is not one who was married the best on earth but the one who is philosophical enough to make the best of what she got. so did she make the best of warren harding? sibley: i think she did. i really do. and in fact because she was someone who saw the potential in him. pietrusza: she went after him. sibley: yes. she -- she -- she saw that he could be someone who could rise to a higher position with her strength, with her backing and i
8:10 pm
know that sometimes we hear she made him or she made him president and i think that's too -- that's too simple, i mean, that takes away from his own abilities which i think were not -- not in -- absolutely something not there -- how shall i put this. they were something that could be reckoned with. absolutely, he wasn't just a pretty face and a senatorial-looking man. but she's certainly had a key role in pushing him into the place where he got to be. swain: steve murdock on twitter asked, "wouldn't his newspaper enemies take shot -- shots at harding and his infidelities? " one newspaper person who did was his own father-in-law. sibley: yes. swain: explain the story of amos kling and their relationship and why he would, in fact, in his newspaper criticize his son-in-law. sibley: yes. in fact, she -- well, this is a long story. i'll try to make it quick. pietrusza: kling doesn't have a newspaper. sibley: no, that's right. pietrusza: he's a banker. he's a businessman. swain: but he ultimately doesn't he buy a competing newspaper? sibley: not that -- not that i know of, no. pietrusza: i don't believe that's true. swain: but i think that maybe
8:11 pm
what the caller is getting to is that he actually helped to fund an opponent of harding when harding ran for senator. pietrusza: yes. he funded another newspaper. sibley: yes, yes. pietrusza: he funded another republican newspaper in the town to siphon business away from, but, say, call him a newspaper person would -- would be, no, he's the banker. swain: he's the banker behind the newspaper. sibley: right, right. pietrusza: he's the banker and he's the father-in-law and he likes being banker a lot more. sibley: and there was -- there was a long history. he didn't like the -- i know we're going to talk later about the history of florence's first marriage, which was a kind of a sad chapter in her life, but he did not like her first husband. he did not like her second husband. they only really got reconciled later when amos -- his first wife had died, the mother of florence at that time and he then decided that, well, he would make some rapprochement with her and they went on vacations together and it came back together, but it was a very difficult relationship for, you know, the first thirty plus years. pietrusza: seven -- seven -- well, of their life, but the first seven years of the harding marriage there was like nothing. sibley: yes, it was difficult time. swain: david pietrusza, talk
8:12 pm
about harding's oratory and how well he was known for it and how it make him as a national personality. we're going to begin our audio and visual part of this program with an audio clip of warren harding in one of his speeches. and then you'll learn about the "front porch" campaign, which is the way that they decided unlike their opponent james cox was traveling around the country to conduct their campaign from marion, ohio. let's watch. [video clip] warren harding: america's present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality. sherry hall: all the action took place on this very porch here.
8:13 pm
now, usually during speeches, warren would stand in the middle here on the steps -- the top step, florence right beside him. and they would wave to the crowd to or parading down mt. vernon avenue toward his house. but this was a perfect backdrop for the campaign, not only did it show the human side of the hardings, the fact that they did not live in a mansion. they lived in a very normal house most -- like most of the folks coming to see him speak, they wanted to feature this town as well. warren himself often said that this campaign was taking main street to the white house. and florence was very much a part of this message. she was a very visible part of this campaign. she was always near him on the front porch when he was speaking. she gave interviews herself to magazines, especially women's magazines.
8:14 pm
she alternated between being the savvy politician to being the homebody, the wife, the caretaker of the candidate, so she knew how politics worked. she knew the different sides of her that would have to be portrayed as part of this campaign in order to make his campaign successful for him. she is not afraid to wade into a crowd. she's not hanging back. and she is in the line shaking hands along with the president-to-be. and going through hundreds, if not thousands of people standing there as long as it will take to shake the hands and greet people. so, we see a florence harding who knows how her husband is going to get to the white house, through the votes. it's very important politically, but she absolutely believes in the people of the united states.
8:15 pm
swain: she seems as good or better politician than a husband. sibley: yes, absolutely. she is more out there, i say, with her strength. he gets exhausted in some of these encounters. he pushes on, but she continues. and when we think about how ill she was, she -- back and forth with her illness and nephrites, the kidney ailment, it's really pretty astounding. i mean, she would recover from days like that. it would take her sometimes 48 hours with her hands sore and swollen from shaking so many hands, thousands of hands but she had this strength. she was determined to do what she wanted to be accessible. she wanted to be a people person, i guess you could say. swain: i want to tell our viewers that we welcome your participation. we're already getting comments as you can see on facebook and twitter and you are welcome to join that conversation. the c-span facebook page is easy to follow and there's a conversation underway. and twitter, two ways you can be involved. you can use their #firstladies or our @firstladies address. we'll be looking both of those and incorporating your comments into the program.
8:16 pm
here are the phone lines. if you live in the eastern or central time zones 202-585-3880. if you live in the mountain or pacific time zones 202-585-3881 ,and we'll get to those calls in just a couple of minutes. you can't talk about the 1920 campaign without talking about harry daugherty. who was he? pietrusza: i think it's daugherty, daugherty. swain: daugherty, thank you. pietrusza: and he's the campaign manager. he's the man behind the throne especially the way he tells it. he elevates his influence and power a great deal in the telling of the story and since the other two people are dead very quickly, he gets to tell it long -- far longer. and he does help harding out. but you also see correspondence from harding where he's telling harry in 1918, "you think just because i listen to the guff that people tell me that i swallow it all, well, i don't,
8:17 pm
ok? and i know exactly what's going on." and harding is in fact an incredibly savvy politician. he is good. he's an excellent people person. people like him. even his enemies like him. he just exudes human kindness and this is something which is quite often overlooked about him. and he said, he is a genuinely kind and if you shove out certain aspects of his life, a good person. swain: he's very lovable, i think. pietrusza: he pull -- and -- but daugherty is a kind of run of the mill ohio politician. he's been in the general assembly and he has run for governor, attorney general, all sorts of things but he's a little too shady to make the trip himself. he gets behind harding.
8:18 pm
he runs across him few times most particularly in florida when he says, "i found them. he was sunning himself like turtle on a log and i pushed him off into it." now, there are a lot of factors. now, did florence make him, did daugherty make him, did harding make himself? and john dean in his biography of harding makes the point that harding's protestations of inadequacy that -- of humbleness is not necessarily an act, but that harding from the very beginnings, he's a very sharp guy. his academic career is good. he learns things very quickly. he's giving speeches at the age of four. and so, he's good early and he knows that people sometimes get jealous of people who are good. sibley: but wouldn't you also agree though that he didn't
8:19 pm
necessarily want to be president, did he? pietrusza: i don't think so and certainly not with the carrie phillips thing hanging over his head in 1920. sibley: yes. he enjoyed being in the senate and it was his friends wanted him to be -- they loved him and they he was popular but he really didn't but it just seemed like over time increasingly there was urgings on him and also the situation as i understand it back in ohio didn't look good for him to be reelected. pietrusza: my theory is that and in the big, long letter which he sends to carrie phillips regarding the blackmail. swain: how did she try to blackmail him? pietrusza: she had the letters. that was not the only letter she hung on to. there were approximately 98 of them which she had. swain: torrid love letters? sibley: yes. pietrusza: not all torrid love letters, but a lot of them were. and i won't endeavor to quote them at all. i will say this, often in reading history and stuff. people skip over to the dirty
8:20 pm
parts. skip the dirty parts in reading these and read the rest of these. he's a very good writer. sibley: yes. pietrusza: he's very good. and there's a certain charm and skill to his language skills, but she's got the goods of him. this is the smoking gun. these -- or this is the blue dress to the nth degree, ok? and she's got it. and she and her husband in 1920 because she just finally became so incensed at him, harding that she tells her husband and they determine that they are going to put the hammer to this want-to-be president and they'll drive him out of office or they'll drive him bankrupt. swain: the party responded by helping to deal with the carrie phillips situation. what did they do? sibley: well, they offered money to her and that seemed to take care -- what was it, it's like $5,000 in the money of that time?
8:21 pm
pietrusza: well, they made the offer 5,000 a year. they give -- i think they give like 25,000 upfront and an all paid trip to the orient. go far away during this election campaign. her and her husband and the excuse is that he's in the dry goods business so they have lots of dry goods out there. sibley: and he tried to -- harding tried argue with her, try to suggest to her, "look, i can do some good for the world if you let me carry out this presidential election." exactly, but, you know, there was this... pietrusza: if you don't ruin me and yourself. sibley: -- there was this disagreement there. so, yes, so she's pretty much out of the picture at that point. and i argue that's sort of the end of this relationship and certainly, i think most would agree, but i would also argue what's the end of all the relationships. many might suggest there were other relationships, nan britton, other names have been heard. you probably heard the story about the president's daughter, but i don't find that really credible and if perhaps your
8:22 pm
viewers are interested in hearing more about this, we can talk about it. swain: there was a child on the other side. florence had been married once before and she had a child. how did the divorce came in -- particularly the child's father. sibley: yes, exactly. swain: was that an issue in the campaign? sibley: you know, it's very interesting you mentioned that. this is kind of a sad story. she married early on to escape her kind of overwhelmingly powerful father. we alluded to that a little bit earlier in the show. she -- we don't actually have any record that she literally married this man next door, pete dewolfe, but she certainly eloped with him and they had a child and he was someone of course who had a difficult past and a difficult future. he left her and she -- he was a ne'er do well, he was a drunk and there she was trying to raise his little boy marshall on her own. in the end, her father steps in and says, you know, you can't obviously do this. i will take over. and she was trying though. this is a very interesting part of her story. she was a single mother who taught piano. she gone to a conservatory and since then that issue -- she was a very good pianist. she was making money doing that but not enough to sustain both herself and her son. so, in the end then she has to
8:23 pm
kind of allow marshall to live with her father. nevertheless, she sees him quite a bit and when she marries her husband, her second husband, her -- pietrusza: or maybe her first husband. sibley: maybe her first, exactly. she's been divorced from pete and this is apparently the first case or maybe only the second case in the divorce, certainly, she's the first divorced first lady. and that story marshall grows up, he has children, a wife, et cetera, and also has a sad future later himself and doesn't live very, very long after his young children have born. they are -- it's an interesting story because it's something that could have, i think, humanized the hardings even more. these little grandchildren running around the white house but she doesn't want to really acknowledge this. she plays it down and back to our conversation before, this was an issue she didn't want brought up in the election and she really tries to downplay it. and i have not found much evidence that the children were ever invited much the white house or that that story was
8:24 pm
although important to her and she was in close contact with her daughter-in-law, there wasn't much of a public visible presence with these people. swain: well, haley hun asked what was the whole story and why -- on facebook, why florence harding didn't raise her son. sibley: didn't raise her son. well, it had much to do with this issue of her being a single mother and not a very wealthy woman despite the fact, of course that -- swain: not the scandal of being -- there was more that she didn't have the money. sibley: well, yes. i mean, i think that she probably could have done that, she was trying to. but, yes, i mean, there were those kinds of issues at that time that's certainly an important point the viewer raises. but the interesting thing was that when she married warren, warren accepted marshall as well and marshall seems to have lived partly with them partly with his grandfather. so it was like kind of an interesting relationship that they worked out. pietrusza: she just doesn't seem that maternal. sibley: i would disagree with that. pietrusza: i think that -- i think that's part of it and in terms of the story of -- i think your original question had to do with the 1920 campaign or something and does that become an issue?
8:25 pm
and her being divorced, certainly divorce was not in favor at that time but it's a case of mutual assured destruction. and mr. cox -- james middleton cox is the first divorced person to run for president. he had been married once before. and then he -- his wife, i think, had mental problems or something and then he marries again. there's no great scandal in it but there is -- sibley: but she was a much younger woman. pietrusza: yes, but -- so, either not about to bring that up, but if they had brought up, the immense hardship which florence had to go through and she spent a great deal of time really not dealing with, until she gets in the white house and she's sick the country does know about that. they don't cover it up like woodrow wilson or anything like that. but there could have been more sympathy generated for her because her life is so
8:26 pm
tremendously hard, take away the infidelities, but she comes from the richest family in town. she has to go and live -- elope with this fellow when she's pregnant at the time of the marriage or non-marriage as it was. and when she gets back to town, when she is abandoned, it is on christmas eve and she has to hitch a ride, beg a ride on a train on christmas eve to get home. and even then she's afraid to go see her father and must break in to an abandoned home to spent the night and then sees her father and it's no, "no, i will not help you." and then finally a deal is brokered after quite a while that, "i will take your son but not you." this is like way down east. this is -- this is like d.w.
8:27 pm
griffith and lillian gish on the ice floe even with the christmas eve thing. this is -- this is real 19th central melodrama and it happened to her. and this is a very hard life. the illness, this -- this whole series of things and in that way, she's a very sympathetic person because she's a survivor. sibley: i think you're absolutely right. swain: first off with phone calls is bills watching us in littleton, colorado. hi, bill. you're on. bill: hi. thank you for taking my call. i have always thought that florence harding was rather misaligned as a first lady regardless of the scandals in the administration. i think she was probably very opinionated and, yes, i think she was very bossy, but the -- but the horrible rumors that came and i'm sure you'll discuss
8:28 pm
them later with gaston means and everyone else, that she placed in the president and this other stuff, i think she was probably in the top 10 of first ladies because of her accomplishments and the amount of firsts that she had. thanks again for taking my call and i really appreciate you, susan, and your guest for the good job they're doing with florence. thank you. swain: thanks so much. we can't leave the 1920 campaign without a very important point because we've been making note of it all along the way. this is the first election when the first lady-to-be can actually vote for her own husband as a candidate. how important is the woman's vote in 1920? sibley: it was very important. in fact, it's interesting. the number of women -- the number o women voters by -- in 1916, there was still a large number of states allowed women to vote, but by 1920, the number of actual voters jumped from something like 18 million to 25 million because women were voting. i mean, that wasn't the only reason, probably there were more immigrants, et cetera.
8:29 pm
but this was a really significant shift. and it's also very important in the election because florence becomes really someone who was very much attuned. and she always has been attuned as a woman, as we've talked about a single mother, as someone who dealt with her fair of difficulties, she's someone who's very attuned to the plight of women and the opportunities that women are going to get now that they are voters. and she's very interested in women's involvement in politics. she listens closely to many who come to the white house and the vote itself, it's a moment of real triumph for her. she is there, of course, at the front porch. she's traveling -- she travels about 20,000 miles with him in the fall after they leave the front porch. she's reaching out. i mean, there are number of problems they face during the campaign, of course, some of the scandals we've alluded to but she is very much excited about women's possibilities. there's some quotes i think that you can perhaps allude to or we can talk about later where she just talks about how thrilled she is to see women succeeding, women active in politics, and
8:30 pm
wanting to cultivate that very much. pietrusza: they break the vote down by sex officially in illinois -- sibley: yes. pietrusza: -- in 1920. and i believe the harding coolidge team does very well. and also, you also see that year where it's an advantage -- the women's vote is an advantage to the republican. you see precincts in massachusetts where the immigrant areas do not do as well. and it was in fact the republican party which puts the amendment through. the south is not particularly into it, neither is the traditional immigrant cultures. it is in fact the more native american or older stock rather, republican areas which are more interested in putting suffrage in. there is more republicans in the senate or in the house of representatives who go for it or in the state legislatures. so, it's the -- it's something which i think boosts harding that year.
8:31 pm
and he's a hell of a lot looking -- better looking than james cox. swain: one of the things to note about this, this was the first presidential election that had radio coverage of the results, kdka am in pittsburgh reported the election results across the nation. also i want to bring in two other points before we leave this period of time. first of all, florence harding liked astrology and it was, to her, a very important way of getting information, gathering her strategy, so she had a relationship with a particular astrologer in washington. who was she? sibley: yes, madame marcia. and indeed, she wasn't alone in this. there were a number of other senate wives who visited marcia and it was -- it was kind of an interesting period of time because we might think, oh, this is a long time ago, lots of people believed this, but i think if anything people were probably more criticized who were following astrology than perhaps even now that now we have sort of a broader understanding of spirituality
8:32 pm
and other kinds of interest. but nevertheless, she found this extremely important, and this shows up in her diary that we talked about earlier, it shows up in some of her writings to her close associates. and of course, madame marcia told her as some of your viewers may know that harding was going to die if he were -- he was going to be nominated and she even had pretty much the moment that was going to happen but he was going to die in office. and she nevertheless, another sign i think of florence's strength, she decides all the same that she's going to be backing him to the hilt and making sure that this happens. but it does seem to have a very uncanny interesting effect on her relationship as a first lady, something we don't see again until nancy reagan really. pietrusza: well, we also see it in 1909 the jeweler's life in washington. a mrs. galt goes the same madame marcia and get the same prediction which seems rather farfetched to her but then she ends up as the second mrs. woodrow wilson. sibley: that's amazing. i didn't know that. swain: where is madame marcia when you want to know your future today?
8:33 pm
cathy in rockville, maryland. hi. you're on. cathy: hi. we're really enjoying your show. i was wondering why mrs. harding wasn't well liked but respected? sibley: oh, that's an interesting question. she -- you're suggesting that her -- her likeability is understood not to be very high but her respectability is higher if i understand you correctly. yes, and i -- it's quite interesting. this gets us sort of into the whole discussion of where she falls as a first lady. i don't know if you're necessarily going there. but she has been i think many -- it's interesting you'd mentioned early that she wasn't very maternal. now, i actually would disagree with that. i think if her relationship with the newsboys and some of those men around her, the young men who worked for her. but kind of on that same vain though, i think there's a sense that perhaps she was kind of a hard person to be around that she could be a little bit strong and perhaps difficult some people might have said. more kind of a yin and yang with her husband who as you said was so lovable and so kind. but i actually have found in reading her papers and looking
8:34 pm
at her -- her to be much more likeable. i think there's -- there was a kindness about her, there was a caringness, she had many, many causes that she believed in most, most passionately animals, prisoners, especially women prisoners. other kinds of issues, we can't talk more about that, but i think she actually should probably be both respected and liked. swain: sheldon cooper on twitter says, "was florence an early day nancy reagan by using washington clairvoyance to influence activities. i think you'll find that there are a number of aspects of the harding story that connect with one or the other more modern presidents as we go along here. i also want to bring in an unhappy part of the 1920 campaign and that is accusations about warren harding's heritage. pietrusza: right. and that goes back to the friction between harding and his father-in-law, amos kling, that the rumors had been going around that part of the country for a while about the harding family.
8:35 pm
and the theory now is that that arose because the hardings were very fervent abolitionists and had worked on the underground railroad. and when you did that, then people started rumors about you. and the rumors would be that the hardings were part black. and these rumors were floating around. one of the reasons why amos kling doesn't want her daughter marrying harding i think is he -- he doesn't trust her judgment in men, particularly after the first marriage. but also he believes that harding is part black and he's pretty vociferous about it. and i won't repeat his language but he goes all around town saying what he thinks warren harding is. finally, he gets used to harding, but these stories don't go away and there's a fellow named chancellor, who's a
8:36 pm
distinguished fellow, professor, graduate of amherst, went to all sorts of colleges, ran the dc school district at one time. sibley: a historian even. pietrusza: yes, a historian and author, a very, very big publisher of, respectable books but a thoroughgoing racist. he switches from republican to progressive, to democrat. he's at the 1916 democratic convention. and what becomes obvious that harding is going to be the nominee and the president, he becomes obsessed with harding's ancestry, goes all around collecting all these stories. and basically, my theory is that -- and they go all around the country. there are handbills, a quarter million copies of this handbill alleging harding as black is seized in san francisco all across the country. now, how do they get there? it's not from this -- it's not the lone crackpot, ok, he's got help.
8:37 pm
i believe it was the ohio democratic party, not wilson, not cox and not cox for a very interesting reason perhaps because there's an interview with the cox family during the democratic convention in the 1920 and they say, "oh, warren's one of our relatives. he used to come visit all the time." because cox's -- mrs. cox's maiden name was harding. so, you don't want to get the story up and running if you're mr. cox because maybe that means that your children have harding blood which means they have other sorts of blood. swain: florence harding's nickname whether affectionate or not, was duchess. and we're going to learn a little bit more about how she earned that nickname. we've alluded to her role of the marion star -- we're going to learn more about that in our next video. [video clip] hall: now, this key is a very special key.
8:38 pm
it's him, so it fits in your pocket. you can pull it up, so that's pretty unique. mr. harding carried this in his pocket for almost 40 years. it is the key to his newspaper building, the marion star. and when he was the official owner of the marion star you cannot speak about the marion star about brining florence into the picture. -- without bringing florence into the picture. she managed the books. she headed the circulation department for 12 years. and it was a very much a joint enterprise between the two of them. certainly, a sense of pride. something that was kind of their a little baby. so, i'd like to take you all into the press house museum on our side to show you some more things connected to the marion star. let me show you what's in here. mrs. harding kept the books at the star. this is an accounting book. this is in her handwriting and she's keeping track of the money going in and out.
8:39 pm
warren worked this editorial side. she is running the business, but she is keeping the books. she is running the circulation department. she is assembling newsboys and starts to deliver home delivery of the newspaper for the first time. so, you don't have to go to the newspaper office to buy your newspaper, you can have it tossed on your front porch. also, in this case, we have the time card stamp from the marion star. we also have a stamp on the marion star as well. also a picture of the marion star building at that time, that doesn't stand anymore. florence harding had a very business-like mind. she's a little bit out of step with other women in her time period because of that. her father was an excellent businessman and taught her a lot about keeping books and about mortgages and other real parts of the business world, things that most women wouldn't have had an interest in nor would anyone have taken time to teach them as well.
8:40 pm
this really sets her up nicely to help warren at the marion star because he frankly needs some help keeping the place afloat. and he finds it difficult to hound people to pay their bills, she doesn't. she doesn't shy away from that at all. so that really frees him up to do what he does best which is the editorial product, the relationships with advertisers in town, all those things that he does best. so, it is a win-win situation for the newspaper and really works well for the two of them. swain: i want to take a call from david (ph) in mechanicsville, virginia, who's been waiting and then we'll talk more about the experience at the marion star. hi, david. you're on. david: hi. this is a great program. i just finished a book, i guess, couple months ago called the teapot dome scandal, very good book by mccartney, i believe his name is. and anyway, it begins with an
8:41 pm
individual from oklahoma who, i think, donated a tremendous amount of money to harding's campaign initially, really saw harding is being the man for the '20's election. and this individual is rather a profligate, i think. he enlisted a nephew to marry a woman who became his mistress and bandied around the country with her. however, when it became evident that he wanted to be, i believe, the secretary of the interior and they were all set to do that, to make him secretary of the interior until the duchess put her foot down. apparently, this individual's wife was a friend or perhaps a
8:42 pm
relative of florence kling. and she made no uncertain terms to president harding firm -- a firm statement that if he were to come to washington, this woman would not accompany him. and apparently, one night, he had the -- the individual, the oklahoman in question whose name escapes me, i'm sure you all know it. pietrusza: jake hamon or hamon. david: that's it. hamon, that's it. delivered the bad news to his mistress and she and instead of passion shot him and they tried to cover it up but he eventually died. i think that kind of portended what would happen along the way with the administration and the lust and quest for oil. swain: thanks so much, david. david? pietrusza: i've seen a couple of versions of that story.
8:43 pm
one that it was hamon who gave the money and it was hamon's wife who gave the money. and the reason why hamon's wife would give the money was to get him back to washington without the mistress, ok? so, wheels within wheels here. the teapot dome scandal is very interesting because what we have is a fellow albert fall who was a colleague of harding -- there was nothing -- no great reason to be particularly suspicious of fall in the interior department. he was popular with his colleagues in the senate. there were no issues raised. but he needed the money. he was land poor as they say, he had a big ranch, huge ranch. he had made a lot of money through his wife's inheritance. but he needs the money and he cuts these deals with harry sinclair and with a fellow named doheny and huge amounts of money, there are some cattle which are shipped in from new
8:44 pm
jersey which the neighbors become concerned about. at first, the case goes nowhere. but it all unravels. he is convicted, becomes the first cabinet member to go to jail, that's in 1931. this case is a very slowly unraveling case, but sometimes that drip, drip, drip can hurt the reputation of people more than if it's just over and done with. and these things drip, drip, drip with harding after his death whether it was the nan britton book or the indictment of fall or the indictment of people in the veteran's administration or the alien property office or his attorney general. sibley: yes, but it isn't clear that harding knew, i think, fall was doing anything wrong. pietrusza: oh, no. no, i don't think he did at all. sibley: and i think the book that the caller is calling about does suggest, i believe, that the hardings were somehow aware of it.
8:45 pm
and i don't think there's any credible evidence. pietrusza: i would say absolutely not. and i -- and to make a larger point, i don't think there's any credible evidence that harding is involved in any of these scandals at all. sibley: no, not at all. and in fact, the one he found out about while he was the president, the forbes, he insisted he resign, so. pietrusza: forbes, he's with the veteran's affairs. swain: and we'll have more time to get to these scandals later on. we are in her preparation years in marion, ohio. and i would like to ask a bit about how important it was. so first of all, she seemed to favor women reporters. sibley: yes. swain: and she hired the first woman reporter in the newspaper. how important were the skills that she and warren harding brought in dealing with the press to their success in the campaign? sibley: oh, i think -- i think they were very important. i mean, certainly, they were people who used to working in the newspaper business. florence wasn't involved in the writing end of things but as we've heard she was involved in the business end and that kind
8:46 pm
of savvy and organizing skill was very useful later. swain: but she liked reporters. sibley: she did. she absolutely did. in fact, she was loved by them as well. she -- when she was in white house, she would invite them to come in especially the women reporters who cover the sort of society pages on the various functions that happened at the white house, so she would have them in to see what she was doing, how the tables were laid out, how the flower arrangements were, what the gardens looked like. and this was very popular. the reporters really gravitated to her. and i think it's another point that we're kind of connected to what we're just talking about that they were very popular in the white house in part because they could deal so well with the press. and in fact, during the campaign, the press was used extensively. they were very media savvy, the hardings. and of course, some of our viewers may know that they were close to this fellow, mr. lasker who was the van camp pork and beans person. he'd sold pork and beans for that company. and so, they in some ways were able to use that in for -- that kind of approach to sell their campaign. they shared pictures. they had recordings. and all of that played very well with the press as well.
8:47 pm
swain: it's a good time to also before we leave the subject talked about how they brought hollywood into the campaign. sibley: yes, yes. absolutely. so you mentioned the gishes and d.w. griffith because of course they came later to the white house. the -- and of course, the gishes, the gish sisters came to the front porch as did al jolson. it's interesting today to think about a republican candidate with all this support from hollywood. this is not what we perhaps would have expected, but at that time, they were very, very popular in hollywood. they love the movies. they showed movies in there and in the white house extensively. and this was something that they really, really gravitated to, the hollywood crowd and that kind of celebrity culture florence really grooved on that i guess you could say. swain: janet anderson on facebook writes, "on struck by the depth and capacity of mrs. harding's comments about women and men in this era, how big is the women's moving in the political campaign at that time" we talked about that. but then she asks, "what issues were there beyond the vote for women at that time?" pietrusza: in the election? well, certainly, the big -- well, it's always the economy
8:48 pm
and the economy is very bad in 1920. there's tremendous unemployment. there is inflation. and there are strikes ravaging the country. so the country is a mess economically. there's all this dislocation location of veterans coming back and causing all sorts of problems. but also the league of nations is the big issue that year. swain: oh, women as well? pietrusza: well, for everyone, i think. because you don't want another war, you don't want america to be dragged into things. and the person of the hardings who is the most vociferous against the league of nations was not warren, it's florence. florence is really the hardliner there and who else is a great hardliner at this time against the league of nations but her friend that really nemesis it seems, alice roosevelt longworth, they're very, very hardline against the league of nations.
8:49 pm
sibley: if i could add one other briefly issue that galvanized women -- harding signed into law, something called the sheppard-towner act, which brought maternal and child health clinics throughout the country and that was something that was of course a very -- it was a short-lived initiative, it was sort of ended by the end of the '20s but nevertheless it's set up this whole new role for women and social workers and others and it would be carried under the new deal. swain: what we also should mention prohibition which was brought into the constitution because of the women's temperance movement. sibley: yes, exactly. swain: so, what was the feeling of the country about prohibition by the time the hardings came. was it popular? pietrusza: it had just passed. it was going into effect. he had voted for without any great enthusiasm. as we know, he would take a drink or so but as edmund starling of the white house secret service said he'd take one shot, it would ails and that would be it for the night. he was not a heavy drinker despite some reports. i don't think those are true. but it is the women and it is
8:50 pm
the temperance movement of the women which largely puts prohibition in, i think more than the man. they see the men getting their paycheck on a friday night, blowing it in the saloons leaving them hungry, often going to women of the night and bringing things home was not good. and the saloon was established as an evil place. now, we see that this gender gap exist even at the end of prohibition when it's coming in and when it's going out. but you see that the numbers where franklin roosevelt start to tip down and whether he gets in 32 his numbers from the private democratic pollsters go down so that the women favor prohibition and that would be one of the big issues for them. swain: dave in oceanside, california. hi. what's your question?
8:51 pm
dave: thanks for taking my phone call. i've read that one of florence harding's favorite causes was taking care of veterans especially the young veterans after world war i. i was wondering if our experts had any comments on her efforts with veterans and if there is an enduring legacy from her efforts to help veterans? sibley: yes, it's a great question, and we're going to talk later perhaps about also for other causes too but that was very much of a passion interest for her. before the war, of course, she'd been involved with some of the other senate lives and, you know, various things to help out soldiers, so she always has an interest in that. but because of her own illness, her kidney ailment, this made her, i think, particularly sensitive to the suffering of veterans after the war. i mean, there were many, many people going around in wheelchairs, with limbs missing. she would invite them to the white house. if she saw some veteran walking along the street, you know, hobbling, she would stop her car and make sure they had a ride. she was passionate about veterans and their causes. she would go to the hospitals. i think later we might see a
8:52 pm
clip about a special item that came to her from a veteran. so, this was for a cause, very, very close to her heart and she was particularly disheartened when it was discovered that there was a scandal in the veterans bureau, another new initiative actually of harding. he brought in and created a veterans' bureau for the needs of the returning veterans. and unfortunately, the man he chose was an old friend from the senate. mr. forbes turned out to be a real crook and he stole many of the goods that were supposed to go to the veterans hospital supplies. he sold them cheaply and made money from kickbacks and a real scandal. swain: lots and lots of money. pietrusza: actually forbes was a wilson appointee running pearl harbor in hawaii and they ran across him in one of the trips and he flattered, flattered her shamelessly. and so, she in fact was the person who said, "warren, you should appoint this forbes fellow. " and her other great friend, dr. sawyer took an immediate dislike to forbes, always hated him. and it was, i believe, sawyer who brought the rumors to warren
8:53 pm
harding of the thefts which were -- which are completely egregious in the veteran's hospital. i think when you talk about your teapot dome, you talk about whatever daugherty or jeff smith did in the justice department. i think the great shame of the administration is what they did to the veterans. sibley: yes, but i think when florence found out -- pietrusza: and even in terms of money. sibley: right. when florence found this out that she absolutely, you know, she was even more forceful than harding. he was always a little reluctant, i think to turn hardly -- hard heart on his old friends but in the end, of course, he did have to accept the resignation of forbes. pietrusza: yes, he sent them out of the country. sibley: yes, absolutely. swain: katherine sibley, while you were talking about the veterans we saw some film clips of the veterans in wheelchairs at the white house being accepted. gary robinson says some credit florence with creating the photo op to support causes. was she in fact responsible for the photo op? sibley: well, it's very interesting. she was certainly the first
8:54 pm
first lady to use photography in these opportunities as she did. many of your viewers may now there's a particular picture of her with some filipino women who came looking actually for independence for their country not getting it, but it was a wonderful photo op, she liked to do this. she also, of course, have this very photogenic dog called laddie boy and he was featured, part of her whole interest of course in animals and animal rights was sort of also put forward by these photo ops with laddie boy. and absolutely again, i think it ties into our discussion of hollywood and the celebrity culture that was so much part of her. in her own way she had -- she wore a neck clasp around her and it became popular. many people wanted to copy this. it was called the flossy cling. there were -- there was a harding blue color that she wore. i don't know if this is actually close to it. it was a color that she wore and people called it harding blue in her -- in her honor. so, again, i think, yes, absolutely, the photo op was her thing. swain: now, we think about presidents with and first ladies with dogs and the dogs become part of the personality of the white house.
8:55 pm
we remember last several presidents have done videos of their dogs and the like, but it was actually the hardings that made a celebrity out of laddie boy for the very first time even though the roosevelts had had many animals in the white house. pietrusza: well, they had quite the zoo, but laddie boy which particularly popular. i'm thinking now of a picture of florence shaking hands with laddie boy, but even before that, you know, she's the first -- first lady or first candidate's wife really to go to a convention and campaign for her husband and to be accessible to the press and she's not just there as an ornament or -- but she's very effective. she's sizing up the strength of the delegates, she's doing all things a man would do and did we really talk about -- i don't think we talked about that how her father had wanted a boy. we skipped over that. sibley: right, right, that's a good point. pietrusza: and said, well, i'll just raise her as a boy. i'll let her do all the business things that men do and here in
8:56 pm
the 1860s. and so, she learned how to run the hardware store, make the loans at the banks, do everything a male business person could do, and that what gave her the strength to run the marion star which how small was the marion star when they got a hold of it. so small. it was called the marion pebble. sibley: it was. pietrusza: and so -- but she doesn't have to learn how to do it. she already knows, she can hit the ground running when warren harding checks into that sanitarium and -- because harding not only has physical problems. they both have -- these are two people who physically should never go to the white house, ok? she has that nephritis and she's laid up for months and months literally dying. it's really a horrible thing that the pain she's in. they say in one of these things, the pain is so intense.
8:57 pm
she's like digging her hand in and making a fist and it goes in so deep. the nails cause her to bleed, that's the intensity of the pain. sibley: it was actually her doctor, it was joel boone, he was holding her hands and she was so -- so -- and this was this very interesting point because she was a believer in this french sort of psychologist, it's just-exactly, and mind over matter. and she read his book and she was absolutely determined right to get better. she had that strength and i don't know if it was being raised as a sort of quasi man, but certainly it's interesting. pietrusza: and a great rider. sibley: yes. pietrusza: she was a great horse rider. sibley: oh, absolutely. outdoors woman, horsewoman, absolutely, that was wonderful great regrets in the white house that because of her nephritis she wasn't able to ride the beautiful horses that people gave her. pietrusza: harding is a horseman too and they both love animals and they hate any cruelty to them. swain: we learned in our last program on the wilsons of course about the president's great illness and the closing down of the white house during the last year. in fact, the wilsons put sheep on the white house lawn as a way
8:58 pm
to suggest austerity during the war. but it also kept people off of the lawn of the white house. the first thing that the hardings did when they came back -- came to the white house was get rid of the sheep and open up the white house. what was the public reaction? sibley: it was so positive. in fact, they already knew this was going to happen. they had heard about this during the campaign. people were excited, they said speed, speed the day, right, when florence comes into office and of warren, too, of course. this is going to open things up. but i mention them together because even the new york times talked about there will be four shoulders coming in, there was a sense that they would be sharing the burden and yes, this opening of the white house was an absolutely a refreshing moment. people now could come on to the lawn. the handshaking that we saw on the earlier video is happening every day that they are there. most days, if she's up to it, he's out there shaking hands, hand after hand. pietrusza: yes, there's a story about those sheep that she is walking by the white house when warren is still a senator and wilson is in the white house and the sheep are there and she sees
8:59 pm
the sheep, you know, grazing and the police are like guarding the sheep or something and shooing the people away from the white house and she kind of gets nervous and trips and falls into the mud. and she's tremendously embarrassed by this for a variety of reasons. and she says, "i tell you if i ever run this place, the policeman will have better things than guarding sheep on the damn lawn. swain: one of the things she brought back was the white house easter roll and we just had a picture of that. we can put that back on screen again because thousands of people came to the white house to take part in the easter egg roll which is become an annual tradition. sibley: i mean, i think one of the biggest days and this went on and on. they had the shriners visit. you know, he was a mason and they were shriners and all kinds of people came. at one point, this was just before their trip to alaska at -- already a very hectic time in 1923. 7,000 people were in the white house. they were wandering these
9:00 pm
floors. they were all around. and this is how open they were and how accessible and in some ways of course we mentioned earlier their illnesses. this was probably not that healthy for them to be not just the germs, et cetera, but the exhaustion of greeting people and seeing them all the time but they made themselves wide open. they had concerts on the lawn. they had visitors coming constantly. harding felt, you know, he was a kindly and dear man as we've mentioned. he felt, you know, there was no reason why he shouldn't be accessible to people and david pietrusza: i actually get, the film that we saw earlier and the -- like the overhead shots of the great crowds going back actually sort of disturbs me. it's what the politicians have to go through on that level. it's -- this maelstrom. it's quite a sacrifice they make actually. kathrine sibley: it was and it could probably kill them in the end. susan swain: and here are two quotes. one from each of the hardings. this was the first one when the president on their view of florence harding's strength and her contributions, of florence harding, warren said this, "mrs. harding wants to be the drum
9:01 pm
major in every band that passes." that's a great quote. and here's florence harding about her husband. she wrote, "he does well when he listens to me and poorly when he does not." and also later she wrote, "i know what's best for the president. i put him in the white house." you said you don't really believe that she thought that. david pietrusza: well, i don't know if she thought that or not, but maybe at any given moment she did. but the nickname she had before she was the duchess was the boss. and warren sort of toned that down for public consumption but i think he probably thought half the time that she was the boss in many ways. he valued her opinion. i think -- i think there was a real partnership there. kathrine sibley: absolutely. susan swain: roger is watching us in baltimore and you have the next question, roger. hi. roger: hello. thank you. i have a few questions for ms. sibley. since listening to you, ms. sibley, i think i would like to read your biography of florence. i've already read one biography
9:02 pm
that was very detailed and i'm wondering if you have an opinion on that one. do you think mr. carl anthony's biography of florence harding is accurate and well-researched? i haven't -- kathrine sibley: shall, i answer? or, oh -- roger: one other question. i'm hoping you can answer the other question with a simple yes or no, but it might be difficult. you've done a mountain of research on florence harding, i'm sure. now that all is said and done, do you have a gut feeling, yes or no, simply from your heart. do you think that nan britton's child belongs to warren harding? and i'm wondering, why have the grandchildren of nan britton refused dna tests? kathrine sibley: that's a very good question. ok, so i'll answer your very, i guess, your second question first because it sounds like
9:03 pm
that's a pretty straight yes and no. and i would say absolutely, i do not believe that harding is the father of nan britton's child. her papers are now available. there is really no credible evidence unlike the case with carrie phillips where there were love letters and we have very good evidence that that affair happened for much of those years from 1905 to 1920, but the case of nan britton, seems to be she was a young woman, i think she had obviously a crush on warren, she hoped perhaps he could help her with a job. she knew his sister. she was from marion. they were certainly connected but there was nothing of the sort that we've heard about on boardwalk empires and other kinds of popular culture and many, many books that you're alluding to. it doesn't -- to me, there is no credible evidence, so it is interesting about how dna business i think that sort of confirms it. my sense is that warren g. harding probably had -- and this other people have suggested this as well, some kind of fertility problem. i mean, the fact that florence obviously had no trouble having children yet they were married
9:04 pm
for 15 years and had -- and she was only 30, 31 when they got married and harding loved children. there would have been really reason for them not to have had additional children before she got ill in 1905 when obviously issues might have created a situation where she could not. to me, it seems not credible that she was -- that nan britton had an affair with warren, number one, or that a child resulted for sure. i don't really believe in either of them. but i, perhaps you would weigh on those. susan swain: can you very quickly answer the carl antony's book? kathrine sibley: oh, about carl anthony's book. oh, yes. so, carl anthony's book was a wonderful book and i read it very closely when i was preparing my own work on florence. but my concern about his approach is that much of it seems to be focus on the affairs and as you can tell from what i've just said, i don't find them very credible except for carrie phillips. so, i think that carl anthony and i would disagree on those particular issues, but he's certainly unearthed a lot of really interesting information about florence and i think i give him a lot of credit for trying to begin this wave of
9:05 pm
scholarship that i like to think of myself as part of and you as well where we are reconsidering florence in a more positive way. susan swain: you do seem to suggest in your book that you believe that there were more? david pietrusza: yes. and i revisited the issue when i came -- well, i was invited to be here, i figured, i think they're going to mention this. and so, i started to -- i looked one way and another, i thought like warren harding, i wish someone would give me the book that tell me what the truth is because with carrie phillips you know there's something that you just -- it just is and historians rarely have that level of proof, which raises -- which gets to the question of letters, why doesn't nan phillips or nan britton have those letters, ok? did she destroy them? and which leads to another question not about her but if they pay off -- this occurred to me about two days ago, if they
9:06 pm
pay off carrie phillips who has the hardware store owner's wife in marion and that we know an affair happened, but if they pay her off, why doesn't she turn those letters back? this is a very botched pay off attempt, you know? this is -- if i'm giving you $5,000 a year or sending you to japan, i want those letters and supposedly at one point, she had offered to give them to harding and then gave them back or something but they don't collect them then. but getting back to nan britton -- getting back to nan britton, we see that edmund starling, who has no particular grudge against harding says he's the kindest man he ever met. kathrine sibley: he was the white house usher. david pietrusza: yes. oh, no, no, he was a secret service man. he was a secret service man and who says that a harding is not a drinker. says that he was asked to carry
9:07 pm
letters to new york secretly from harding, that some other agent did carry those letters, that some other agent brought someone back from new york, so we have that level of proof. we also have certain things which corroborated from the letters of phillips -- mrs. harding to mrs. phillips which could nan britton have known about those things. and i've heard one historian say, "well, somehow she got access to those letters." that's just too far a stretch, ok? so, i think about what the question which he raised is a question i've had now for about 10 years since right in 1920
9:08 pm
which is i would love to see those dna tests. this occurred to me quite a while because if we can do it on jefferson, we can -- and there are many collateral descendants of warren harding, he came from a really big family. kathrine sibley: yes, they did. david pietrusza: and they're all doctors now. and -- but there was nan britton, the elizabeth ann and she had two sons. so, i think dna testing is possible. i do not know if it is true that they have refused this or if anyone has asked them. i kind of doubt that, but i'll ask tonight. kathrine sibley: i think it's been difficult to arrange it. david pietrusza: could you do it? susan swain: we have only 20 minutes left and lots to cover, but i want to put on screen because we've been talking about the scandals and like, but we've alluded to the fact that there have been a number of first and the florence harding first ladyship. and i'd like to list some of those for you so you can see why she is -- if not a transformational definitely a transitional first lady as our -- both of our guests would posit, first to vote in a presidential election as we said earlier, the first divorced first lady, the first who was public about her illness by contrast with the administration before her, the first first lady to get secret service protection. she was the first first lady to
9:09 pm
fly in an airplane. she created the photo op more or less. she was the first to give impromptu public speeches if not official press conferences and the very first to own a radio. you probably have some others on your list, but quite a list of firsts for a short demonstration. david pietrusza: she's a transitional figure because the times are changing so rapidly then. and so, part of it is just a function of the times. but i think she's also a forward-looking person. kathrine sibley: absolutely. susan swain: we have to show you a video next because we are going to run out of time. this is from back at the marion home and, excuse me the harding home in marion, indiana. and this is -- items from the harding's white house years. sherry hall: we are in the dining room at the harding home. in the sideboard here are pieces of a set of crystal that were used in the harding white house. the hardings didn't have white house china, but that was a conscious decision on their part. the hardings went into the white house following world war i. and in a deep recession.
9:10 pm
and mr. harding was stressing the need for economy in government, so they decided that was one expenditure that didn't need to be made. there are plenty of sets at white house china. they just used what was there. this collection has never been displayed in its entirety before. mrs. harding collected figurines of elephants. she thought they were good luck and especially if the trunks were going up. so conveniently, they also are the symbol of the republican party, so it serves two purposes. made of all different kinds of materials -- jade, ivory, and these were all displayed in a curio cabinet in the private quarters of the hardin white house. we're in the reception hall of the harding home. we have a very unique piece here. this is a portable movie projector he used in the private quarters of the white house. the hardings were both movie fans. they like comedies.
9:11 pm
charlie chaplin, buster keaton, and this was used in the upstairs hallway of their private quarters. they make that into an impromptu movie theater for their friends. on her dresser here, a couple of very, very special things, there is a jewelry box. it's french. it dates from the 1700s. and it was a 16th birthday gift to her from her father. but she takes the jewelry box with her. and it's displayed in the private quarters of the white house. and in here, we're going to see some very unusual things, some things that are certainly, they speak to florence harding. one of those things is a necklace. and there is a faded four-leaf clover in there. that flour-leaf clover was found on the lawn of the white house by a disabled vet. it was given to her. and remember, she is a kind of a superstitious woman, so she immediately thinks this is a good omen, she has it put in a necklace, so she can wear it.
9:12 pm
there is a penny in here. and it's not just any penny. it's a 1920 penny that she carried during the campaign for good luck. and there is a mourning ring. so this is what she wore after the president's death, she did not wear a wedding ring. to her wedding rings were a sign of subservience. now this is kind of odd, because we know she's fiercely dedicated to her husband, but yet she didn't wear a wedding ring, but then she would wear a mourning ring. susan swain: the harding white house was -- even though there was illness by the first lady it was a social white house. kathrine sibley: yes. susan swain: and how did they use entertaining to advances its causes? kathrine sibley: oh, many people came at -- there were dinners. there were -- all kinds of groups came, girl scouts and veterans groups and women's groups and all these kinds of -- and lots of lots of social activities going on. and one of the people who was a very a popular visitor that some of our viewers may know about
9:13 pm
was a evelyn welsh mclean who was a very wealthy heiress had the hope diamond -- i think we'll hear more about that from you. and one of the -- one of the fascinating moments, of course, was that the white house was a social place, but as we've alluded to earlier, she got very ill in september of 1922, so from then until march, the visits really stopped. and it was really tough -- very few people coming, a silent place, a difficult place. but she recovered, and one of the reasons she recovered was in part because she was and they all were so social and open. the whole country prayed for her. it was very interesting. there were hundreds of people went to keith's theater and had this mass praying for her to get better. and there were, of course, across the country many, many groups who did this independently and that finally she's really just at death's door. mr. mayo is going to come -- dr. mayo, the famous dr. mayo. and the movies, cameras are there to watch him come in, but who is there already is evelyn to cheer florence up and it seems to have really the corner, her dear friend -- this much younger woman.
9:14 pm
she was 29, florence is 55. florence was, of course, a grandmother. evelyn was a much younger woman with young children of her own. both of them didn't have the greatest health though, but they had a real bond and a real tie and evelyn certainly added some pizzazz to the white house. david pietrusza: yeah, she was quite the character. she came from like a mining camp out west and her father -- very poor, very poor. then he strikes -- literally, strikes gold, becomes fabulously wealthy and she marries into more wealth, then mclean, the son of the publisher of a cincinnati paper, so they knew the hardings from ohio way, but was a morphine addict, but that was because of an injury, an auto accident, which killed her brother, but the auto accident was -- there were issues of very heavy drinker even before that. but this hope diamond -- she had purchased the hope diamond in paris and supposedly have been worn by marie antoinette and had bad mojo and they warned her don't do it and then people
9:15 pm
started to die around her and all that. i came in to washington one time, decades ago and went in to see the smithsonian. and there in front of me was the hope diamond. and i thought -- and the night before there had been on abc television the curse of the hope diamond and i said, "curse of the hope diamond, please." and i came out and my car was missing. susan swain: so the harding presidency is moving along in history. we began to hear here about the scandals that were building, including the so called teapot dome involving oil leases. the attorney general daugherty -- i have to get that name correct daugherty. there was a scandal of the veterans bureau, which we talked about which was many hundreds of thousands of dollars, then also some -- on the positive side, the first radio broadcast during
9:16 pm
that administration and he was also the president who appointed the former president taft as chief justice of the united states, so just a few of the things. i'm wondering ultimately about mr. hardings reputation. one viewer on facebook asked whether or not he was the most corrupt president in history. and if i can find it pretty quickly here, there were others that suggest that he doesn't get his due for some of the things that happened during his administration. where would you put him in that? david pietrusza: i don't think he's corrupt at all. i -- that's a canard. that's just not true. i mean, there are people under him. there are the bad appointments that you've alluded to, but there are scandals under truman with mink coats and deep freezes. there is sherman adams under dwight eisenhower. there are scandals under lyndon johnson. there are scandals of a much more recent vintage. they are not necessarily connected to the man in charge. they are unfortunate.
9:17 pm
they do not prove their corruption and it's unfair to tar them with that in some cases. kathrine sibley: absolutely. david pietrusza: but the -- and certainly in harding's, i would -- i would criticize him for being maybe not -- for not being as vigilant with forbes, that he should have not allowed him to flee the country. eventually he goes to jail after harding is dead. kathrine sibley: right. david pietrusza: but i would just have throttled him right there even more. susan swain: why in the summer of 1923 did the president and first lady plan this western trip of 15,000 miles? kathrine sibley: oh my gosh. well, it had long been a goal of the administration. i know there have been suggestions that somehow this was to escape the scandals, but -- but -- david pietrusza: it's a personal goal. they just -- they just wanted to see alaska. kathrine sibley: they wanted to go and they created -- they gave it an -- a kind of a grand name, the voyage of understanding and they were going to go all the way to alaska, then they were going to come down, you know, through the panama canal, which had been a wonderful place they
9:18 pm
had enjoyed in the -- right after the election as a vacation home. and so -- a vacation visit, i should say. so this trip was aimed to create a greater connection between the american people and alaska. and unfortunately, it was the trip, of course, that would be the end of harding's life, because what happened on the trip, he gives many, many speeches. he's welcomed around the country, but it turns out that he -- in san francisco, which he had planned to stay in -- at a nice way and visit and talk and give more speeches, well, this turns out to be the place where he dies at the palace hotel. and so, the trip was a very great success up until that point. they did connect with people in alaska. and they did connect with many around the country, but because of the way -- as we talked about earlier, the harding administration was run and all the hand-shaking and all of the visits and all the speeches, it really wore him out. and his health was not already so strong as we've alluded to,
9:19 pm
but what's really interesting was that florence's health as we know was so dire that on this trip, in the ship that they took there was a coffin packed, secretly. she didn't know about this, but this coffin was for her, her dear doctor -- dr. boone as well as dr. sawyer were aware of this and the fear was that she wouldn't survive the trip. well, she did survive the trip and they end up at the hospital at the hotel, which becomes a sort of a hospital. and harding gets sick. and the thought is it's about the crab meat that maybe he ate in alaska, but it turns out no. everybody else who'd had that crab meat recovered from whatever that was and he did not and, in fact, he gets sicker. he recovers, slowly get sicker again. and in the end, he dies of what -- at the time they thought was apoplexy, some have alluded to poisoning, but it seems he simply had a heart attack, which of course was a very, very sad moment for florence because she loved him dearly despite their difficult history. susan swain: right. david pietrusza: the trip back is remarkable, because he has to go all the way across country and then he has to go out again to marion, ohio. susan swain: his body does.
9:20 pm
kathrine sibley: oh, yes. david pietrusza: and the scenes, which people write about of crowds gathering silently in the middle of the night, in remote areas or breaking into songs and hymns -- god knows how many people saw him pass through is a remarkable thing. and the feelings were quite genuine. kathrine sibley: so that must be chicago, i'm guessing that you're showing here. susan swain: look at the crowds watching his train. kathrine sibley: yes. it was about a million. susan swain: now, there have been criticisms of florence harding for being so uncaring publicly about this. your take on her response to her husband's death was what? kathrine sibley: yes. well, she -- now, it's interesting. it's probably connected with the character we are talking about earlier, emile coue, this is sort of mind over matter -- the self-mastery of her emotion. she kept saying, "i will not breakdown. i will not breakdown." she was -- she kept her emotions in check i mean all around her daugherty and others, you know, are in tears and falling apart, but understandably, but she would not and part of this was, of course, she knew she had to organize, first off just a little ceremony in san francisco then this huge ceremony, including a visit to the
9:21 pm
rotunda, thousands seeing the body in washington. and then, of course, another ceremony, she's staying in ohio and it was -- yes, it was a 96 hour trip across the country and then it took longer they had expected. david pietrusza: very delayed. kathrine sibley: some people thought -- david pietrusza: because of the crowds. kathrine sibley: yes, exactly. they slowed down to about 10 miles an hour. some people thought she had died on the way, but she had not, but she -- her emotions were in check because she needed to have that control. not because she didn't miss him dearly, not because she had -- she had encouraged his death in any way by allowing doctors to treat him incompetently. she trusted these doctors. she thought they were doing the best they could. david pietrusza: she certainly trusted sawyer. kathrine sibley: oh, yes, yes. david pietrusza: and boone -- and boone. kathrine sibley: and boone. she called to boone when he died. she said -- she yelled for boone. she yelled for him. boone and just stepped out then. he finally was getting a fresh of breath of fresh air downstairs because they've been there for days in the -- in the hotel and she called for him and of course it was too late when he called. susan swain: robert in chicago, what's your question? robert: yes. i have several questions. first of all, are there any descendants of the hardings today? number two, are there any
9:22 pm
pictures of marshall that i've been trying to -- looked up on my internet? and the other question is what was mrs. harding's life after the president's death? susan swain: ok. thanks. we're going to answer that third one a little more fully. kathrine sibley: yes. susan swain: were there any pictures of her son marshall? kathrine sibley: yes. there's one in my book, if you'd like to check it out and that came from the ohio historical society, sorry the marion historical society. susan swain: are there -- are there any descendants? well, we -- david pietrusza: well, we could debate that. kathrine sibley: but of course that can be -- david pietrusza: right. susan swain: so the -- we have -- we've talked about her health and we're going to go back to the harding home for probably our last video, because we have about eight minutes left and this is about florence's recurring health problems. and it does answer that viewer's question about what happened to her after the white house. so let's watch. sherry hall: this room is filled with a lot of clothing, shoes, hats, all kinds of everyday things. now, the bedroom suite itself, they got in 1910.
9:23 pm
it's birds-eye maple. in the guest room, we have the double bed that they originally had in here. by 1910, florence is a semi invalid with kidney disease. when that kidney disease flares up she is bedridden three or four months times at a time. and during that time, she has excruciating abdominal pain. she has swelling in her feet, her hands, her ankles. this is a sick room for them. my own belief is the twin beds work well because of her situation. twin beds, believe it or not were actually very popular around 1910. it was not unusual for married couples to do that just to get a good night's sleep. but for them, i think it had a lot to do with her illness. the purple shawl here a very personal item of mrs. harding's. she used this a lot during the fall of 1922.
9:24 pm
now, they're in the white house. her kidney disease kicked up in september. she is in bed until november, and nearly dies. the white house is putting out daily bulletins about her health. she often is draping this purple shawl about her shoulders. so her health is always fragile in the public life. everybody knows it is. sometimes she can't on some trips or has to curtail her activities because of it. susan swain: we have just about six minutes left. i want to take a call from brett watching us in wister, ohio. hi, brett. brett: hi. my question is this, so i want to know about the historiography of the hardings. now, i am actually a staff member at the harding home, so i get a lot of visitors on tours asking questions about the
9:25 pm
poisoning, florence burning papers, which is obviously not sure they still exist. so my question is why is there still the myth out there even though the evidence is right in front of us and there's not really a movement to really kind of turn things around? susan swain: okay. thanks very much. well, first let's say with the rumors are. there were -- rumors started how soon after harding's death that she was responsible for poisoning him. kathrine sibley: well, it's an interesting question. there were a number of rumors -- i think i date it to sometime in the 1930s when alice roosevelt longworth is writing very discouragingly. i don't know if she raised the issue of the poisoning though. david pietrusza: gaston means. kathrine sibley: gaston means. yes, yes. even earlier, right, 1930s. david pietrusza: who's a former secret service agent, an absolute crook and a fellow who is swindling evalyn walsh mclean out of money in relation to the lindbergh kidnap -- kidnapping. and he's the guy who puts this story out. kathrine sibley: right. susan swain: all right. kathrine sibley: what's interesting i think -- david pietrusza: not a credible guy.
9:26 pm
kathrine sibley: about the -- what you're hearing is this goes on to this day. i recently met some people who've been visiting in alaska and they're hearing these stories still from tour guides up there. thankfully, there are tour guides like you or i'm not sure what you're role is there at the harding home, but thankfully, yes, the historiography is a fascinating issue, the changes in time. i would say it began to switch in the late '60s. you had first of all francis russell's book, which is a very important book, but a very scurrilous book in many regards and really propagating a lot of the stories that we've been kind of wrestling with tonight. susan swain: but she -- kathrine sibley: then -- yes. susan swain: does she contributed to it though, because she didn't allow an autopsy and she had guards around the president's body while travelling. kathrine sibley: right, right. susan swain: so was she was not somewhat the architect of her own problems? kathrine sibley: interesting. the autopsy -- i understand -- and i mean, i think she loved him so dearly. i can't imagine she would have wanted to see him carved up. and she knew that the country wanted to see his body going and this is what i believe anyway. she wanted -- they wanted to see his body going through. they slowed down, so people could see him. she would have wanted an autopsy, but you're absolutely right that the history could not be told because she wouldn't allow people to write it when she was alive.
9:27 pm
david pietrusza: burning the papers under the circumstances of his death and the scandals. susan swain: how many were there? what was the (inaudible)? david pietrusza: well, there's a lot of -- there's a lot of questions about that and she burns a lot of stuff at the mclean mansion. but it appears that she basically burned copies of the book that chancellor had written and also, an unopened suitcase of harding's. and we really don't know. susan swain: yes. there are still 907 manuscript boxes at the library of congress of just his papers plus her papers and there's a lot as you're suggesting. david pietrusza: and we were talking earlier about, you know, are -- were there letters between the two of them. they don't seem to -- we yes, gee, we don't see them those love letters, because they wanted some privacy. kathrine sibley: right. right. there aren't so many, so some of them. david pietrusza: tr's widow burned a lot of his papers, any conspiracy there? david pietrusza: or the desire for privacy. susan swain: where was harding buried? kathrine sibley: oh, in mario, ohio. yes. it's twice. first he had to be exhumed and reburied in this beautiful mausoleum. susan swain: and mrs. harding came back to washington, moved out of the white house to where? kathrine sibley: she did. she lived actually in the new willard hotel. david pietrusza: willard.
9:28 pm
kathrine sibley: the same place that the coolidges had lived when they were in the vice presidential time and it's most interesting because i think if she had stayed in washington, she might have lived longer. she got her nephritis again in july 1924 and she had just come back and she was beginning somewhat of an active life, probably not as active as some of her friends would have wished, but unfortunately, she got sick again and dr. sawyer encouraged her to come back to ohio. and at that point, i'm afraid that she just sort of gave up. i mean, we think about the strength she had in the white house, how she transcended that disease. david pietrusza: warren's life was her life. and that was gone. kathrine sibley: that was -- that was certainly part of it, but -- david pietrusza: and her kidneys were gone too. susan swain: yes. so she died on november of 21st 1924 in marion, ohio at the age of 64 and they were the only president and first lady to die before what would have been the end of their first term in office, another first, a sad first for their country. kathrine sibley: yes. susan swain: so on their legacy, here is the question from twitter, from gary robinson who wants to ask in a -- with historians and here we have two of them, classify as -- it's not
9:29 pm
coming up when i wanted to -- florence or warren as the more interesting? david pietrusza: they're both very interesting. i don't know more. this is like this ranking of presidents that we get into, which i hate to make lists, so i'm going to pass on that one. kathrine sibley: oh, i'll jump on it. david pietrusza: but i will say in what you're talking about earlier about his legacy and his accomplishments, the creation of the budget bureau, the naval treaty, five power treaty, and the bringing back of the economy. david pietrusza: these are all major accomplishments. kathrine sibley: i think florence is the more interesting because she has been even worse treated by history, but yet there's more to her now than we probably have ever known. susan swain: well there is -- we're getting close. we have 30 seconds left. we said at the beginning that you referred to her as a neglected and derided first lady. where -- and really, she's at the bottom of all these list, next to the bottom of all this lists. where does she belong, do you think based on what we've learned tonight? kathrine sibley: she -- i would say she belongs in the top 10.
9:30 pm
i mean, she was a transitional first lady. she made the cracks in the mold that eleanor roosevelt broke. she had causes, for the first time many causes that people embraced she created this culture of celebrity that's still attached to the first lady today. and she was a caring, kind person who really wanted to make the world better for the underprivileged, prisoners, women, minorities -- we didn't really get to talk about all these issues tonight, but i hope you will look into her further. susan swain: you don't like lists, but where would you put her? david pietrusza: i think in terms of setting precedents in terms of opening up the office. i guess if it's an office of the first lady, the visibility, she'd have to rate very high on that. in terms of not opening up the white house, but reopening up to the public that's very significant, but we've seen it sort of close down since then. after coolidge it of closed down the depression and then the war and such and then our -- all our concerns of modern life has closed it down.
9:31 pm
it used to be the people's house. and she really brought the people back into it. susan swain: our partner for this series is the white house historical association. they have a compendium book about the lives of the first ladies that we are making available on our website for cost. if you'd like to follow along with us, you can find it at cspan.org/firstladies as we continue to tell you the stories of these women. how they shaped the administrations and how they shaped history in the country as well. thanks to our two guests tonight to tell us about florence harding. a first lady that wasn't very well-known when we started and hopefully you know more know. susan swain: kathrine sibley and her book is available, "first lady florence harding behind the tragedy and controversy" and david pietrusza who has several books that you can look to, but one that's -- particularly this era in 1920, the year of the six presidents. thanks to both of you for being here tonight. david pietrusza: thank you. kathrine sibley: thank you. ♪
9:32 pm
[captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2014] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] ♪ >> american history tv is featuring the original series "first ladies" at 8:00 p.m. eastern for the rest of the
9:33 pm
year. next week we look at grace coolidge. this is american history tv, weekend every weekend. >> the worldwide's and mothers. some had children and grandchildren that became presidents and politicians. they dealt with motherhood. closureure and chaos -- and chaos of raising young children and the tragedy -- re and chaos of raising young children. lively stories of fascinating women and illuminating, entertaining, and inspiring reads based on interviews from the first lady series, published by public affairs. it is available as a hardcover or an e-book. favorite bookstore or online
9:34 pm
bookseller. monday night on "the communicators," this summer marks the 25th anniversary of digital television. mark discusses how modern television has changed. >> many of us are watching in a multi screen world and that has been one of the more exciting outcomes of the digital revolution. it used to be that there was a stationary screen, and with hdtv that was a big screen in the living room. with the internet and the wireless world extending things, nor you have tablets and smartphones and wi-fi all over notplace such that tv is the stationary experience in the living room but very much in mobile experience wherever you want to go.
9:35 pm
it is not just tv, it is also video. >> monday, on c-span two. recently, american history tv was at the society for historians of american foreign relations' anymore meeting in arlington, virginia -- and you will meeting in arlington, virginia -- annual meeting in arlington, virginia. james graham wilson, who is the author of a new book on reagan and gorbachev but you are also the historian for the state department. what is your job? i am one of wilson: a number of historians for the state department. we work on a project called the united states series which is a congressionally mandated, officials documentary record of u.s. diplomacy and foreign relations. we are currently working on 45

43 Views

info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on