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tv   First Lady Florence Harding  CSPAN  August 23, 2017 9:35am-10:47am EDT

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the fight for freedom. interestingly he admired church hill and wrote really he was the only conservative he admired. >> sunday night on q and a. now a conversation on first lady forrens harding and the influence she had advocating for veterans assistance and animal rights. we'll hear from cakatherine sinally. behind the tragedy and controversy, the center for presidential history at southern methodist hosted this event.
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near philadelphia of pennsylvania. she teaches womens history, american diplomat ir history, world history and african american history. she published in six books a companion to first ladies. her monographs include red spies in america, loans in legitimacy and a book on the subject of tonight's presentation which is for sale right outside. first lady florence harding behind the tragedy and controversy. she received her phd, her commentary appeared recently to
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name a few. in time the guard ran, u.s.a. today and the new yorker for the new york post. and here is something you don't hear every day. in 2011 she got to appear as harding in a play which she wrote at the ohio state marion campus. we are so enthused we are welcoming her back for next march as the primary organizer of a full day conference we'll be having on southern first ladies. that's for next year. let's learn about a northern first lady. please join me. let's welcome her.
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>> i am so happy to hear so many of you wondering about florence harding. you're wondering why is she up there? i know you think she broke the mold, right? we all know she broke the mold. let me give you another example of her just to confirm. there she is. she broke the mold, yes. who made the cracks in that mold? who did it? the subject of our talk to be the, florence harding. she created a model for other first ladies to follow, a way they could carve out their own influence in american culture and american politics in a way that eleanor and others were really probably more active and others probably wouldn't go quite in that direction.
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florence's model was path breaking and something others would follow. she helped pave the way for the activism we have seen growing over the last century since she was empowering. it is almost a century if you think about it. she was well reck can ognized. i don't have to do that, do i? i have a nice little gadget. >> it is international women dais isn't it? here she was, a woman who was a
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very unusual woman. she was a single woman. she was an independent income earner. she worked full time. she was outspoken as women prisoners. she was concerned about animals and their treatment and also someone who was very interested in womens political activism. she took advantage of the celebrity culture of her times. the new interest in that to bring herself to greater prom nan -- prominence. she is remembered as a figure of scorn, how we understand her.
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we can compare her to some of her immediate predecessors. this is edith who was a very private first lady. she guarded her own. she would not shake hands with people. she would hold little bunches of flowers. i don't know if she was worried about germs but she didn't like shaking hang hands. she was kind of the opposite, as you will see. she was someone who made the office more professional she was the first to really use that term. this is one of the rooms she remodelled. she did a lot of interesting additions and renovations. this is something she did here.
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she is followed by a first lady who was a little more like florence. you may not know that she was much of an activist because she got sick shortly after she came into office. she had been someone who had been very concerned about the plight of a number of under privileged people. he was the governor general there. she was someone who really worked to reach out and especially to encourage education for the children there during the time the americans had a colony in the philippines and her husband was the first
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governor general. after that she was pretty much silenced for the next couple of years. her daughter had to cover things. she was an activist. she did recover and we know her for this, right? everyone knows she helped to plant the cherry trees. they are coming out three weeks early they say. she left that lovely legacy for us. she also left other legacies. one was of course her husband. he needed a bath now and again. there wasn't a big enough tub. i think if you'll see this picture you'll see that tub was big enough. this is actually in the philippines on an animal there.
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so i mentioned before about working women. it was mostly factory workers. she had a closer view of the plight of these office workers. very few restrooms. she went out of her way to try to help them. they were only in for one term. there was a contested election. >> when we think of her successor i think you probably even forgot about her. she is the one that we remember. she was the unprecedentedly
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activist. her husband was very ill. ellen wilson who was wilson's long time wife, mother of his children and someone who earned her own money. she could have ban painter. and she was not able to really do that full time. one of the things she did do was she raised money. she sold a few and gave the money away to charity. she was someone who made her own income. now, she also was an activist. these women are very much like florence in their activism, as you'll see. one of the things you'll see, this is an ally in washington. it is a sad depressed part of washington, very under privileged.
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this is where african americans lived. she was concerned. she wanted to change this. she wanted to help them. the government eventually began to put this together and tried to change things. unfortunately ellen died about a year and a half into the presidency of wilson. there was a time to put it into place. it wasn't fully funded. i think when we think about the wilsons we think about the racis racists. she wanted to help african americans. there wasn't a full opportunity to do that. she died of brights disease and her husband did marry quite soon after. he wasn't someone meant to be alone for long. edith. she was someone who clearly had a strong role. he shared everything with her, war secrets that perhaps he shouldn't have.
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she was not an activist. mostly she cared about her husband and wanted to help him. that wasn't so bad. one of the things she did do as a war measure, she planted -- i don't know if she planted sheep but she planted things on the ton white house lawn. this was not very friendly to the people in washington. at that time people are use today going ton white house grounds. they couldn't go if the sheep were there. this was as important as world war i. she was helpful in telling soldiers how to live. this was a time when people were being arrested in the streets of washington for providing birth control information. here, you know, she was helping men stay safe. i guess that was good. now, one of the things she was not sympatheticic about was the
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issue of suffrage. many women believed she supported it. she did not until really towards the end of the administration when it seeped it was going to happen. she thought it was demoralizing. she did not welcome them at all. let me show you one more picture of her. her glory was going to france at the end of the war and being part of this wonderful effort to solve the war with the treaty. as you know, things didn't go quite as people desired later on. when they got home he went around the country trying to sell the message and ended up having a stroke all overthe country. he had medical illnesses before. this one were very debilitating. he went home and she told along with his doctor the rest of his country that he was fine and really running things just as
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before only they had to work through her. what she did was she set a precedent for first laid days which is basically access to her husband. while saying she ran the husband is too strong, she stopped anyone else from running things and stopped him from getting access to people on trying to push soom kind of measure. he wanted all or something with the reeg. he said maybe we could get some through. we this said absolutely not. she kept people away who would upset him and didn't want to tell him how sick he was because it was concerned it might lead him to give up and diechlt i'm belaboring this.
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she didn't seat precedence. so sheer florence. plenty of people to come and have easter egg easter egg roll and all of that. she was someone who had a very serious ailment, nephritis, a kidney ailment. this has to be taken into account to think about what she did, in that she had to transcend this illness. she was rally at deaeally at de in 1922. so she was a young woman, very successful pianist, wanted to go off to conservatory in cincinnati.
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she ended out of spite marrying the boy next door who was a drunk. he left her, and she divorced him. it's not clear that florence and they were ever married in the first place. it's not really clear -- there's no evidence they were ever married. there was a baby, but he was not much of a father. so she divorced him. and as i said, she was an independent woman. she taught piano. she may have met him at a roller skating rink. people say she robbed the cradle because he was five years younger. but really she didn't rob the cradle. he had a newspaper. his newspaper was called the pebble, but he quickly changed the name to a marion star. and florence became very involved in the paper, mostly probably not in journalism, but
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she was more of the circulation manager because the paper wasn't collecting any money at the time. she had these newsboys. in fact, one of them with was norman thomas. he later ran for presidency on the socialist ticket. he complained. apparently she beat the news boys. maybe because she didn't have marshall to beat. but they met and fell in love. it was a lovely story up until she got sick in 1905, and then it wasn't so lovely because he had an affair with carrie phillips. without her, i don't think he would have stayed in marion as a newspaper editor. i don't want to say she made him. that's too strong. she did have the nickname the
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duchess and people take that to mean she was bossy. he ran and was elected as senator. and he probably would have been perfectly happy as senator, but then there were other opportunities. let me depot back for a second. now we're moving into the presidential campaign. florence and warren are living in washington, and warren wanted to continue being a senator. but there was some intrigue back in ohio and it looked like maybe he was going to lose his position. if you're not going to get re-elected senator, run again, run for president. and he did. well, here he was -- well, nancy, why is she up there? well, that's because florence was given a terrible prediction from madam marsha, who was her psychic. and this said that warren was going to die in the white house. and guess what? he did.
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so madam marsha was right. so you would think that didn't that discourage florence? we looked at her diary, and she was very much a believer in astrology. she had some good friends who supported her. i don't know if you recognize this young woman, she was much younger than florence at the time. evelyn walsh mcclean, the hope diamond heiress was only 29. they became very close and vacationed a lot together. but what you probably remember about the campaign if you remember anything, was the porch. they campaigned from their porch. they didn't have to go anywhere. they did do a bit of campaigning away from the porch. but there they were.
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all kinds of people came. all kinds of groups. women, men, african-americans, and even some movie people came. and i want to play just a little bit of a clip of harding, and maybe you can hear from this how he was so appealing at the time. of course he was appealing, but gosh, you can't quite tell here but he was a handsome guy. and he was also running at the time where people were upset at the democrats. the league of nations had failed. people didn't want anymore internationalism. they were turning away from the foreign problems. and he offered this kind of brand of midwestern openness and really sort of once again america first if you like. so let me just play a bit of this. so have to go to the next slide, and i will be able to do it.
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so it's actually warren speaking. i'm just going to play a two minute clip. >> my countrymen, there isn't anything wrong about the league of nations except that humanity is doing this -- fever has landed men irrational. men have wandered far from faith, but the human conviction still marches in the right direction. here in the united states, we feel the reflex. we still think straight and we mean to act straight. we need to hold firm to all that
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that is ours and seek the higher attainme attainment. not agitation but adjustment. >> well, you heard that word normalcy in there. that's his word. i think he created it, and it's sort of a trademark of the harding era. let me go to the next one. there we are. okay, i think -- okay, that's it. well, of course you knew the sheep were coming back. you can't escape. but don't worry. this is the end of the sheep. because when -- they're done. they are done because it's back
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to normalcy now. we don't need sheep on the white house lawn. we want not sheep, but shade. basically the idea was to welcome people back. that's what florence wanted to do, really her calling here. she herself had slipped once in the mud going by the white house and had been shoed away by the policemen there. she really wanted to bring people back into the white house, into the lawn. what they would do for hours and days at a time they would be outside the white house and shake hands with people. can you imagine that today? i don't really know what the point of it was. maybe the point was connect, so she was someone who wanted to reach out to people. one of the things i wanted to emphasize about her is she turned the white house and the position of first lady into kind
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of a vehicle to promote causes. this was always a difficult dance for first ladies. we still expect them a bit to be on the pedestal. or as kind of a queen, you know, the subjects coming to her being loyal. but to go back just a second, you see she was the first first lady to fly in an airplane. she had some spirit. to leave her husband and being an independent woman and being in the business with her husband. after a while, she wanted to get active as well. she wanted to take her position further. and one one of her causes was what you saw in that little montage of pictures from world war i, the veterans coming back, the suffering veterans. and you could imagine why she might be able to feel and
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emphasize with them so strongly. part of it was her own illness. she'd been in the hospital and had her kidneys operated on. she'd been through dire straits medically. now it was interesting because out of this veterans cause came the veterans bureau. this was the first time the united states actually had a bureau, what we would call the v.a. today. there was a scandal around this. it had to do with a man called forbes, who was a close friend of the hardings. and one of the things that happened was he was in charge of these hospitals. and in this hospital in particular there were a number of buildings where there was stores, things like soap, cleaning fluid, nightgowns, people for ill people in the hospital recovering from war.
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and what did he do it? you may know this story. he basically sold it to friends. it was absolutely a scandal. he made a huge amount of money. eventually he was caught and served time. but it was a huge scandal. and florence and warren, the reason they had brought him in -- it was sort of bit of problematic -- he'd been friends of theirs. he'd taken them to hawaii on a junket. he had a position there while harding was a senator. they had fond feelings. they were like, oh great, you can run the veterans bureau. but he was a bad choice. to florence's credit, she saw this right away, and she pushed and eventually harding, too. and this is i think an important thing to mention. because we often think of the harding administration riddled with scandals. teapot having to do with the oil concessions in wyoming and the people around him. he himself was not a scandalous man but he was a trusting man. you can see how that happened
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with forbes. but to his credit, when he caught this, he stopped it and forbes was made to resign. so one of the other things i had mentioned about florence along with her activism and her interest in all these causes was that she was really a master of the photo-op. and this is actually a group of women from the philippines who came here to america with their husbands. their husbands wanted something else, i think, perhaps independence. but what they wanted was suffrage. because even though there was suffrage for women in this country at the time, women in the philippines who lived as american colonized people, did not have suffrage. and i want to give a shout out here to a group who helped give me these pictures.
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i thank them for these lovely pictures they gave me. but what i want you to notice here is just how she -- of course it's not a great picture of florence, sorry. but these women actually became interesting leaders in their country later on. so if you're interested in filipino history, you might want to learn more about that. what i'd like to draw your attention to is how she used this moment in kind of being a figure in the movies. and movies were made about this. movies, pictures. it was a photo-op. and she was really the first lady to take advantage of it. kind of the selling of her husband sometimes too when he was running for president. they distributed buttons and it was the growth of the advertising, the beginnings of a wider profile for hollywood and films. and she took advantage of that. and she loved having people come
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to the white house who were in their own way celebrities, cultural leaders. i think you can recognize that man in the middle. i thought his hair was a little wilder than that, actually. that's kind of a tame day for einstein. there he is. and then another celebrity, less recognizable, that's madam curie who also came to the white house. and i mention these people because i think we often think of the kennedy administration. as a time when there was a lot of glamour and there was camelot. i was just at the museum today. that's a wonderful museum you have in the city on the sixth floor. but the hardings, too, liked to have culture, music, people visiting. this was actually florence's favorite singer/songwriter of her day. carrie jacobs bond. i don't have it with me. ♪ when it comes to tend he end
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perfect day ♪ there was a some glamour in the white house those days that was kind of interesting. one of her other i think significant causes i want to mention was what is today camp cupcake some people call it. this is where martha stewart ended up when she did some bad things with stocks. this is alderson prison. it's actually called federal prison camp alderson technically. when she was first lady she realized there was a real problem. women prisoners did not have a place to go where they could be with other women and safe. so she lobbied for this. now, it did not happen during her time. if you look up camp alderson, you will find eleanor roosevelt's name associated with this. eleanor visited camp alderson, no question, but
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it was actually constructed during the time of the coolidge administration in 1927. but the ideas for it came from florence and people around her. she was also as i mentioned very interesting in animal rights. she had laddy boy there who kept her company as well. but i want to go on and talk a little bit about the some of the difficulties that florence had to face. and i have mentioned about her illness, but i don't know if you know this woman, who i don't know if she's treating those animals well, but i hope she is. this is carrie phillips. she and her husband jim were very close to the hardings. they would vacation together even after the affair started. between carrie and warren, jim was also sickly, the husband of carrie. so what do you think happened? oh, yes, so carrie and warren
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became very attached. and this is a really interesting story because the full revelations of their letters did not appear until 2014. i mean, this is recent, right? why was this? because when they were sort of discovered in the 1960s, the harding memorial administration, which at one point was some very old men in ohio, they said this could be revealed for 50 years. so francis russell writing a history about harding -- not a very good one actually -- called "the shadow of blooming growth." he had to put in i lellipsies. he had to leave out the gushy parts.
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they had an affair. florence did know about it. she threatened to leave. but warren knew he couldn't really survive without her. here she was, someone who had helped him in his rise to political office and activism. he didn't want that to happen. in the end probably the last gasp we heard from carrie was on the eve of the election in 1920. she was blackmailing the candidate and the people around him and apparently the republican party paid her money to go away and she did. she and jim went away. by then the hardings hadn't too much longer to live themselves, unfortunately. then there was a rumor about another women. i don't happy to agree with those allegations. in fact, i didn't even agree about this one. but then something came out only a year or so ago. did you hear about this, the dna tests?
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so the book out the lobby it's been revised or it's going to be revised, because i was wrong. or i should say the dna tests suggest i was wrong. this has been a controversy. this is nan britain. she was 23 at least years younger than harding. she sort of had a crush on him. from what i understood he helped her find a job and that was about it. later now recently, the family, the harding rel tiatives decideo see if there was anything to the story that this girl was actually harding's daughter. you probably heard about this. nan britain wrote a book called the president's daughter and she tried to blackmail the family in the '20s about it. they stopped paying so she did publish the book. there must be something going on or else they wouldn't
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have tried to hush her up. but nobody could prove anything unlike with carrie where there were certainly letters. so i didn't think it was credible, and i sort of down-played it in my book it turns out just last year in 2015, this man is actually harding's grandson apparently. he has the dna. now, my husband is a scientist and he was like unless you see the actual results, how can you be 100% sure. but apparently it's very likely. so there it is. harding apparently had a affair as late as 1919 with a much younger woman. the suffering poor florence had to go through, it's just really appalling. i hope she didn't know about it, but i have no evidence one way or the other. so speaking of suffering, here is florence recovering now from this illness. so i had mentioned to you she had this kidney ailment, which was that initial start of the affair with carrie philips. but when she was in the white house, it hit her in a big way.
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in the white house she was really at deaths door. and i don't know if you can tell here, but look how gaunt she looks. this was like her first appearance. ironically just like with nelly taft, it happened to her on the mayflower in september 1922. they were offered a lovely trip. they were trying to take a break during the summer, and she got very sick. she had to be basically secreted away for a while, but she wasn't. she didn't allow it to be covered up. no one knew nelly taft was as sick as she was. i damckinley's illness wasn't fully known. florence was very open about it.
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she had this illness. people knew. the country played for her. she was very popular. people were very worried about her. you see this thing she's wearing around her neck. she wore that a lot because to have condition the nephritis caused. this man helped her. he actually came to the white house. this was was a french hypnotist, and it was this idea of kind of mind over matter. so florence was convinced she would get better, and you know what, she did. she got better. so they were able to go on this amazing trip, the voyage of understanding to alaska in 1923. but i think you know what's going to happen. perhaps because of exertions like this and other things that warren did while he was out there. he gave a lot of speeches in the blazing sun. he hefted bales of hey in kansas. he did everything. it was a boiling hot summer in
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1923. so nobody thought he was going to die on this trip. they actually thought she was going to die. she was the one who had the fragile health. they actually packed a coffin for her. i don't think she knew. could you imagine? it was in the ship that they took from washington state up to alaska. there was a coffin waiting for her. she survived. he did not. so he died in san francisco on the way back. he died in the palace hotel. and they thought he was getting better. i know you've heard these rumors. she did it. no, she did not do it. please. i shouldn't even mention it. i'm just feeding the rumor mill out there. why am i doing this chemical i'm going to address it right now. she loved him. even with all his flaws, she loved him. she did not want him to die. she trusted his doctors. they were her doctors as well. dr. sawyer who she'd had for
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years, nobody seemed to understand what was wrong. he probably died -- most scholars understand he died of a heart attack. so there it was. and i think this should underline for you how loved he was. of course i was at the kennedy museum today as many of you have been, and the crowds after that shocking death. you can see these crowds are actually in chicago. the train traveled all the way back from san francisco to washington. it took three days, 96 hours. long time. ask she slowed down in front of town so people could look at the casket in the train. it was very moving. people were there night and day they were there at 2:00 in the morning. they were very moved by this. the funeral in washington was an enormous ordeal. there was obviously viewing at the rotunda, many people. she had another funeral back in ohio as well. in the end she and he were buried in this ridiculously
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giant mausoleum that was paid for by really private donations from lots of folks who gave little bits of money. however, the legacy of the hardings, right, is not such a great one, as we know. we have scandals. although never found guilty of wrong practices there. prohibition obviously was begging for some kind of correction. there was the head of the justice department charged but never officially found guilty of kick backs. prohibition was begging for some kind of corruption. there were suicides and various things happened around them. so there were issues with harry. but they were close friends. he was loyal. but i want you to see that florence was very, very popular. popular first lady.
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people loved her. she would reach out to journalists and invite them to come to the white house and see how things were laid out before events so they could write about it in their coverage. she was a friend to the media and a friend to people. people loved her in a lot of ways. i will say in her personal life with her son she had with her first husband, i did not find her to be as kind as i would have liked. i don't think she ever had them to the white house. that was rather unusual. she would send clothes and things to them, but it always seemed a little bit surprising that she would send them calico and things like that, not the fancy gowns she wore. i don't know quite why she wasn't more embracing. she sent them money, but she could have done a lot more. she was a wealthy woman as it turned out.
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one thing she did do, though, is be open about her illness. i want to mention this is not the typical practice, as we know. we really didn't hear much about kennedy's illness. another way that she was unusual and set a standard for others after was the campaigning with her husband. and here is laura bush with her husband later. so these are things florence did. so here she is. and what i want to just mention then is what she did was she kind of had to walk that fine line. so first ladies like hillary clinton who spoke out in front of congress were seen as too out going, taking too much of a role. remember how she had to defend herself about having teas and this kind of thing. others like eisenhower kind of fit another caricature of a very passive first lady who does very little. florence was trying to bridge those gaps and do more without offending.
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it was a fine line. now, her successor, grace coolidge. lou hoover was like florence interested in activism but was limited by the times. i'm going to get to eleanor because i promised you i would. florence has made the cracks and now we have the woman who broke the mold.
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once of the things florence was concerned about was making sure women and women's opportunities and you probably know she made sure women had access to her as a journalist. so she only would talk to women journalists to make sure they had opportunities. and the other thing that she also like florence was very interested in veterans. and you nay know that it's an amazing story during world war ii she traveled thousands of miles and met hundreds of thousands. i don't know if she touched hundreds of thousands. she met in large groups of soldiers. she went to australia. she went to new zealand. she broke parts of her ears in the traveling in planes. she was someone who like florence, but going much further because it was world war ii and she had more of an opportunity, was very very active in reaching out to those who were suffering in the war. now of course like florence too she had to deal with yes problems like this.
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this is missy lehand who was very close to franklin. she had her own friends. now, onto the next couple of quick examples of successors of florence and who were more traditional first ladies. like bess truman who believed the best thing for a woman to do is make sure she sits up straight and strays quiet and her hat is on straight. not florence. now i mentioned mamie. she was concerned about heart disease because her husband had it. anyone here have a pink bathroom? you can thank mamie for that. she had an impact in style in the '50s. speaking of style, so jackie -- after i speak about jackie, i'm
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going to speak about a few more first ladies that kind of followed in the mold of florence. there is robert frost, there's pearl burke, they came to the white house. it was camelot. there was igor stravinski and his wife. so just like florence, maybe not maybe maybe beyond florence. they had cultural icons to the white house. there were models early on. and of course jackie was very interested in the history of the white house. this is very striking. she helped to remodel it in the way that many first ladies have done before and since and she went even beyond that. she was very concerned about the historical integrity. now i'll conclude my remarks and look forward to hearing yours. with just about maybe five or so first ladies many of them interestingly southerners. and as doctor frankly mentioned before we'll be talking more
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about southern first ladies in a year. i hope you can come back for that. this is lady bird johnson. and a few others who i think made an impact in a way similar to florence. kind of show the trajectory of her influence over the rest of the 20th century. you often think of lady bird we use the term highway beautification. she hated that term. she preferred to be called a conservationist. she really was a harbinger of the environmental movement in so many ways. but even more striking perhaps on the political front, she was the first first lady to go on a solo campaign tour. she went into the deep south on behalf of her husband right after the civil rights bills had been passed. this was something that was very unpopular. she probably helped him in much of the south in a way that would have been impossible without this effort. now i want to mention another activist first lady betty ford. one who set a similar legacy. she spoke about her illnesses. breast cancer and later of
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course she had drug addiction. she was very open about them and helped others. very interesting first lady. of course roslyn carter, also a very great activist. her concern was mental health in part because there were some family i guess stories. she was someone who actually saw bill through unlike we heard about nelly taft and wilson. there was a mental health bill and it passed in 1980. the next administration undid it. that was kind of unfortunate for her legacy there. she was a very well traveled first lady. she was really a diplomat. you'll hear about that next year. but now also she was a great consultant to her husband during tough times of his administration. the next activist first lady hillary clinton. who i count as a southerner. she did live down here for a while. she was an activist and on many
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causes probably went further. she spoke in front of the congress on behalf of healthcare. and a number of other causes. she was involved in issues addressing adoption and other aspects. of course she later had to deal with her own kinds of struggles like florence did. except much more publicly. people give her credit for helping him avoid if not impeachment but at least being removed from office because of the way she confronted this issue and spoke about it. laura bush, a very different first lady. a first lady that people think of rather quiet and traditional. she was not. she was the first since pat nixon, she was the first to go behind a battle line in afghanistan. she embraced traditional first lady causes. such as libraries and literacy efforts that she had long been concerned about. she went beyond that. she spoke on behalf of republican candidates, and she also was interviewed many times. those are things florence did not do.
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what i suggest is what we consider a traditional first lady today is doing what activist first ladies wouldn't have considered doing. we see a trajectory in the first lady and the role they have had in their influence on their husbands and the way they expand what their husbands can do. i think one of the and again the idea of campaigning together being very visible with each other. now of course using the social media and the other kinds of popular culture today, go very naturally with being a first lady. michelle obama was in many magazines you probably know. vote -- vogue et cetera. also campaigning and taking on that role of just like florence, bringing people into the white house on the white house lawn, working on causes, helping young people be healthier. these kinds of thing she was concerned about. as well as like florence, concerned about the military
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families. it was something she and jill biden and also laura bush worked on jointly. and of course she took herself abroad in a way that florence harding probably didn't get the chance to do. now what about the current first lady? she's not in the white house yet. we don't know what she will did. whether she'll be an activist or not it remains to be seen. she may be spending more time perhaps with her family or her businesses. we will see what happens there. to be determined. i think to conclude florence harding has left a legacy for first ladies. even if the current first lady may not necessarily be following that mode of activism and out spokenness, we'll see a return to that in whatever comes next. that pattern has really been set up and it is something that we now kind of expect and it's really a great augmentation. whether it's a wife or husband in the role. we'll see what happens in the future. thank you so much for your attention.
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[ applause ] >> thank you so much. we would love to open it up. i'm going to let dr. sibly run her own q & a here. there will be two microphones being passed around. wait for the microphone so we can all see you. and c-span can hear you as well. so i'll let dr. sibley call on you. and we'll bring you a microphone. >> okay, this gentleman here, yes. i'll get to you all. plenty of time. >> you start things early here in texas. so we have lots of time. it's good. >> do we have her voice on tape? >> you know, that's a good question. i had a recording of her moving around with those filipino
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women, but there was no recording of her voice. i think there must be. it's a really good question. it would be wonderful to hear. i don't know. i never encountered that when doing my research. but thank you for asking. hand that down to her. >> of the first ladies you researched, who surprised you the most? who delighted you the most and who did you admire the most? >> i was most surprised by florence, because i thought she was kind of a joke. when i first found out when i first saw a sort of display of books on first ladies before i had written the book. i notice that was the university of kansas which eventually published my book. i said i noticed you don't have one on florence. later they asked me to write it. i said what can i say. i discovered so many interesting things to say. she did surprise me. i had bought the idea she was really kind of a joke.
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the duchess. i didn't even get a chance. i didn't want to read notes too much. i had some little anecdotes of what people said about his or her, shrewish, brittle like an autumn leaf, sexless. people said horrible things. it was really interesting to see. that was francis russell who wrote the book i eluded to earlier in 1968 called the shadow of blooming growth, very racist title. he is eluding to the allegations that warren was black. which was interesting because warren said maybe i am. who knows. but i think the dna of this no, he probably wasn't. but yes she was my surprise. now the next was who delighted me the most. i think it was grace coolidge. she was a lovely person. she was so sweet. she was really an asset to her husband. yet she was treated badly by him.
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he was not a nice man. he was a controlling man. and she would have been i think an even more influential first lady if she had been unleashed a bit. who do i admire the most. of course roosevelt. she's amazing. she really had her heart in the right place on so many causes. she was so ahead of her time. i wish i had more time to talk about her. she spoke out about racial discrimination. she spoke out for women. she spoke out on so many causes and she was tireless. that was one of the reasons her husband tried to find a break with missy lehand and others. she just never stopped with her activism. and it was just a little much maybe to deal with that. yes. i think someone to really admire. >> tieing up on your point of view that he was kind of liked and you showed the picture of crowds and train. i always wonder at those times there were not that much to do. people went out because that was
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the only thing exciting. so, how can you judge how much he was loved in any situation plus the just onlookers of the historical point? >> that's a very good question. because we think about it, there were a number of these kinds of sort of memorial trains. there was robert kennedy 1968, really really very sad. and of course john f. kennedy. >> everybody loved that one. >> yeah, yeah. so i tend to think, though, that they mean something. because when i read about, i really got kind of interested in that whole death story. because it was amazing, people were out there any time of day. some of them at 2:00 in the morning. but they were also singing. almost like the country was taken over by the very almost sentimental -- almost romantic and very sweet and bittersweet kind of sadness. so i this think he really was
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loved. when you read about him, he was a very endearing man. at the time floorrence was ill, there was a doctor who came to the white house to stay for a long period to help him through her illness. and warren just was so kind to this man. and when i read the notes about it some of the diaries. this is someone you would just want to hug if you met him. she -- he's a really sweet man. and probably should have been more judgy about his friends. it might have been good for him and the country. i think he was actually very popular. and maybe you might say was there a lot of substance. but there was. one of the things he did was pardoned eugene debs, who had been put in prison by wilson as a war protester against world war i. harding thought this was ridiculous, you know, let's let this man out. you're right crowds don't necessarily predict anything for sure. they are suggestive in this case for something. thank you, good question. yes, please?
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>> it appears that florence was treated by conventional physicians, but i have read that president harding was treated by a homeopathic physician and that may have contributed to his death. >> charles sawyer was his physician. i think there were some things that were done that probably were we might not consider to be the most effective. but i really trace it to the fact that i don't know if anyone read the wonderful book about uh influenza a couple of years ago. and medicine really was the withered arm of science. this isn't much after that. so i think that those people who were treating him i think they like sawyer -- boone i think was a little more professional. he seemed to pick things up. he was younger and more recently
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educated. for instance there was a moment when harding was doing pretty badly and boon really diagnosed it better than sawer. so that was probably part of it. but i don't think anyone meant any malfeasance. i don't think anyone was trying to hurt him or do anything quackish. i think it was partly just because there was a limited knowledge at the time. and really when you think about what happened, for instance this is earlier in 1881. how garfield was treated after he was assassinated. it was ridiculous. he shouldn't have died. but they basically poisoned him the way they tried to pull the bullet out. horrible story. that was what was going on. others may disagree. these are the stories that continue to be debated. yes? >> first of all thank you very much. this has been an interesting. i'm looking forward to next year. >> good, good. so glad. >> i had a question about your source material. were the letters that were written by president harding to carrie phillips --
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>> very steamy, i warn you. >> but did you read those and did you incorporate the information from those letters in your book? >> i was able to do so. even though my book came out in 2009, the letters were on file. when francis russell wrote his book, he wasn't able to quote from them, but he sent them do you have this very nice facility, the american heritage center out in wyoming. i was able to use them. they were there. i was able to get them to use. i did put some in. i really this was a documented love affair. i really wanted to include it. one of the people who read my book the manuscript says you shouldn't include it. how could you not include it? it's important. that one i completely agreed with. that clearly happened. there were letters. i have to admit the other one i should have been more open to. there's just been so much scandal mongering, that i was a little bit knee jerk about just another scandal.
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but with this dna test, it raised some interesting issues about warren g. harding and his life and the legacy for poor florence. but yeah the letters are interesting to read. they are funny. he really was actually quite -- it's quite purple prose. it's over the top. he was smitten. he was submiten -- there was a time when her sympathies were expressed in her letters and there was concern that this could lead somewhere and get him in trouble. he had to tell her to tone it down a bit. they did continue this relationship all throughout, even though it was sporadic once he's in washington and she's still back in ohio or in germany. but yeah, it's an interesting romance. it's an interesting romance. you can read about it more if you'd like to. the book is very good on that. someone in the back.
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>> you said the grandson -- it was proven that he had a son. >> yes. >> by dna. >> what did they compare it to? >> well, he had daughter. her name was elizabeth ann and that young man was her son. his name is blessing. maybe it's blasing. what happened was the -- i think it was the great nephew of harding contacted this family and said why don't we do a test to see if we're related. it's interesting they waited this long but maybe the technology hasn't been around that long either. and confirmed within a 99% at least what was said by this was a 99% likelihood they were second cousins. this nephew and this man. mr. blessing.
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make of that what you will. it's striking isn't it. and the reason i didn't believe it was not only because of all the scandals and the piling on, but it was also because florence could have a child and she did. she had a son, marshall, the one who was the son of that pete dewolf. but they never had any children together. they never had children together. i just assume that probably there was something with him. you can't just assume, can you? maybe it was her. maybe she didn't want anyone children because of her kidney ailment. it's interesting. it's been a learning curve for me to kind of address all these permutations of history that could happen. question over -- over there. great. >> could you tell us what happened to florence after he died? >> yes. i was going to tell you that.
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it's a really interesting story. she originally was going to stay in washington and write her memoir and had an apartment in the willard hotel. she was living on her own. she wasn't getting out much. people were writing to her saying get the car, go out. she was in the house. she had a close friend with her helping her and they were going to put together a history of the campaign. there are a number of people who wanted to write this actually. beyond her. but she kind of put them off and that was a mistake really because if more people had written about it at the time, they might have been able to turn the way history has looked at the hardings. instead she was going to do it. and of course she didn't. because what happened is she got sick again. and probably should have stayed in washington and just kind of rode it out. but charles sawer was back in marion and he had a sanitarium there and she said you have to come paback, i'll take care of you. it seems when she got back there she gave up her desire to really get better. she wasn't reading anymore. i guess and wasn't fighting like
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she fought when she was in the white house. it's really sad. she died within a year and a half. november of 1924. of her kidney ailment. she was 65. she had just ridden through that two years earlier. so it's surprising she couldn't again. and her friends kind of felt like that, that she had given up. it was too bad. i think she could have written an interesting book and could have continued to be an activist in some way. although to be honest she wasn't really that outspoken when she was living there. so it's not clear how much she would have done. i think part of it was, there was a lot going on in washington at the time. there was were investigations into the teapot dome, of course, and they were continuing. and she burned some of the letters. she didn't burn all of the letters. otherwise i couldn't have written a book. she did burn a chunk of them at evelyn's house, her mansion
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called friendship. more were burned in marion. i think she wasn't so out spoken at the time is she was saddened. i have seen in the letters she was saddened by the way her husband's reputation was being heard. so i don't know how much more she would have done. but it's really too bad that she expired so quickly. thanks for asking about that. other questions? yes? >> hypothetical. if you could have interviewed her for your book, what would have been the burning question and then off the record just between you and her what question might you have asked? >> thank you. that's a wonderful question. i think i would have asked her about her relationship with her son, who by the way, died relatively young of alcoholism too kind of like his father. he had tuberculosis too.
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also with him and her daughter-in-law. and why she wasn't closer to them. i think there was a sense at that time that this was she didn't want to really talk about that relationship. she didn't want to be public. with her first husband and it's really too bad. i think that was a sadness that she was dealing with. i would have liked to asked her about that. and liked to ask about her relationship with evelyn. later evelyn wrote a rather scathing, nasty book, called "daddy struck it rich" in the '30s. she spoke about florence and trips they took together in a really despicable way. about how her husband was having an affair under her nose. evelyn was affected that the time by some addictions to, i think, morphine. anyway i'm not sure i find her very credible. i would like to find out about
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that friendship and was there something that turned. they did not see much of each other after the trip to alaska. of course after the trip to alaska florence stopped being first lady because her husband died. but i don't know what happened there. they seemed so close and it was an interesting relationship. it brought a lot of joy to florence for some time. i want to know about the personal. >> if you want to know more the book is for sale outside. i believe dr. sibley would be willing to sign and answer more questions afterward. let's thank her again for being with us. [ applause ]. >> thank you. wonderful audience. >> thank you all. hope to see you at events coming up in april. have a good night. >> we'll get an update on
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the history of salem and how the witch trials continued to impact the town today. the un has warned of a possible humanitarian crisis in the democratic republic of the congo. because of fighting between the government and rebel groups. which have asked for elections by the end of the year. this morning the tom hasn'tos human rights commission will host a discussion on the political and human rights situation in the drc. live coverage begins at eleven a.m. eastern on c-span. you can follow both of events at or listen on the free radio app. >> tonight at 8:00, former presidents george w. bush and bill clinton on leadership. >> i always thought i'd have a better life. i could help somebody else have a better life too. and i liked it. i got lucky.
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all these people who tell you they were born in a log cabin they built themselves were full of bull. >> friday, a profile interview with agriculture secretary sonny purdue. >> my political history was -- i tell people when i was born in 1946 in perry, georgia, they stamp democrat on your birth certificate. i made a decision, i call it truth in advertising in 1998 to change parties and became a republican at that point in time. >> followed by a conversation with jeff moss. >> there were no jobs in information security for any of us. only people doing security were people in the military or maybe banks. this is really a hobby. as the internet grew and there were jobs and people were putting things online and there was money at risk, all of a sudden hackers started getting jobs doing security.
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>> watch on c-span and listen use the free c-span radio app. now a conversation on women's voting rights following the ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920. the discussion includes some of the challenges african-american and native american women faced. >> our speaker tonight is robert muncy. >> at the time she said that she was doing research on what happened after women got the vote. and i thought that sounds like a reallyer


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