Skip to main content

tv   First Lady Florence Harding  CSPAN  August 23, 2017 3:49pm-4:59pm EDT

3:49 pm
putting things online and there's money at risk, all of a sudden hackers started getting jobs doing security. >> watch on c-span and c-span.org and watch and listen using the c-span radio app. now a conversation on first lady florence harding and the influence she had advocating for causes such as veterans assistance and animal rights. we'll hear from historian katherine sibley. her book is "first lady florence harding behind the tragedy and controversy." southern methodist university in dallas hosted this event. >> let me introduce our guest tonight dr. katherine sibley. dr. sibley director of american studies program at st. joseph's university in philadelphia, pennsylvania. she teaches women's history, american diplomatic history, world history and african-american history.
3:50 pm
she has published six books. most recently editing in 2016 a companion to first ladies. blackwell companion to american history. monographs include reds in america, stolen secrets and the dawn of the cold war, loans and legitimacy, the evolution of soviet american revelations and the subject of tonight's presentation which is for sale right outside. first lady florence harding, behind the tragedy and controversy. dr. sibly serves on the editorial board for american communist history and on the historical raisery committee for the united states department of state. she received her ph.d from the university of california santa barbara. her commentary has appeared recently, to name a few, in time, the guardian, usa today and canadian broadcasting company and "the new yorker" or "the new york post," my apologies and here's something you don't hear about historians every single day.
3:51 pm
in 2011 she got to appear as florence harding in a play which she wrote at the ohio state marion campus. we are so enthused by dr. sibly and her book that we are welcoming her back, plug for next year, for next march as a full-day conference we'll be having on southern first ladies, but that's for next year. for tonight, let's learn together about a northern first lady, please join me in welcoming dr. katherine sibly. [ applause ] thank you so much. i am so happy to see you all here to learn about florence harding, why is she up here? because i know that you think, she, eleanor roosevelt, broke the mold, right? we all know she broke the mold.
3:52 pm
let me give you another example of her just to confirm, there she is. she broke the mold, yes, but who made the cracks in the mold, i ask you? who did it? well, the subject of our talk tonight florence harding. so florence harding i will suggest, created a model for other first ladies -- sorry, i'll get used to this for first ladies to carve out culture in a way that eleanor and others really were others wouldn't, and it was path breaking and something others would follow. she helped pave the way for the activism that we have seen growing over the last century since she was empowering and it is almost a century, if you
3:53 pm
think about it. so she was well recognized for her boldness in the nation's affairs. she was, of course, the first first lady to vote for her husband. i don't have to do that. i forgot. i have this nice little gadget. i have a picture for voting -- actually, i don't want. i have a picture of what she thought people were voting and she came into office at a time when first ladies had never voted for their husbands before and she was the first to do so and it was exciting and others were concerned about that. in other areas as we will see tonight she stepped outside the traditional box for women in her time and i do see a number of people wearing red tonight. congratulations. it is international women's day, isn't it? here she was, a woman that for her time was a very unusual woman. she was a single mother and an independent income earner. she worked full time at her husband's newspaper, and she was outspoken as first lady on behalf of veterans, african-americans and women, and
3:54 pm
she was concerned about animals and their treatment and she was also someone who was very interested in women's political activism, and she took advantage of the celebrity culture of her time, the movies, the films and the new interest in that to bring herself to greater prominence. ironically, of course, she's remembered as kind of a tragic -- if not tragic, a laughable figure and a figure of scorn for many of us, how we understand her and this is fun for me because i'll show you there's another side to florence and i hope you will find this intriguing and she's significant because she shows the changes in the first lady since the early 20th century, and the ways that she took over that office and was a transitional first lady for her successors i think is quite striking. we can compare her with her predecessors and this is edith roosevelt who was a very private
3:55 pm
first lady. she guarded her family's privacy and she guarded her own. she would not shake hands with people and she would hold bunches of flowers, and i don't know if she didn't like germs, but she didn't like shaking hands. she was the opposite of florence in that way, as you will see. however, she was the first first lady to have a social secretary. she was someone who, therefore, made the office more professional because she realized the letters were coming in and someone needed help with that, and she also remodeled the white house and she was the first to use that term and this was one of the rooms that she remodelled and she did a lot of interesting additions at the white house and renovations and she's followed by a first lady who was an activist. nelly taft, and nelly taft wasn't much of an activist because she got sick and she was
3:56 pm
someone who had been very concerned about the plight of underprifl emed people back when she was in the philippines with her husband and she was someone that worked out to reach out to the filipinos and to encourage education for the children there during the time the american his a colony in the philippines and her husband was the first governor general. in addition to that, she was concerned about working women in the united states and protested on their behalf and she was the first first lady to arrive with her husband to the inauguration which was a striking departure, as well. unfortunately, she had -- she came down with -- she basically had a may flower and she was silenced for the last couple of years and she wasn't heard from, and she was very sad and she did recover, and we know her for
3:57 pm
this, and everyone knows she had to plant the cherry trees and you better get there soon, three weeks only, i would say. she left a lovely legacy for us and also left other legacies and one was her husband and he needed a bath once and again and you will see the tub is big enough. sorry. i couldn't resist. this was in the philippines, possible owe an animal there. so but one of the things she did do when she recovered along with the flowers that she helped to plant the beautiful cherry blossoms. she was very concerned and she doesn't get credit for this too often and most of the time we associate this with her successor ellen wilson, but it was ellie taft who was concerned about the working conditions with women especially in washington. she was concerned about working women and that was mostly factory workers and at the time she was in washington she had a closer view of the plight of
3:58 pm
these office workers, and dark conditions and very few restrooms and she went out of her way to try to help them. by the time they were only in for one term and there was a contested election and a three-way election in 1912 and so that was the end of taft's career. he was quite relieved and she had egged him on and this was carried on by ellen wilson and she was not able to see it happen, nelly in her time, unfortunately. when we think of her successor, you probably forgot about ellen wilson and went right to edith in your mind because she's the one we remember and she was the unprecedented activist -- activist might want be the best word, usurper was a better word. her husband was ill and she took over for a while and i wanted to tell you about ellen who came before edith. he was longtime wife and first
3:59 pm
confidant and the first first lady to earn her money as a painter. she was a very good painter and she was someone who could have been a professional. in those days, even today women painters are often given less attention than men and she was not able to do that full time and one of the things she did do was she raised money and actually gave the money away to charity and it underlines that she was someone who made her own income. now she also was an activist. these women, nelly and ellen are very much like florence in their activism as you will see, one of the things that she was concerned, this is anally in washington and a sad, depressed part of washington and very underprivileged and this is where african-americans lived in slums. she was concerned and ellen wilson wanted to change this. she wanted to help them and it was called the alley bill and unfortunately ellen died about a
4:00 pm
year and a half into the presidency of wilson and so it was -- there was a time to put it into place and it wasn't fully funded and when we think about the wilsons we think about the southern often racists and especially woodrow, but ellen was not and she was someone who wanted to help african-americans and there wasn't a full opportunity for her to do that because she died of bright's disease and her husband quickly, or want not cso quickly, and he marry edith and there she is. you might think she would have been an activist. she was a strong role and a close confidant of her husband, and he shared everything with her, war secrets and thing he shouldn't have, and she was not an activist and she didn't care about women's causes and mostly she cared about her husband and wanted to help him, and that wasn't so bad. one of the things she did do as a war measure. did you know this?
4:01 pm
i don't want to say she planted sheep, but she planted things for sheep on the white house lawn. they mowed the lawn, munch, much, mumuch munch, munch, and they produced wool. at that time people were used to going on the white house grounds and they couldn't go if the sheep were there and this was important as world war i develops and she was helpful in telling soldiers how to live, but ironically, this is at a time when women were being arrested in the streets of washington, right, for people like margaret sanger for providing birth control information, but here, she was helping men stay safe, and i guess that was good one of the things she was not sympathetic about, women's suffrage and she thought it was appalling and didn't want anything to do about it, many people believed that edith supported it and she did not, and not until the end of the administration when it seemed it was going to happen and she thought they were
4:02 pm
demoralizing to the war cause and they should go away. she did not welcome them at all. oops, sorry. let me show you one more picture. her crowning glory, edith was going to france at the end of the war and being a part of the wonderful effort to solve the war with the treaty of versailles and they didn't go much as people desired because when they got home, he went around the country trying to sell the message and he ended up having a stroke all over the country and he had medical illnesses before and he probably had strokes before and this was debilitating and you probably know the story, he went home and she told his doctor along with the rest of the country that he was fine and running things as before only they had to work through her, and she set a precedent for first ladies which had never been duplicated. while saying she ran the country was too strong, what she did was
4:03 pm
she stopped anyone else from running things and she stopped him from getting access to people in the senate, for instance who needed his advice and wanted his influence that would have brought about the league of nations. he wanted all or nothing with the league and others said we can compromise and get measures through and he said absolutely not and perhaps if he had voices closer to him and he might have moderated, who can say? but she kept people away who might upset him and she didn't want to tell them how sick he was because this could lead him to give up and die. in the end, i'm belaboring the point about her because she did not set a precedent for first ladies and on the other hand, florence and now we're reaching her did. there she is. here's florence harding and plenty of room for everyone to come and have easter egg rolls and all of that. so let me just take and continue
4:04 pm
the activism later or activity on the white house grounds. let me tell you a little bit about her. she was someone who had a very serious ailment. she h she had nephritis that plagued her her adult life. she had to transcend this illness which eventually affected her when she was at death's door in 1922. let us take a little minute and go back and take a look at her history and her time, okay? she was a young woman, very successful pianist and wanted to go off to a conservatory and her father called her home and she ended up out of spite marrying the boy next door who was a fair ne'er-do-well, and it was not that they got married in the first place, they got married awfully young. of course, they did, but it's
4:05 pm
not clear they were ever married. there was a baby, but he was not much of a father so she divorced him and then she had to, as i said, right? she was an independent woman and she had to support herself and she taught piano and that may have been how she met warren because her sister took piano. she also could have met him in the skating rink, that was fun. people said she robbed the cradle because he was five years younger. really she didn't rob the cradle. she had a newspaper, and it was called "the pebble," and he changed the name to "the marion star" and she was involved not so much in journalism, having read her letters, i could say she could write, but she was more of a circulation manager because it wasn't collecting money at the time and she had the news boys and one of them was norman thomas. you ever heard of him?
4:06 pm
he read for the precedence on the socialist ticket and he was horrible. i'm sorry to say. i don't know, maybe because she didn't have marshall to beat. where was her son, she could have taken care of him and left them alone and they fell in love and it was a lovely story up until she got sick in 1905 and then it wasn't so lovely because he had an affair, as you may know with kerry phillips and we'll have more about that later and without her there was no question that he would not have stayed in marion as a newspaper editor she really encouraged his ambitions. i don't want to say she made him and she did have a nickname called the duchess and people called her his boss. the lieutenant governor, and eventually senator and the first time that senators could be elected by popular vote in 1914 he ran and was elected and he
4:07 pm
probably would have been perfectly happy and then there were other opportunities. and florence and warren are living in washington and warren wanteded to continue being a senator, and it looked like he was going to lose his position, and run again, run for president, right? so he did, and here he was, that's because florence was given a terrible prediction from madam marcia who was her psychic just like nancy and this said that warren was going to die in the white house and guess what? he did. so you might have thought didn't that discourage her, and she was very much a believer in
4:08 pm
astrology, but she transcended that and we're still going to do this for the good of the country and we'll have this happen so they did. they ran for the white house and she had some good friendses who supported her, people she'd met when she was a senate wife. i don't know if you recognize this young woman. florence was in her mid-50s and evelyn walsh mclean, the hope diamond heiress, was only 29. they became fast friends and evelyn's husband was a figure in washington, as well. they became very close and vacationed a lot together, but what you probably remember about the campaign, if you don't remember -- if you remember anything was the porch right? the front porch. it sounds so quaint, doesn't it? they didn't have to go anywhere. they did do campaigning away from the porch and they welcomed the crowds there and all kinds of people came and all kinds of groups, women, men, african-americans and even some movie people came, and i want to play you just a little bit of a
4:09 pm
clip of harding and maybe you can hear from this how he was so appealing at this time. i mean, of course, we all know he was appealing because -- gosh, you can't quite tell her, but you know he was a handsome guy and he was drop-dead handsome, of course, and running at a time when people were very upset at the democrats, right? because everyone, the league of nation his failed and people didn't want any more of the internationalism and they were turning away from the foreign problems and he offered this kind of brand of midwestern openness and really once again kind of america first. so let me just play a little bit of this, and i'll just have to go to the next slide and i will be able to do it. i'm just going to play a two-minute clip. >> my countrymen -- humanity is
4:10 pm
in a cataclysmic war. fever has landed men irrational and sometimes there has been barbarity and people have wandered far from faith's path. here in the united states we feel the reflex. [ indiscernible ]
4:11 pm
>> not surgery, but serenity, not the dramatic. >> well, you heard, i think that heard normalcy in there, did you hear hear that? that's his word, right? i think he kind of created it and it's sort of a trademark of the harding era. now, hang on. i think i have to go to the next one. oh, no, that wasn't it. let's just go down. there we are. okay. oh, thank you. that's it. well, of course, you knew the sheep were coming back, didn't you? you can't escape. don't worry, this is the end of the sheep because when they are done. we don't need sheep on the white house lawn. we want, not sheep, but shade. you could do a better job with that, and basically the idea was
4:12 pm
to welcome people back. that's what florence wanted was her calling. she herself had slipped once in the mud and had been shooed away by the policemen so she really wanted to bring people back into the white house, into the lawn and what they would do for hours and days at a time, i mean, day after day, hour after hour they would have a time when they would be outside of the white house and shake hands with people. can you imagine that today, just the president and the first lady out there shaking hands. i don't know what the point of it all was. i guess it was to connect and she thought this was what you were supposed to do and she was someone who wanted to reach out to people and more importantly than that, one of the things i want to emphasize about her is she had the white house and the position of first lady into the vehicle to promote causes and this was a difficult dance for first ladies because we still expect them, i think, a bit to be on the pedestal and sort of like i guess you could say -- why don't you go on to this
4:13 pm
picture as a queen of 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 and you saw with her having to leave her first husband and the ne'er-do-well and working in the business with her husband and later her second husband and she was someone what wasn't going to be there greeting people. after a while, she wanted to take active and take her position further and one of her causes, of course, and i would argue she juggled this very effectively was what you saw in that montage of pictures from world war i and the veterans coming back and they're suffering veterans and you can imagine if you had to feel and empathize so strongly. she'd been in hospitals and she'd had her trials and she could relate to the things they were going through.
4:14 pm
out of this veterans cause came the veterans bureau, right? this was the first time united states had a bureau and what we would call the va to take care of veterans and there was a scandal almost immediately around this. it had to do with a man called forbes who was a close friend of the hardings. his name is charles forbes and you can see him on the left center sitting down and one of the things that happened was he was in charge of these new hospitals and there were stores, things like soap, cleaning fluid, whatever it was, nightgowns and things for the veterans and things for ill people and what did he do with it? he made a huge amount of money and eventually he was caught and served time, but it was a real scandal and florence and warren, the reason they had brought him
4:15 pm
in and it was a little bit problematic. they had been friends of his. he'd taken them to hawaii on a junket and he had a position there while paul harding was a senator and they had fond feelings and they all had a good time together and he was a very bad choice. to florence's credit, she saw this right away and harding, too and this is an important thing to mention because we often think of the harding administration as ridden with scandals and having to do with the oil concessions in wyoming and the people around him and he himself was not a scandalous man, but he was a trusting man and you can see how that happened with forbes because he trusted this man and it happened again with others like albert fall and the interior secretary with the teapot dome. to his credit, when he caught this he stoppeded it and forbes was made to resign. one of the other things i had
4:16 pm
mentioned about florence with her activism and the interest in her causes was he was a master of the photo-op and this was a group of women from the philippines who came here to america with their husbands. their husbands wanted something else, i think, perhaps independence, right? but what they wanted was suffrage. even though there was suffrage for women at the time women in the philippines who lived as american colonized people did not have suffrage, and i want to put a shout out here to the group called the philippines on the potomac who helped give me some of these pictures and they're a group of filipino-americans who want to find a connection between filipinos and washington, d.c, so i thank them for the lovely pictures that they gave me. that's not a great picture of florence and these weem became interesting leaders in their country all day long. if you're interested in filipino
4:17 pm
history, for the purpose of discussing florence and her position as first lady, what i would like to draw your attention to is how she used this moment as being a figure in the movies and movies were made about this, movies and pictures and she was the first lady to take advantage of the celebrity culture that was happening at the time, and the selling of her husband sometimes, too when she ran for selling in a bad way for president and she had distributed buttons and recordings like the one you just heard and it was all part of the time and it was the growth of advertising and the beginnings of a wider profile for hollywood and films and she took full advantage of of that and made herself more prominent as a result. she loved to have people come to the white house who were in their own way, celebrity, cultural leaders and i think you can recognize that man in the middle.
4:18 pm
that was a tame day for einstein. that's madam curry who also came to the white house and i mention these people because i often think of the kennedy administration a time that there was camelot, and you have this on this idea of camelot and the hardings like to have culture and like to have music and like to have people visiting. this was florence's favorite singer, songwriter of her day, harry jacobs bond. perhaps i should play you, i don't have it with me, but when it comes to the end of a perfect day. this was perry and there was some glamour in the white house in those days and it was interesting because i don't think we think about that when we think about florence and one of the other more significant
4:19 pm
causes that i want to mention is what is today in camp cupcake some people call it, this is where martha stewart ended up when she did bad things with stocks. this was alderson prison and it's federal prison camp alderson. when florence harding was first lady she realized there was a problem. women prisoners did not have a place to go where they could be with other women and safe and so she lobbied for this and if you look up camp alderson and eleanor roosevelt broke the mold. eleanor visited camp alderson and it was constructed during the time of the coolidge administration in 1927 and the ideas came from florence and it speaks to her interest as a reformer and someone in the progressive era and interested in women's issues and causes.
4:20 pm
she was also interested in animal rights and she had a deer, laddie boy who kept her company, as well, but i want to go on and talk about 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 is not -- i don't know if she's treating those animals well. i hope she is, but this is carrie phillips. anyone heard of carrie phillips? she and her husband jim were very close to the hardings and they would vacation together and they would vacation together even after the affair started between florence -- i'm sorry, not florence, between carrie and warren. and her husband was away and she was sickly and she had this ailment and what do you think happened? carrie and warren became very attached and it is a very interesting story because the full revelations of their letters did not appear until 2014. i mean, this is recent, right? why was this?
4:21 pm
because when they were sort of discovered in the 1960s, the harding memorial association which at that point was mostly some very old men in marion, ohio, they said this cannot be revealed for 50 years and francis russell at the time writing a history about harding, not a very good one, actually, called the shadow of blooming grove, he had to put in ellipses which meant that he had to leave out the gushy part about thighs and body parts that were kind of spicy. sorry about that. not in the book, but now you can find it. now it's all available in the library of congress and it's open and that was only a couple of years ago, and carrie and warren had an affair and it was a significant one and it was fix ashs to florence and she knew about it and apparently, she offered to leave and threatened to leave, but warren knew that he could aren't really survive without her. here she was someone who had helped him in his rise to political office and activism,
4:22 pm
so he didn't want that to happen. in the end, probably the last gasp we heard from carrie was in the eve of 1920, she was blackmailing the candidate and the republican party paid her money to go away and she did. she and jim went away and that was the end of her trouble for them and by then the hardings hadn't too much longer to live theps, unfortunately, and then there was another rumor about another woman. if you read carl anthony's book, and i don't happen to agree with those allegations. in fact, i didn't even agree about this one and something happened a year or two ago? >> the dna test and the book that's out there in the lobby, it's been revised, okay? or it's going to be revised. i was wrong. i should say the dna test suggests i was wrong and this has been a controversy, right?
4:23 pm
and she had a crush him and he helped her find a job and that was about it. the family, the harding relatives and the nieces and nephews and others decided to see if there was anything to the story that this girl was harding's daughter. you probably heard about this, right? she tried to blackmail the harding family about it is aing if they didn't pay up she was going to publish this book and they stopped paying so she did publish the book and that did look bad and nobody could prove there was anything and there was no record and no letters, and i didn't think it was credible and so i sort of downplayed it in my book and you should always be careful about these things, right? because who knows? just last year in 2015 it, this
4:24 pm
man is harding's grandson, and she has the dna and unless you see the actual results how can we be 100% sure. apparently, it is very likely so there it is and harding had an affair as late as 1919 with a different woman, a much younger woman and the suffers that poor florence had to go through was appalling. that's all i can say. i hope she didn't know about it, but i have no evidence one way or the other. all right. >> speaking of suffering. here is florence recovering now from this illness. so i had mentioned to you that she had this kidney ailment which was the initial start for the affair with carrie phillips. it hit her again in a big way and she had it when they were in washington in 1914 and 1915 and in the white house she was at death's door and look at how gaunt she looks and she also wore and it was her first
4:25 pm
appearance, and just like with nelly taft. it happened to her on the mayflower in september 1922. they were off for a lovely trip. they had a hot summer and it had been a summer of labor strive and they were trying to take a break and she got very sick and she had to be secreted away for a while and she didn't allow it to be covered up. unlike nelly taft, no one knew that she was as sick as she was and ida mckinley, and no one knew how sick she was and we heard how her husband threw a kerchief over her head. john f. kennedy's wasn't fully known, right? but florence was very open about it. the country prayed for her and it was an amazing thing. i think we often think she was unpopular and she was very popular and people were very worried about her. you see this thing around her
4:26 pm
neck because of the condition the nephritis caused and she didn't think it was attractive and this man helped her and he came to the white house and this was a hypnotist and a french hypnotist, and it was mind over matter and she was convinced she would bet better and you know what? she did! she got better and they were able to go on the voyage 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 hay in kansas. he did everything and it was a boiling hot summer that summer of 1923, and then you see what it is and no one thought she was going to die and they packed a coffin for her. i don't think she knew that.
4:27 pm
it was in the ship they took from northern and washington state. she survived, he did not so he died in san francisco on the way back in a lovely place, the palace hotel and a nice place if you will have your final rest and they thought he was getting better and i know you heard these rumors and you'll say she did it. no, she did not do it. i shouldn't mention it and i'm feeding the rumor mill, why am i doing this? i know it needs to be addressed so i'll address it right now. she loved him even with all of his flaws obviously, as we've heard. she loved him. she did not want him to die. she trusted his doctors, as well and dr. sawyer who she had for years, he -- nobody seemed to understand what was wrong. he probably died. most scholars understand he died of a heart attack and this should underline how loved he
4:28 pm
was and i'm struck because i was just at the kennedy museum today like i suppose many of you have been and the crowds and crowds after that shocking death in 1963 right here in dallas, you can see these crowds are actually in chicago and the train traveled all of the way back from san francisco to washington. it took three days. 96 hours, a long time, and she slowed down in front of town so people can look at the casket and it was very moving and people were there night and day and they were there at 2:00 in the morning and very moved by this and the funeral in washington was an enormous ordeal and there was a viewing at the rotunda and there were many, many people and she had another funeral back in ohio as well where in the end she and he were buried together in this ridiculously giant mausoleum that was paid for by private donations by lots of folks who gave little bits of money. however, the legacy of the hardings, right?
4:29 pm
it's not such a great one as we know. we have scandals. we have people like -- oops, sorry. harry dougherty, head of the justice department at the time who was never officially found guilty in the enforcement of prohibition and it was begging for some kind of corruption, how could it not and there were suicides and various things that happened around him that were questionable things that happened and there were some issues, and it would help him become president and he was loyal as she had mentioned before and i want you to see that florence was very, very popular. a popular first lady. people loved her and she would reach out to journalists and invite them to come to the white house and see how things were laid out before the, vent so they could write about it in their coverage and she was a
4:30 pm
friend to the media and she was a friend to people. people loved her in a lot of ways and i will say in her personal life with that sun she had with her first husband who married and had some children. i did not find her to be as kind as i would have liked to have seen. that was rather unusual and she would send clothes and things to them, but it would always seem surprising that she would send them calico and things like that. not the fancy gowns that she wore. i don't know quite why she wasn't more embracing. she sent the money and i don't want to imply that she didn't and she could have done more and she was a wealthy woman with the marian star and she could have done more than she did. one thing she did do was be open about her illness and this was want the typical practice. we didn't hear much about kennedy's illness and another
4:31 pm
way that she was up usual and set a standard for others was the campaigning with her husband and here's laura bush with her husband much, much later and these are the kinds of things that florence did and set an example for others and i had mentioned that i wanted to talk about that a little bit now. so here she is and she kind of had to walk the fine line and first ladies like hillary clinton who spoke out in front of congress were seen as too outgoing and taking too much of a role. remember how she had to defend herself about having teas and this kind of thing and eisenhower fit another caricature of another passive first lady. florence was trying to bridge those gaps and do more and it was a fine line and her successor, grace coolidge was much less visible, partly because her husband didn't allow her to bob her hair or drive a car. he was a rather controlling
4:32 pm
character, calvin and then hoover who came next was like florence, interested in activism and was limited by the times that she lived in and the great difficulties that she and her husband faced in the depression to leave much of an impact, but of course, you know i'm going to get to eleanor because i promised you i would, right? so florence has made the cracks and now we have the woman who broke the mold and i don't want to get through every first lady and here and she was a successor to florence and most ladies would laugh to think of eleanor and florence in the same sentence and si hope you will see that there are important connections between them. so one of the things that florence was very concerned about was making sure -- i'm sorry, eleanor was concerned about was women's opportunities and she made sure that women had access to her as a journalist, as a journalist so she would only talk to women journalists to make sure they had
4:33 pm
opportunities and she also like florence was very interested in veterans and you may know that it's an amazing story and during world war ii she traveled thousands and thousands of miles and met hundreds of thousands and certainly she met in large groups of soldiers and she went to australia and went to new zealand. she broke parts of her ears from traveling in plains and she was someone who like florence went much further and she had more of an opportunity was very, very active in reaching out to those suffering in the war. like florence she had to deal with problems like this. >> this is missy la hand who was very close to franklin and however, she had her own friends and lorena hick ok, on to the quick examples of successors of florence and eleanor who were
4:34 pm
more traditional first lady, right? bez truman who believed that the best thing for a woman to do was make sure she sits up straight, sits quiet and her hat is on straight. this is not florence. again, i mentioned maimy. we may think that maimy is kind of a caricature, but don't say that because she's left a very interesting legacy and she was very concerned about heart disease because her husband had it and one of the things that is most striking about her is does anyone here have a pink bathroom? you can thank her for that. she had style in the 1950s. now, speaking of style. jackie, after i speak about jackie i'll speak about a few more first ladies that followed in the mold of florence. we know, of course, that jackie had this very glamorous time. there is robert frost, right? there's pearl buck. they came to the white house and it was camelot.
4:35 pm
this is igor and his wife and just like florence and maybe not, but they did have cultural icons coming to the white house, right? there were models for this from early on, and of course, jackie was striking and helped to remodel it in the way first ladies have done before and since and she went even beyond that because she was very concerned about the historical integrity, but now i'll just conclude my remarks and look forward to hearing yours with just about five or so first ladies and southerners as dr. franklin mentioned before i will be talking about southern first ladies and i hope you can come back to that, and i'll look at lady bird johnson and a few others who made an impact in a way similar to florence to show the trajectory of the influence over the rest of the 21st century and we use the term
4:36 pm
highway beautification and she hated that term and she preferred to be called a conservationist and 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 and not in an auspicious time and she went in the deep south right after the civil rights bill had been passed and this was something that was very unpopular, but she probably helped him in much of the south that would have been impossible without this effort. i want to mention betty ford and one that set a similar legacy as florence did because she spoke about her illnesses, right? she had breast cancer and later, of course, she had drug addictions and she was very open about them and by doing so help others and it was a very, very interesting first lady and very pathbreaking and rosalynn carter also a great activist on behalf of health issues.
4:37 pm
you probably know her concern was mental health in part because there were family stories and other kinds of things. she was actually someone who saw a bill through unlike earlier with nelly taft and ellie wilson and there was a mental health bill and the next administration undid it and that was unfortunate for her legacy there, but she was a well-traveled first lady and a diplomat and you'll hear about that next year, but now -- alsoa, she was a great consultant to her husband, and the next sort of activist first lady, hillary clinton, i kind of count as a southerner because she did live down here for a while, and i don't know if you agree, or if you are all southerners, who knows? she was an activist on many causes and she spoke in front of congress on behalf of health care in a number of other causes and she was involved with issues addressing adoptions and other aspects, but, of course, she later, right?
4:38 pm
had to deal with her own struggles and people helped her at least being removed from office because of the way she confronted this issue and spoke about it. now laura bush, very different first lady, a first lady that some people think that was quiet and traditional and of course, she was not. she was the first since pat nixon who i didn't have time to talk about. she was the first first lady to go behind the battle line in afghanistan, and she was also someone who embraced what we might consider a traditional first lady causes such as libraries and other literacy, forts that she had long been concerned about, but she went beyond that and spoke on behalf of republican candidates and she was interviewed many times and these were things she did not do and what i'm trying to suggest is what we think, we really see a trajectory in the first laidet and role that first ladies have
4:39 pm
had in their influence on their husbands and the way they expand what their husbands can do. i think one of the -- and again, this idea of campaigning together, right? being very visible there on each other and of course, using the social media and the other kinds of popular culture today go naturally with being a first lady and michelle obama would know vogue, et cetera, but i think interestingly enough also campaigning and taking on that role of just like florence bringing people into the white house on the white house long and helping young people be healthier and these kinds of things that she was concerned about as well as concern about the military families and laura bush all took on together and of course, she took herself abroad in a way that florence harding probably didn't get the chance
4:40 pm
to do. i think what we're seeing is she may be spending more time with her family and businesses and we will see what happens there and to be determined, but i think to conclude, florence harding has left a legacy for first ladies and even if the current first lady may not be following the mode of activism and outspokenness, i think we will see a return to that in whatever comes next because that pattern has been set up and it is something that we now kind of expect and it's a great augmentation whether it's a wife or husband in that role and we will see what happens in the future. thank you so much for your attention. [ applause ] thank you so much. we would love to open it up. i will let dr. sibly run her own
4:41 pm
q and a and there are two mike phones being passed around and please wait for the microphone so we can all hear you and c-span can hear you, as well and we'll have dr. sibly call on you and we'll have someone bring you a microphone. >> okay. this gentleman here. >> yes? don't worry. i'll get to you all. plenty of time. you start things early in texas and we have lots of time. that's good. nobody's tired? good. >> do we have her voice on tape? >> that's a good question, and it didn't quite work. i had a recording of her moving around with those filipino women, but there was no recording of her voice. i think there must be. that's a really good question. i don't know, honestly, i never encountered that when doing my research, but thank you for
4:42 pm
research, but thank you for asking. yeah. great. yes? could you hand that down to her? of the first ladies you researched who surprised you the most? who delighted you the most and who have you admired the most? >> okay. of course, i was -- i guess i was -- well, most surprised by florence because i thought she was kind of of a joke. when i first saw a display of books on first ladies before i had written a book, i noticed that that was the university of kansas who published my book and you don't have one on florence and they laughed and later they asked me to write it, and i thought oh, my gosh what can i say about her? then i discovered there were so many interesting things to say and i had bought the idea that she was a joke and the duchess and the shrewish woman and i didn't get a chance and read my notes too much, and i had anecdotes of what people said about her. shrewish, brittle, an autumn leaf and sexless and people said horrible things about florence
4:43 pm
and just appalling things and it was interesting to see and that was francis russell who wrote this book i alluded to earlier called "the shadow of blooming grove" because he was alluding to the allegations that warren was black which was black because warren said maybe i am, you know? who knows? i think the dna of this grandson demonstrates that no, he probably wasn't, but who knows? yes, she was my surprise. the next one, who delighted me the most? i think it was grace coolidge because i just feel so bad for her. she was a lovely person and so sweet and she was an asset to her husband and yet she was treated badly by him. he was not a very nice man and people joke and he leaned on i a pickle and he was a controlling man and she had been an influential lady and who do i admire the post and of course,
4:44 pm
eleanor roosevelt, how could you not? she was amazing and she was so ahead of her time. i wish i had more time to talk about her. she spoke out on racial discrimination and spoke out on women and spoke out on so many causes and she was tireless and that wasn't one of the reasons her husband tried to find a break and she never stopped her activism and it was a little much to deal with that and it was someone to admire. there was a question here. yes? >> on your point of view that she was kind of like, and you show theed t show the tpicture. at that time there was not that much to do and people went out because there was nothing exciting and how much can you judge how much she was judged in any situation plus than just the onlookers of the historical point. >> excuse me. that's a very good question.
4:45 pm
because you think about it and there were these kinds of memorial trains and there was robert kennedy, 1968, very, very sad -- >> everybody loved that one. so, i tend to think they mean something. i really got kind of interested in that whole death story and some of them were at 2:00 in the morning and it was almost like the country was taken over by this very sentimental -- that's the wrong word and a bittersweet sadness about his passing and so i think he really was loved. when you read about him, he was an endearing man, was there a dr. boone that came to stay during her illness and warren
4:46 pm
was so kind to this man and when i read some of the notes about it and this is someone you want to hug and yes, he should have been more judgy about his friends and i think he was actually very popular and maybe, you might say was there a lot of substance to him? he pardoned eugene debs who had been put in prison by wilson as a protester against world war i and harding had the sense that this is ridiculous. so you're right, crowd don't predict anything for sure and they're suggestive in this case for something, but thank you. that's a good question. >> yes, please. do you need a microphone? he's going to hand you one if you want one. >> it appears that florence was treated by physicians, and i had read that president harding was treated by a homeopathic
4:47 pm
position, and that may have contributed to a misdiagnosis of his death. could you comment on that? >> charles sawyer was his physician and yes, i think there was some of that. i think there were things that were done that we might consider to not be the most effective and i don't know if people read the book that came out about influenza and the refrain was influenza. it was only influenza when all those people were dying in 1918 and medicine really was the withered arm of science and i think, you know, this isn't much after that, and so i think that those people who were treating him, i think they like sawyer, boon was a little more professional and he picked things up and he was younger and had been more recently educated and for instance, was there a moment when harding was doing pretty badly and boone had diagnosed it much better than sawyer did, and that was better part of it and i don't think anyone meant malfeasance and i
4:48 pm
don't know if anyone was trying to do anything quackish and there was a limited knowledge at the time and when you think about what happened, and this is earlier in 1881 and how garfield was treated after he was assassinated and it was ridiculous, he shouldn't have died after they tried to bupull the bullet, it was a horrible story, and these are the things that continue to be debated. yes, please. >> first of all, thank you very much. this has been very interesting and i'm looking forward to next year. >> oh, good. good. so glad. >> i have a question about your source material. >> yes? were the letters that were written by president harding. >> they're steamy, but did you read those and did you incorporate information from those letters in your book? >> i was able to do so because even though my book came out in
4:49 pm
2009, the letters were on file when francis russell wrote his book and it was right after they'd been discovered and he'd sent them off to a very nice facility and you may have heard of it and it's called the american heritage center and out in wyoming and i was able to use them, they were there and i did put some in. this was a documented love affair and one of the people when read my book said you should include it and how could you not include it and that one, i completely agreed with and they were letters and the other one i should have been more open to, but there had been so much scandal mongering and it was knee-jerk and just another scandal and with the test they raised interesting issues about warren g. harding and about his life and the legacy for poor florence dealing with it. >> the letters were interesting to read and they're funny. >> it's quite purple prose if
4:50 pm
you can imagine. he was smitten with carrie and there was no other way to look at it and it was quite interesting and james has written a book about this and she herself is smitten smitten with germany and remember this gets into the period when the u.s. was at war with the germany. 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. so you can read about it more. the book is very good on that. yes, please. someone in the back. >> you said the grandson -- it was proven that he had a son. >> yes. >> by dna. >> what did they compare it to?
4:51 pm
>> 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 ancestry.com. this was a 99% likelihood they were second cousins. this nephew and this man. mr. blessing. 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
4:52 pm
who was the son of that pete dewolf. but they never had any children together. and so i just assumed 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. and you have to kind of be open to them, right? question over -- over there. great. >> could you tell us what happened to florence after he died? >> yes. i was going to tell you that. 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.
4:53 pm
do some things. 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 said you have to come back, 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 she fought when she was in the white house. it's really sad. she died within a year and a half. she died in 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
4:54 pm
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, maybe in washington. 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 called friendship. there was a nice fireplace there. more were burned in marion. i think she wasn't so outspoken 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.
4:55 pm
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. i would have asked about her relationship with him and also with 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.
4:56 pm
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. i mean, she talked about about how her husband was having an affair under her nose. evelyn was affected that the time by some addictions to, i think, morphine. no, that was another century. anyway i'm not sure i find her very credible. in fact, i do not find her credible. i would like to find out about 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.
4:57 pm
i want to know about the personal. that would be what i would be interested in, yeah. >> 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. every month book tv features an in-depth conversation with a nonfiction author about their writing career. join us on september 3rd. his latest book is "if you can keep it." his other books include "amazing grace." october 1st, author and new york times columnist will discuss her
4:58 pm
books "bush world," and michael lewis will talk about his books including the latest. he has also written "the big short" and "the new new thing." join us at noon eastern on book tv on c-span 2. now a conversation on women's voting rights following ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920. the discussion includes some of the challenges african-american and native american women faced. smithsonian associates hosted this event. >> our speaker tonight is robert muncy. she's also a professor of history. i think several of you

37 Views

info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on