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Florence "Flossie" Mabel Kling Harding (previously DeWolfe;
August 15, 1860 – November 21, 1924), wife of Warren
G. Harding, wasFirst
Lady of the United States from
1921 to 1923.
Born in Marion, Ohio, the daughter of Amos Kling, a prominent Marion banker,
and Louisa Bouton-Kling, "Flossie" was a headstrong, dowdy woman, somewhat
masculine in manner, with a piercing voice and blue eyes.
Pregnant at age 19, Florence eloped with Henry "Pete" Athenton DeWolfe, her
childhood friend and neighbor, in 1880. To date, scholastic researchers have
been unable to locate official documentation or a legal marriage license for
the couple, leading to the belief that Pete DeWolfe and Florence Kling were
never civilly married, but instead declared common
law marriage as allowed at the
time in Ohio. DeWolfe proved a spendthrift and a heavy drinker. Shortly after
the birth of their son Marshall
Eugene DeWolfe (also known as
Marshall Eugene Kling) in 1880, Florence left her husband and returned to
Marion. She divorced De Wolfe in 1886 and resumed her maiden name; he died at
She refused financial help from her wealthy father and supported herself, and
for a time, her son by giving piano lessons; she had studied at the Cincinnati
Conservatory of Music before her marriage. Eventually, she let her parents
raise the boy, who like his father, became a drifter and died young.
From the moment she met "Wurr'n", as she pronounced his first name, in 1890,
Flossie chased after him. Harding, the young publisher of the town's only
daily newspaper, Marion
Daily Star (now the Marion
Star), lazily ducked her advances at first, but his feeble defenses soon gave
way, and he found himself engaged to be married. Her father, Amos Kling, was
displeased with Flossie's choice. He even accosted his future son-in-law on
the street, calling him names and threatening his life if he did not leave his
Warren Harding, aged 25, married Flossie Kling-DeWolfe, aged 30, at his home
in Marion, Ohio, on July 8, 1891. The couple did not have children of their
own; however, Flossie's son lived with them from time to time. The young man
idolized his stepfather, and hoped to become a newspaperman himself one day.
Theirs was an unhappy marriage. Harding neglected her and sought refuge from
her shrill demands in the camaraderie of his poker pals and the arms of other
women. Still her martial demeanor and managerial skills helped him build his
newspaper into a financial success.
As circulation manager of the Marion Star for 14 years, Mrs. Harding saw that
the paper was distributed efficiently and subscriptions were paid up. "Mrs.
Harding in those days ran the show," recalled one of her newsboys, Norman
Thomas, later the Socialist presidential candidate. "Her husband was the
front,...it was she who was the real driving power in the success that the
Marion Star was unquestionably making its community."
He became United
States Republican Party nominee
for President in 1920 and "the Duchess", as he called her, worked tirelessly
for his election. In her own words: "I have only one real hobby—my husband."
She had never been a guest at the White
House; and former President Taft, meeting the President-elect and Mrs.
Harding, discussed its social customs with her and stressed the value of
ceremony. Writing to his wife Helen
Taft, he concluded that the new First Lady was "a nice woman" and would
"readily adapt herself."
In Washington, Mrs. Harding became deeply interested in astrology. Early in
1920, when Harding was still a dark-horse contender for the Republican
presidential nomination, she visited Madam Marcia, a noted clairvoyant in the
capital, who predicted that her husband was a shoo-in, but added that he would
die suddenly in office. As First Lady, Mrs. Harding hosted elegant garden
parties and mixed readily with guests.
Mrs. Harding embarked with her husband on his nationwide "Voyage of
Understanding" in the Summer of 1923. She was at his side when the President
died in San
Francisco, California in August
Following the death of President Harding, the former First Lady set about
making a new life for herself. Her intention was to remain in Washington,
temporarily staying at Friendship, the estate of her best friend Evalyn
Walsh McLean, best known as the owner of the Hope
Diamond. However, when she had a flare-up of a long-standing kidney
ailment, her friend and the former Surgeon General, Dr. Charles
E. Sawyer, insisted that Mrs. Harding return to Marion for treatment and
Mrs. Harding did come back to Marion, where she died of renal
failure less than 16 months
later, on November 21, 1924. She was buried next to her husband.