tv First Ladies Influence and Image CSPAN August 31, 2015 12:01am-1:36am EDT
sundays throughout the rest of the year. c-span produced the series in cooperation with the white house withrical association, questions from c-span's audience. we tell the stories of america's 45 first ladies. now, florence harding. 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. susan swain: 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 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. susan swain: 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. susan swain: 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. sixty percent 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 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. david pietrusza: 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 , for the pointg of getting to the discussion in 1920, it 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. kathrine sibley: 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. 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. kathrine sibley: 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. kathrine sibley: 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. susan 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 support was negligible at the outset. there was a matter of his health and ultimately, he did die early. susan swain: 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? david pietrusza: in those days? susan swain: yes. david 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 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 infidelities going on. david pietrusza: 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.
susan swain: one of our viewers on facebook asks, "how did mrs. harding respond to the rumors of harding's wandering eyes?" kathrine sibley: yes, it's a great question. and i didn't -- i think it's 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. kathrine sibley: 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. kathrine sibley: 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. susan swain: we have one of her diary quotes, but how much of a diarist was she? how much is preserved? kathrine 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. 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. david pietrusza: it's barely a formal diary. i think it's like in a date book or calendar or something. kathrine sibley: exactly. yes. kathrine sibley: (crosstalk) david pietrusza: it's catch as catch can. there's going to be huge gaps in it, but it seems to be real. kathrine sibley: yes. susan 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? kathrine sibley: i think she did. i really do. and in fact because she was
someone who saw the potential in him. david pietrusza: she went after him. kathrine 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 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. susan 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. kathrine sibley: yes. susan swain: explain the story of amos kling and their relationship and why he would, in fact, in his newspaper criticize his son-in-law. kathrine sibley: yes.
in fact, she -- well, this is a long story. i'll try to make it quick. david pietrusza: kling doesn't have a newspaper. kathrine sibley: no, that's right. david pietrusza: he's a banker. he's a businessman. susan swain: but he ultimately doesn't he buy a competing newspaper? kathrine sibley: not that -- not that i know of, no. david pietrusza: i don't believe that's true. susan swain: but i think that maybe what the caller is getting to is that he actually helped to fund an opponent of harding when harding ran for senator. and -- david pietrusza: yes. he funded another newspaper. kathrine sibley: yes, yes. david 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. susan swain: he's the banker behind the newspaper. kathrine sibley: right, right. david pietrusza: he's the banker and he's the father-in-law and he likes being banker a lot more. kathrine 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. kathrine sibley: 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. david pietrusza: seven -- seven -- well, of their life, but the first seven years of the harding marriage there was like nothing. kathrine sibley: yes, it was difficult time. susan swain: david pietrusza, talk about harding's oratory and how well he was known for it and how it make him as a national personality. susan swain: 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. susan swain: 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. 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. sherry hall: 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. sherry hall: 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. 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. sherry hall: 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. susan swain: she seems as good or better politician than a husband. kathrine 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. susan 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. 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? david pietrusza: i think it's daugherty, daugherty. susan swain: daugherty, thank you. david 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, ok? david pietrusza: 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. susan swain: he's very lovable, i think.
david 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. 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. david pietrusza: 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. kathrine sibley: but wouldn't you also agree though that he didn't necessarily want to be president, did he? david pietrusza: i don't think so and certainly not with the carrie phillips thing hanging over his head in 1920. kathrine 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. david pietrusza: my theory is that and in the big, long letter which he sends to carrie phillips regarding the blackmail. susan swain: how did she try to blackmail him? david pietrusza: she had the letters. that was not the only letter she hung on to.
there were approximately 98 of them which she had. susan swain: torrid love letters? kathrine sibley: yes. david 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 parts. skip the dirty parts in reading these and read the rest of these. he's a very good writer. kathrine sibley: yes. david 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.
susan swain: the party responded by helping to deal with the carrie phillips situation. what did they do? kathrine 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? david 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. kathrine 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 --
david pietrusza: if you don't ruin me and yourself. kathrine 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 viewers are interested in hearing more about this, we can talk about it. susan 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. kathrine sibley: yes, exactly. susan swain: was that an issue in the campaign? kathrine 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.
kathrine sibley: 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 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 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. susan swain: well, haley hun asked what was the whole story and why -- on facebook, why florence harding didn't raise her son. kathrine 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.. susan swain: not the scandal of being -- there was more that she didn't have the money. kathrine 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. david pietrusza: she just doesn't seem that maternal. kathrine sibley: i would disagree with that. david 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? 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 -- kathrine sibley: but she was a much younger woman. david 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. david pietrusza: but there could have been more sympathy generated for her because her life is so 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. david pietrusza: 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. 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. kathrine sibley: i think you're absolutely right. susan swain: first off with phone calls as bill 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 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. susan 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? kathrine 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. she listens closely to many who come to the white house and the vote itself is a moment of real triumph to her. himtraveled 20,000 miles to . 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 wanting to cultivate that very much. david pietrusza: they break the vote down by sex officially in illinois -- kathrine sibley: yes. david 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. david pietrusza: 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. and he's a hell of a lot looking -- better looking than james cox. susan 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? kathrine 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 and other kinds of interest. kathrine sibley: 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. kathrine sibley: 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. david 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. kathrine sibley: that's amazing. i didn't know that. susan swain: where is madame marcia when you want to know your future today? 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? kathrine 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. kathrine sibley: 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. kathrine sibley: but i actually have found in reading her papers and looking 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. susan 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." david 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. 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. david pietrusza: 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 distinguished fellow, professor, graduate of amherst, went to all sorts of colleges, ran the dc school district at one time. kathrine sibley: a historian even. david 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. david pietrusza: there are handbills, a quarter million copies of this handbill alleging harding as black is seized in san francisco all across the
country. david pietrusza: now, how do they get there? it's not from this -- it's not the lone crackpot, ok, he's got help. 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. david pietrusza: 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. susan 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. susan swain: sherry hall: now, this key is a very special key. 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. 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. sherry hall: 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. sherry hall: 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. 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. sherry hall: 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. sherry hall: 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. susan swain: i want to take a call from david 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 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 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. david 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 --with the administration and the lust and quest for oil.
susan swain: thanks so much, david . david? david pietrusza: i've seen a couple of versions of that story. 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. david pietrusza: 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. david pietrusza: 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 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. david pietrusza: 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. kathrine sibley: yes, but it isn't clear that harding knew, i think, fall was doing anything wrong. david pietrusza: oh, no.
no, i don't think he did at all. kathrine sibley: and i think the book that the caller is calling about does suggest, i believe, that the hardings were somehow aware of it. and i don't think there's any credible evidence. david 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. kathrine 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. david pietrusza: forbes, he's with the veteran's affairs. susan 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. kathrine sibley: yes. susan 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? kathrine 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 of savvy and organizing skill was very useful later. susan swain: but she liked reporters. kathrine 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. kathrine sibley: 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. kathrine sibley: 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. susan swain: it's a good time to also before we leave the subject talked about how they brought hollywood into the campaign. kathrine 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. susan 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?" david pietrusza: in the election? well, certainly, the big -- well, it's always the economy 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. susan swain: oh, women as well? david 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. kathrine 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. susan swain: what we also should mention prohibition which was brought into the constitution because of the women's temperance movement. kathrine sibley: yes, exactly. susan swain: so, what was the feeling of the country about prohibition by the time the hardings came.
was it popular? david 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. david pietrusza: but it is the women and it is 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. david pietrusza: 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. susan swain: dave in oceanside, california. hi. what's your question? 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? kathrine 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. kathrine sibley: 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. kathrine sibley: 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. kathrine sibley: i think later we might see a 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. kathrine sibley: 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. susan swain: lots and lots of money. david 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. david pietrusza: and it was, i believe, sawyer who brought the rumors to warren 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. kathrine sibley: yes, but i think when florence found out -- david pietrusza: and even in terms of money. kathrine 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. but yes -- david pietrusza: yes, he sent them out of the country. kathrine sibley: yes, absolutely. susan swain:kathrine sibley, while you were talking about the veterans we saw some film clips of the veterans in wheelchairs at the white house being accepted.
garry robinsons says some credit florence with creating the photo op to support causes. was she in fact responsible for the photo op? kathrine sibley: well, it's very interesting. she was certainly the first 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. susan swain: now, we think about presidents with and first ladies with dogs and the dogs become part of the personality of the white house. 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. david 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. david pietrusza: 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. kathrine sibley: right, right, that's a good point. david 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 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. kathrine sibley: it was. david 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? david pietrusza: 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. 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. kathrine 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. david pietrusza: and a great rider. kathrine sibley: yes. david pietrusza: she was a great horse rider. kathrine 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.
david pietrusza: harding is a horseman too and they both love animals and they hate any cruelty to them. susan 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 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? kathrine 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. kathrine sibley: 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. david pietrusza: yes, there's a story about those sheep that she is walking by the white house